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China and Germany have potential for cooperation

By By Liu Zuokui, Liu Zhongwei, Ann Buel | China Daily | Updated: 2024-04-17 08:25
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Charting a new course in Sino-German ties

By Liu Zhongwei

The visit of German Chancellor Olaf Scholz is very important because Scholz's delegation includes several federal ministers and a large number of business leaders from across different sectors.

This is Scholz's second visit to China. In November 2022, he led a German big business delegation to China. The 2022 visit was not only Scholz's first to China as German chancellor but also the first visit by a European leader to China after the 20th National Congress of the Communist Party of China. It was also the first face-to-face meeting between the top leaders of the two countries since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Scholz's second visit to China in one and a half years shows he is keen to strengthen relations with China. However, the personal efforts of Scholz and the eagerness of German enterprises to engage in dialogue and cooperation are not enough to elevate Sino-German relations to newer heights in the new era. To write a new chapter in Sino-German relations, the German government and strategic community, too, have to adopt a forward-looking attitude toward China, build a strategic consensus on bilateral ties and follow a foreign policy independent of the US.

Germany should also stop devising its China policy based on ideology. In this regard, Scholz, who was vice-chancellor and finance minister in former chancellor Angela Merkel's government, has advocated inheriting as well as adjusting Merkel's policies, reflecting his pragmatic attitude toward China.

Yet Scholz's is a coalition government of three major parties: the Social Democratic Party, the Green Party and the Free Democratic Party. There are significant differences among the three parties in terms of China policy. From example, Green Party and Free Democratic Party politicians have been hyping up the "China threat" theory and advocating for a tough stance against China, in particular, reducing Germany's economic dependence on China.

They also demand that Germany's China policy reflect that China is an "economic competitor" and "systemic rival". In fact, during Scholz's first visit to China, German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock (a Greens leader) publicly criticized Scholz's China policy for being too mild, saying China's values differ from Germany's, which disrupted the normal development of bilateral ties.

Baerbock's contention sounds similar to what many US politicians have been saying and the US' China policy is based on. In order to raise Sino-German ties to newer heights, the Scholz government has to stop aping the US' China policy, especially because China-US relations have undergone the most extensive changes after Donald Trump became US president in January 2017.

The US has basically devised a comprehensive strategy toward China, which it sees as its "strategic competitor". And as an important member of NATO, Germany has always regarded its alliance with the US as the cornerstone of its foreign policy. In fact, its positions on economic and security policies, global issues and values are largely consistent with those of the United States.

In terms of its China policy, Germany, as a Western country, is also deeply influenced by the US' China policy which emphasizes the element of competition. So while developing relations with China, Germany constantly reminds itself to be vigilant against China's strength. This is the reason why Germany, after Scholz became chancellor, has broken the tradition of preferring dialogue with China to fine-tune its Asia policy and made the "Indo-Pacific" region a new focus of its foreign policy, which reflects its US-style Cold War thinking.

As a pillar of European integration and a major world power, Germany is capable of and should break free from its dependence on US foreign policy, work out an independent foreign policy, including a China policy free of US influence, and promote the comprehensive development of Sino-German relations for the benefit of not only the two countries but also the rest of the world.

Elevating Sino-German relations to newer heights requires creating more favorable conditions for bilateral economic cooperation and making full use of the cornerstone of Sino-German economic and trade relations.

In recent years, Sino-German relations have been able to withstand US-orchestrated disruptions and the changes brought about by the election of a new German government and international developments, largely because of mutual trust and a solid economic and trade foundation.

The fact that Sino-German economic cooperation is yielding positive results is proved by the record 11.9 billion euros ($12.7 billion) German direct investment in China last year. Therefore, under the new historical conditions, China and Germany should engage in in-depth discussions on major issues such as the security of global industry and supply chains, and further strengthen economic and trade cooperation.

The author is deputy secretary-general of the Chinese Association for Asian and African Studies. The views don't necessarily reflect those of China Daily.

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