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Germany's Baerbock says parts of China trip 'shocking'

April 19, 2023

Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock said Germany should continue close ties to China but "not be naive" and avoid repeating mistakes like its "change through trade" policy toward Russia.

German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock attends a joint press conference with Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang (not pictured) at the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse in Beijing
Baerbock was in China last week for a three-day trip, where held talks with her counterpart Qin Gang, Chinese Vice President Han Zheng and Wang Yi, the country's top foreign policy officialImage: Suo Takekuma/Pool via REUTERS

German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock has described parts of her recent trip to China as "more than shocking." The minister did not elaborate on specifics, but the comment was made after she noted that China has become more repressive internally and aggressive externally.

Baerbock made the remarks addressing the Bundestag, Germany's lower house of parliament, on Wednesday.

She said China has been seen as a trade partner, competitor and a systemic rival to Germany, but her impression is now "that the systemic rivals aspect is increasing more and more."

She also stressed the need to avoid repeating past mistakes, like the policy of "change through trade," which Berlin previously hoped would achieve political transition in authoritarian regimes like Russia.   

German FM urges China to push Russia to end Ukraine war

Germany 'should not be naive'

Baerbock also underlined the importance of China for Germany.

"We cannot get around China," she clarified, adding that the economic relations between the two countries are "good and important."

It is not a matter of "decoupling ourselves from China," but rather "minimizing our risks."

China is Germany's largest trading partner, with bilateral trade amounting to nearly €300 billion ($320 billion) last year.

Bilateral cooperation should continue, but Germany "should not be naive" and "not repeat mistakes again," Baerbock said.

Germany is currently reliant on the Asian country for the supply of some rare earths and other minerals.

And Berlin wants German businesses to diversify their supply chains to avoid dependencies on critical goods.

Chancellor Olaf Scholz's government is also formulating a new China strategy  to reduce reliance on the Asian giant.

As part of the government's planned China strategy, Baerbock said Wednesday, "we must safeguard freedom and the rule of law in the long term" and "stand up for the international order with a clear stance."

What is at stake here is "the freedom, prosperity and security of all of us," the minister stressed.

How reassuring is China's pledge not to send arms to Russia?

Clear stance on Taiwan?

Baerbock was in China last week for a three-day trip, where she held talks with her counterpart Qin Gang, Chinese Vice President Han Zheng and Wang Yi, the country's top foreign policy official.

Her visit came amid increased tensions in the Taiwan Strait and in the wake of Beijing's ever-deepening ties to Moscow since Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

During the trip, Baerbock said any change to the status quo in the Taiwan Strait using force would be unacceptable.

Beijing views self-ruled Taiwan as a Chinese province and has vowed to reunite it with the mainland, even by using force if necessary.

Baerbock's visit came on the heels of a similar trip made by French President Emmanuel Macron, who irked many in the West by saying that the EU should find its own course on China and Taiwan and not blindly follow the US.

sri/jcg (Reuters, AFP, dpa)