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'Germany and China want stability in ME'

Hans Spross / smmApril 8, 2016

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier has arrived in China on a two-day official visit. In a DW interview, China expert Moritz Rudolf discusses Germany's China policy and bilateral relations.

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier (L) and his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi attend the second round of China-Germany strategic dialogue on diplomacy and security in Beijing, China, April 8, 2016 (Photo: REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon)
Image: Reuters/K. Kyung-Hoon

DW: What are the most important foreign and security issues for China and Germany?

Moritz Rudolf: Germany and China want political stability in the Middle East, especially in Syria and Afghanistan. The conflicts in these countries indirectly affect Berlin and Beijing, and that is the reason why both these countries are involved in Syrian talks. Germany has an interest in resolving the Syrian crisis as it is facing an influx of refugees from the war-torn country. China wants a stable Middle East so that it can proceed with its Silk Road plans.

China fears that an escalation of the civil war in Afghanistan could destabilize its western Xinjiang region. Therefore, China supports the US, Pakistan and Afghanistan in their efforts to engage in peace talks with the Taliban. Germany has long been engaged in Afghanistan, and it is in Berlin's interest that the Afghan government doesn't fail.

Both countries are also concerned about their radicalized citizens receiving militant training in the Middle East, and the threat they could pose when they return to Germany and China.

Germany wants China to increase its involvement in the "international security architecture." Its aim is that Beijing accepts more political responsibility to deal with global security challenges. On the other hand, China wants to be seen as a responsible actor in world politics, but without raising its stakes. However, in the case of North Korea's belligerence, Beijing has proven it is fully capable to take over security responsibilities.

Moritz Rudolf
Rudolf: 'Germany wants China to increase its involvement in international peace efforts'Image: Mercator Institute for China Studies

Is the fight against Islamic terrorism a new element of cooperation between Berlin and Beijing? So far, the West has been critical, and has seen China's fight against Islamists in Xinjiang as repressive.

It would be welcomed if Germany and China could find a way to separate the conflict in Xinjiang from the terrorism discourse. This is precisely what had failed in the past – a common approach to combat Islamic extremism. I expect that China would be willing to compromise on this issue and acknowledge that cooperation in combating terrorism does not imply endorsement of its minority policies.

The far-reaching infrastructure projects in Eurasia draw China into areas where Islamist terrorism is a major threat. Therefore, Chinese nationals are a potential target for Islamic terrorists who do not have direct connections to the conflict in Xinjiang.

Both sides want - as evident by statements released after their first "strategic dialogue" in November last year – a dialogue on international law and regional issues. In this respect, tensions in the East and South China Sea come to mind. Japan, which hosts the G7 meeting this year, is directly involved in the conflict. What role could Berlin play in this regard?

Germany should work towards finding a legal solution to the territorial conflicts. A tribunal recognized by all parties could resolve the disputes, but Beijing prefers bilateral solutions. Berlin could assume the role of a mediator in the East and South China Sea conflicts. But Germany would first have to be a part of the conflict in order to be recognized as a serious mediator. For this to happen, Germany could initially increase pressure on China by providing, for example, military equipment to countries bordering the South China Sea. Berlin would then certainly find its place at the negotiating table. This scenario is quite possible in light of the worsening situation.

What chances for cooperation could arise from the fact that China chairs the G20 group this year and Germany will take over next year? What could be the possible outcomes? China has increased foreign investments in Europe, and is also proposing to finance land and sea passages (known as the "New Silk Road") to Europe for an increase in economic exchange.

The "economic connectivity" between Asia and Europe could serve as a link between the Chinese and German chairmanships of the G20 bloc. As chairman of the Organization of Security and Cooperation in Europe, Germany has demonstrated that it understands the importance of China's Silk Road initiative. A major obstacle to this is that the Chinese initiative is not concrete enough to convince other countries of its merits.

Germany could contribute to the Eurasian economic connectivity by creating an institutional framework and protecting its own interests at the same time. For example, Berlin wants the Chinese initiative to be more sustainable, with the keywords being "Green Silk Roads."

Moritz Rudolf is a researcher at the Berlin-based Mercator Institute for China Studies. He focuses on China's foreign policy and geo-strategy.