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Applied partnership

By WOLFGANG ROEHR | China Daily Global | Updated: 2024-06-14 07:45
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China and Germany can act in concert on shared principles to address pertinent challenges and help resolve the conflict in Ukraine

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz visited China in April, undertaking his longest visit to any country since assuming office. He was joined by three Cabinet ministers as well as the CEOs of some of Germany's largest companies. His visit coincided with renewed activity in China's diplomacy vis-a-vis Europe. In May, Chinese President Xi Jinping, accompanied by a delegation of several hundred members, paid visits to France, Serbia and Hungary, his first trip to Europe in five years. While in France, he also met European Union Commission President Ursula von der Leyen. A few days later, Russian President Vladimir Putin came to China.

Just as in 2022, when Scholz was the first Western leader to visit China after the COVID-19 pandemic, he was criticized by many German politicians and media. His choice of accompanying ministers was lambasted because they were allegedly only "minor" Cabinet members, and his business delegation allegedly made him a supplicant. Such criticism is however wide of the mark. China is one of Germany's most important partners, and regular high-level contacts are essential. For eight years running, China has been Germany's most important partner for trade in goods. In 2023, German investment in China amounted to a record 11.9 billion euros ($12.8 billion), and the first two months of 2024 saw a continued upward trend.

For Beijing, Berlin is also an indispensable partner. Germany has been China's most important trading partner in the EU for decades; and 2023 was a record year for Chinese investment in Germany, too. Not to forget that Germany is the largest European economy, and Berlin has decisive influence on decision-making in Brussels.

For German companies, China continues to be a location of choice. In the most recent Business Confidence Survey of the German Chamber of Commerce in China, more than three-fourths of the participating companies expected consistent growth in their industry in China over the next five years. Small wonder that more than 90 percent intend to remain in China and well over half plan to continue to invest in the country over the next years. One of the reasons for this is that half of the surveyed companies expect their Chinese competitors to become innovation leaders over the next five years. At the same time, one-third complained about regulatory challenges, and more than half of those who participate in public procurement reported encountering obstacles.

During Scholz's visit, President Xi stated that during the 10 years since the establishment of the partnership between China and Germany — the world's second-and third-largest economies — bilateral relations had maintained steady growth. Chinese exports of new energy products have made important contributions to fighting climate change and advancing the green transition. On the Ukraine crisis, President Xi noted that both China and Germany are committed to the principles and purposes of the United Nations Charter.

Scholz described the Ukraine crisis as an issue of major importance. Regarding possible EU tariffs on Chinese electric vehicles, he stated that as the head of government of one of the world's most successful exporting countries, he was committed to fair competitive conditions. He made clear that the federal government's 2023 Strategy on China does not seek to curtail cooperation.

In light of the recent diplomatic activity, it is to be hoped that both Beijing and Berlin can continue to work toward good cooperation between China and the EU. That will require the recognition that fruitful economic ties need no "de-risking" from either side but the establishment of a level playing field. The claim by the EU Commission that Chinese overcapacity in certain sectors threatens economic exchange is a myth. That a state produces more goods than it needs itself is not a hindrance but, indeed, a prerequisite for international trade. No countries know that better than export champions China and Germany do. That the "risk" of Chinese EVs is overstated is also shown by the fact that in Germany more than 2.8 million new passenger cars were registered in 2023 — of which, less than 34,000 came from China. Germany should therefore maintain its principled position against tariffs on the imports of Chinese EVs.

On the Ukraine crisis, China should abide by its consistent view. It is not a party to the conflict but strives to maintain regional peace and stability such as through shuttle diplomacy. The major elements of this position, as set down in the joint statement issued following the meeting of the presidents of China and Russia on May 16, can also be embraced by Germany: All nuclear weapon states should uphold global strategic stability, stop adopting confrontational policies and interfering in the internal affairs of other countries, stop disrupting existing security architectures and stop exacerbating regional tensions. The reasonable security concerns of all states should be taken into consideration.

The Ukraine crisis could be resolved by adhering to these principles. There should be an end to foreign interference by imposing economic sanctions and also an end to military operations in neighboring states. International crises should neither be fueled by arms deliveries nor should they be set in motion by infringing on the territorial integrity of states. Regional tensions should not be exacerbated and existing security architectures should not be disrupted, be it by extending military alliance groupings with a view to the intended use of armed force nor by actually using armed force. Meeting the legitimate security concerns of a UN member state precludes the denial of its existence.

On this basis, Berlin and Beijing could jointly strive to bring about a resolution of the Ukraine crisis. Their cooperation should, as in the past, be based on an objective view of international relations, in particular the clear censure of violations of the UN Charter wherever they take place.

The author is a former member of the German Foreign Service, advisory professor at Tongji University and visiting scholar at the Center for Cultural Studies on Science and Technology in China of Technical University Berlin. The author contributed this article to China Watch, a think tank powered by China Daily.

The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.

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