Challenging times in Germany-China relations . . .
German Chancellor Angela Merkel ended a two-day visit to China on Saturday. The trip came at a challenging time in Europe-China relations. In the spring, France tried to spearhead a united, tougher, EU-China policy, even calling for an end of “Europe naïveté” towards China. Days ahead of Merkel’s China trip, both the World Uyghur Congress and a preeminent Hong Kong protest leader, Joshua Wong, called on the German leader to express her concerns about both the Xinjiang and Hong Kong issues directly to Li Keqiang and Xi Jinping.
Striking a balanced approach . . .
This was Merkel’s 12th visit to China since 2006, perhaps underlining the Middle Kingdom’s importance to Germany as its third export largest market after the U.S. and France, and its largest export market for cars. One of the objectives of Merkel’s visit was to ensure that German-Chinese business relations remain on track despite growing risks that the US-China trade war poses for global trade, increased domestic suspicions against China, and increasingly difficult situations in both Hong Kong and Xinjiang. The pressure was significant on the German leader, and analysts say she was able to strike a balanced approach, raising sensitive issues without being overly offensive. She raised the issue of Hong Kong, resisted pressure to cancel a joint press conference with Li Keqiang, and was able to leave China with 11 new co-operation agreements with China on trade and science.
Going forward . . .
Germany is walking a thin line, caught between some European allies and the U.S. calling for a tougher stance on China. Merkel’s balanced, yet pro-business, approach during the visit signifies that Germany may not be taking a harder policy line toward China and that it will continue pushing for an investment agreement ahead of the next EU-China Summit that Markel will host in Germany in September 2020. Other countries also struggling with finding a balanced approach on China should pay attention to Germany’s evolving balancing act.
- Bloomberg: Merkel has made a U-turn on China but it may be too late
- Foreign Affairs: The old world and the Middle Kingdom
- South China Morning Post: Germany’s Angela Merkel ‘still a strong voice for Europe’ in China