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Germany - China Policy

The Federal Republic of Germany and the Peoples Republic of China established diplomatic relations in 1972. Like all other EU partners, Germany adheres to a One-China policy and does not maintain relations with Taiwan, which China claims as part of its territory. Since 1972, German-Chinese relations have become very close-knit and multi-faceted while acquiring ever greater political substance. Over the past few years, the significance of the People's Republic of China as a global political player has increased a great deal. Whatever challenges of global significance there may be, whether environmental and climate protection, the stability of the international economic and financial system, or the future development of the countries of Africa today, none of them can be met without China's involvement.

China was once again Germanys most important trading partner in 2018, with a volume of trade of almost 200 billion euros. In the face of growing uncertainties, international crises and global challenges, great importance is attached to cooperation and coordination under the comprehensive strategic partnership between the Germany and China. China views Germany both economically and politically as its key partner in Europe. The regular high-level coordination of policy in some 80 dialogue mechanisms, dynamic trade relations, investment, environmental cooperation and cooperation in the cultural and scientific sectors are key elements in bilateral relations.

Although bilateral relations are developing positively overall, fundamental differences remain. This is true in particular with regard to human rights, above all individual freedoms. Germany remains keen to see China continue to make economic progress, develop rule of law structures and social security systems, increase political and economic participation, and peacefully resolve minority issues. An important cooperation instrument for promoting the rule of law in China is the rule of law dialogue. Equally important is the annual bilateral human rights dialogue.

China's role in the sphere of development cooperation, too, has changed from a recipient of Western aid to an important donor country and driver of innovation for nations in Africa, Asia and Latin America. In the view of the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), China's new role offers great opportunities and potential for global development, provided that China takes account of sustainability issues and partner countries' debt sustainability in its international activities, for example in Africa. China can make a key contribution to the achievement of the goals of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, and it can open up new opportunities in this regard. In that context, it will be important to engage even more with China so as to include it in the resolution of global development challenges and in international systems of responsibility.

In view of this, the BMZ entered into a strategic partnership for development cooperation with the Chinese Ministry of Commerce as early as in 2010. In 2016, China and Germany agreed to establish a Sino-German Center for Sustainable Development (CSD), which was officially opened in Beijing in May 2017 by Minister Gerd Mller and Chinese Commerce Minister Zhong Shan. Its purpose is to foster dialogue on development policy, especially with a view to implementing the 2030 Agenda; to help improve mutual understanding; and to develop answers to fundamental questions in the field of development policy.

With regard to Sino-German relations, Berlin has long adhered to the principle of "change through trade" ("Wandel durch Handel" in German), hoping that increased business ties may lead to more democratic structures in China. Comments made by Joe Kaeser, the chief of German industrial giant Siemens, following Merkel's trip to China in September 2019 underlined Germany's longtime loyalty to its "Wandel durch Handel" (change through trade) policy. In warning Germany against taking too critical a stance towards Beijing, Kaeser also advocated being "thoughtful and respectful" towards China. "If jobs in Germany depend on how we deal with controversial topics, then we shouldn't add to indignation, but rather carefully consider all positions and actions," Kaeser told German daily Die Welt.

Foreign Minister Heiko Maas, Interview by with Redaktionsnetzwerk Deutschland, stated 12 Jul 2020 "Above all, we have made it clear that the principle of one country, two systems must not be undermined. This is the yardstick against which we will judge Beijings actions.... The main issue now is whether China complies with its international obligations. We will now take a very close look at the tangible impact of the security law. Its clear that we will be guided by the extent to which the human rights situation and fundamental freedoms in Hong Kong are affected, which are guaranteed in the Basic Law.... It goes without saying that we want to have good relations with China, also economically, as China is an important partner for us. But it is also a competitor and systemic rival. Europe has a clear moral compass to guide us.... First and foremost, Europe must be careful not to get caught up in the great power rivalry between the US and China. And we can only succeed here by elaborating a common European position."

By mid-2020 criticism was growing over Berlin's reluctance to take a tougher stance towards Beijing. Much of Germany's hesitation stems from its desire to maintain harmonious relations, built largely on economic ties. With trade volume between Germany and China hitting 206 billion ($233 billion) in 2019, China is easily Germany's biggest trade partner. At the same time, the European Union as a whole is China's second largest trade partner after the United States. But when it comes to human rights abuses, Berlin has often been slow off the mark whether on the mass internment of Muslim Uighurs in Xinjiang or China's new national security law, imposed on Hong Kong since July 1. Economy and Energy Minister Peter Altmaier defended Germany's continuing trade relationship with China, following the passing of a controversial new security bill in Hong Kong. "It has always been the policy of the Western international community, including the EU, that international trade relations cannot be based solely on how democratic a country is," Altmaier told national newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung 15 July 2020. "We have never done that," he stressed, adding this was not even official policy in the times of Willy Brandt or Joschka Fischer Germany's former Social Democratic chancellor and Green party foreign minister respectively.

Many people in Germany believe the United States losing its grip on world supremacy, and that China will be the country to take its place as dominant power in the coming decades, according to a survey published on 14 July 2020 by the UK-based YouGov polling institute. Some 42% of Germans believed that the United States was likely to slip from its position as leading world power in the next few decades, with China moving up to replace it. Just 14% of those surveyed believed that the US would retain its supremacy. Some 23% were undecided and 22% gave no response to the survey question, "Which country, the US or China, will be more powerful in the course of the next 50 years, in your opinion?" Opinions on the issue varied depending on which party respondents voted for. Supporters of the Left Party tended in the majority to predict China's future dominance over the US (54%), as did supporters of the business-friendly Free Democrats and the environmentalist Greens (52%). Voters who support the far-right Alternative for Germany party were the most likely to say that the US would remain as dominant world power but even here, only 17% responded in that vein. The survey was carried out from July 10-12, with 4,054 people aged 18 and over taking part.

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Page last modified: 21-07-2020 18:44:21 ZULU