Angela Merkel’s soft China stance is challenged at home
Jul 16th 2020
ANGELA MERKEL has always had Germany’s economic ties with China in mind while conducting bilateral diplomacy with the Asian giant. In the 15 years since she took over as chancellor in 2005, German exports to China have quintupled, to just under €100bn ($110bn), about 3% of GDP. Last year China was easily Germany’s largest trade partner, to the particular benefit of big firms such as Volkswagen, BMW and Siemens. To avoid antagonizing China’s ruling Communist Party, Mrs. Merkel was careful not to take the side of the hawks in the heated debate last year and this over whether to let Huawei, a Chinese telecoms giant, bid for contracts to build Germany’s 5G networks (see article).
Her caution goes wider. Mrs Merkel has also been circumspect in her comments on China’s recent clampdown in Hong Kong. She emphasized the need to “seek dialogue” with the Chinese government on the basis of a “relationship of trust”. But that means that she is increasingly out of step with the rest of Germany’s political establishment. Leading figures in her Christian Democratic Union (CDU) object to her refusal to criticize the Chinese government directly. Norbert Röttgen, head of the Bundestag’s foreign-affairs committee and a contender for the CDU leadership, condemned as “self-censorship” the German foreign office’s recent advice to be “particularly careful” about posting China-critical comments on social media. For Nils Schmid, foreign-policy spokesman for the Social Democrats, the CDU’s junior coalition partner, Germany’s China policy is “behind the times”.