Pledge Times | 2 September 2020
Indo-Pacific guidelines: Germany’s new China plan
by Bhavi Mandalia
“Indo-Pacific Guidelines” is the name of the new principle of German foreign policy that the German government adopted on Wednesday. That sounds far away and vague. But the decision is more explosive than it sounds: Because it describes a realignment in German China policy. From now on, Germany wants to work more closely with Asian countries such as Japan, India, Indonesia and Australia. And China.
But not as the only country, which is remarkable because the People’s Republic of Germany is Germany’s most important trading partner. Berlin wants to diversify its relations, position itself more broadly, conclude further free trade agreements – also in order to no longer be so dependent on Beijing.
Federal Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said after the cabinet decision that the federal government wanted to help shape the international order of tomorrow. “So that it is based on rules and international cooperation – and not on the law of the strongest.” And: “In doing so, we are strengthening the idea of a multipolar world in which no country has to choose between poles of power.” With his statement meant, it becomes clear: the USA and China.
Relations between the competing superpowers are at rock bottom in the face of a trade war and military threats. The two states are fighting for supremacy in the world. US President Donald Trump repeatedly calls for the West to decouple from China and to choose one side. With its decision, the federal government has resolutely rejected this demand. A spokesman for the Foreign Office told WELT that “containment and decoupling strategies are not effective”. A swipe at Trump.
The change in German foreign policy, however, had been announced. When Maas met his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi in Berlin on Tuesday, he said: “We Europeans do not want to be a plaything between China and the USA.”
Brussels, for example, has long tried to persuade Beijing to adopt a fair trade policy with European countries, so far without any concrete results. Because companies from their own country are always preferred in the Chinese market. Michael Winzer, head of the Beijing office of the CDU-affiliated Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung, says: “It becomes problematic where countries compete but don’t play with the same rules.” That is why an investment protection agreement is so important.
Such an agreement has been negotiated since 2013. It is intended to create more market access and fair competition, remove barriers to investment and reduce the role of state-owned companies.
44 percent of German companies are finally calling for equal treatment with Chinese companies, according to a survey by the German Chamber of Commerce in July. The hopes rested on the German Council Presidency, which will last until the end of the year. At that time they wanted to achieve a breakthrough in the negotiations on the agreement.
Germany in particular has close economic ties with China. Berlin exercised restraint for a long time when it came to criticizing too sharply. One wanted to protect the interests of the German economy; Managers warned that German jobs depend on a good relationship with the People’s Republic. China is the extended workbench of the Federal Republic, especially in the automotive industry. But it seems that the federal government no longer wants to rely solely on concessions from Beijing.
“One goal of the guidelines is to diversify economic partnerships in order to reduce dependencies in this way,” said WELT from the Foreign Office. This includes negotiating further free trade agreements. Because Beijing is aware of its enormous economic power, the government often rejects compromises.
It does not depend on it, on the contrary: the other countries depend on China. Germany now wants to counteract this. “If China wants to play an important role in the world, it must be willing to compromise and agree on common values,” says China expert Winzer.
There are also massive human rights violations, be it in Hong Kong or in Xinjiang Province, where the government is locking members of the Uyghur minority in detention centers. The hope that change would come naturally with more trade has been dashed. Although China has been opening up more and more economically since the 1970s, this has neither led to democratization nor to more freedoms.
A sign to other European countries
With the new guidelines, Berlin is also sending a signal to the other European countries. The German government is working “together with our EU partners, particularly France, to develop a European strategy for the Indo-Pacific that is based on our principles and values,” said Maas. Diversification at European level.
The Foreign Minister has long stressed the importance of a common line in European China policy. The EU-China summit will take place on September 14th. The better Beijing succeeds in dividing, the more power it will gain over the European continent. And this is exactly where the problem lies: in the disagreement between the member states.
Great Britain, for example, is positioning itself as a freedom hawk on the China issue. It has excluded the People’s Republic from the expansion of the super-fast 5G mobile network for fear of espionage. London also quickly suspended the extradition treaty with Hong Kong after China passed the controversial “Security Law” for the Special Administrative Region, which de facto ended the “one country, two systems” era. The government also offered visas and residence rights to potentially three million Hong Kong citizens. Beijing frothed – and threatened an “energetic counterattack”.
Countries like Greece, Hungary and Italy, on the other hand, are hoping for billions in Chinese investments. You therefore insist on restraint in China policy. It is therefore no coincidence that Foreign Minister Wang began his trip to Europe in Italy, the only G-7 state that has joined the Chinese mega-project “New Silk Road”.
But during his trip to Europe last week, Wang himself had to listen to critical words about the situation in Hong Kong in Rome when Foreign Minister Luigi di Maio urged “autonomy and freedom”. China is also investing heavily in countries in the Western Balkans, a region which, from Brussels’ perspective, is clearly in the EU’s area of interest.
And so, despite the change of course in German China policy, in the end it will depend on how closed Europe is to the People’s Republic. Maas told WELT AM SONNTAG in March: “In a world with giants like China, Russia or our partners in the USA, we can only survive if we are united as an EU.” Often missing.