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German Foreign Minister Baerbock urges China policy change

November 1, 2022

German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock has called for changes to Berlin's China policy. Her intervention comes just before Chancellor Olaf Scholz makes his inaugural trip to Beijing with a trade delegation.

German and Chinese flags
German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock addressed Berlin's policy towards China while on a trip to UzbekistanImage: Ute Grabowsky/photothek/picture alliance

Germany's foreign minister said on Tuesday that her government must adopt a new policy approach to China.

The comments from Annalena Baerbock follow disagreements in Chancellor Olaf Scholz's three-way coalition about a Chinese shipping giant acquiring a stake in the port of Hamburg.

They also come ahead of Scholz's visit to Beijing, with Baerbock highlighting the importance of recent political developments in China.

The timing of Scholz's trip has been criticized coming so soon after President Xi Jinping secured a historic third term as the head of the Chinese Communist Party.

What did Baerbock say?

During a visit to the Central Asian republic of Uzbekistan on Tuesday, Baerbock said, "The chancellor decided on the timing of his trip — now it is crucial to make clear in China the messages that we have laid down together in the coalition agreement, the messages that I have also brought with me here to Central Asia."

She added that Germany needed to communicate its position on "the question of fair competition, the question of human rights and the question of the recognition of international law," which she called "our foundation of international cooperation."

"The Chinese political system has changed massively in recent years and thus our China policy must also change," Baerbock said. 

Over the weekend, Baerbock said Germany needed to learn from its experience with Russia to never again be dependent on a country that did not share Berlin's values. 

China's Communist Party Congress: Xi solidifies his power

That concern was echoed by former Foreign Minister and current President Frank-Walter Steinmeier, who has himself faced criticism for a past policy of pursuing closer economic ties to Moscow.

Coalition sensitivities over shipping deal

Concerns about China came to the fore last month as Berlin allowed Chinese shipping giant Cosco to buy a stake in a Hamburg shipping terminal.

Center-left Social Democrat Scholz defied calls from six ministries — citing security concerns — to veto the sale, instead allowing Cosco to purchase a reduced stake. Both the Green Party and the neoliberal Free Democrats, junior coalition members, had expressed opposition to the sale in its original form.

Ahead of the trip, Chancellery spokesman Steffen Hebestreit said Scholz wanted to "diversify, and minimize risks but that he was not in favor of decoupling with China." 

Hebestreit said Scholz's visit would "cover the entire spectrum of our relations with China", including tensions over Taiwan and human rights concerns.

The war in Ukraine would also be on the agenda, he said, with China steadfastly avoiding criticism of Moscow.

China represents a vast market for German products — particularly for carmakers Volkswagen, BMW and Mercedes-Benz. 

German firms with investments in China have expressed concern about worsening relations. The head of chemicals giant BASF, Martin Brudermueller, who is set to accompany Scholz, last week urged an end to "China bashing."

rc/ar (AFP, dpa)