Over a year ago, I rambled on about how the new German chancellor, Olaf Scholz, would handle his country’s China policy. We can now answer this question conclusively. And the answer is not pretty.
On 26 October, the German cabinet, led by Chancellor Scholz, left the COSCO, the Chinese state-owned shipping company, buys 24 9% of the shares in the container terminal at the port of Hamburg, the city of which he used to be mayor.
The decision goes against what the German national security chiefs believe is best for the country. On 17 October, nine days before the announcement, several intelligence leaders gave a briefing annual to parliament. Bruno Kahl, the head of the foreign intelligence agency, commented that he viewed the deal “very critically.” Denouncing for years Berlin’s “naivety” about the Chinese threat, Kahl told lawmakers that Germans “must be prepared for the fact that economic advantages can be used to reinforce Chinese ideas.” Thomas Haldenwang, chairman of the Federal Agency for the Protection of the Constitution (a domestic intelligence agency), reinforced the idea saying that “we must not allow a situation where the Chinese state influences political events. Presumably this could mean China dictating Germany’s actions during the Taiwan crisis.
There is also concern that the Chinese will use the site for military activities. It would be nothing new. As the president of Military Counterintelligence (MAD), Martina Rosenberg, informed parliament, China has been conducting “sophisticated spy operations” in Germany for years. the decision, wrote a confidential note attacking the decision, saying it “disproportionately expands China’s strategic influence over German transport infrastructure and European Union, as well as Germany’s dependence on China.” Some European legal experts fear that the shareholding will be 17,9% to avoid European Union laws relating to money laundering, non-European ownership of strategic infrastructure and sanctions regulations — tests that focus on a 17% stake, and in which COSCO would likely fail, to the shame of the German government.
Despite these warnings, Scholz is continuing the tendency of German leaders to put economic interests above security interests. national. This approach is increasingly contrary to the German public. According to a survey by the Körber-Stiftung Foundation published in October, 66% of Germans were in favor of becoming independent from China, even if it meant economic losses, and others 59% see China’s growing influence as negative (only 7% see it as positive). Another poll shows that 84% of Germans want to reduce economic ties with China. Regarding the port business, a commentator from Bild, one of the most popular German periodicals, wrote: “The authoritarian regime in Beijing does not want to cooperate with us, but to dictate the their interests to us.” Another writer, in a Hamburg newspaper, lamented: “The German economy and the port of Hamburg are already too dependent on China.”
Resistance to the deal marks a major shift among the citizens of Europe’s largest economy. Having grappled with the effects of the pandemic, the reality of Communist China’s abuses of Xinjiang and Hong Kong, and the threat of invading Taiwan, the German people have found the regime’s nature more evident than ever. But more than anything else, the war in Ukraine — a disaster of German dependence on Russian gas — woke up Germans to the dangers of economic dependence on an autocratic regime.
France, Germany’s strong ally, is not happy either. On the eve of the decision on COSCO, Macron took a He was referring to the German decision to let the Chinese state-owned company buy shares in KUKA, Germany’s biggest robotics firm, in 2016. In the days following COSCO’s authorization, a meeting between Scholz and French President Emmanuel Macron, previously planned in an idyllic location south of Paris, was altered to resemble a simple business lunch in the capital.
Unfortunately, all this had little effect on Scholz, and there is little evidence that Hamburg’s decision is an exceptional one. The Scholz government is also reported to be ready to approve the sale of a chip factory to a Chinese-owned Swedish company, another deal that was opposed by the domestic intelligence service. Clearly, German business remains a massive force in dictating the country’s relations with China. In October, Volkswagen announced a $2.3 billion joint venture with China’s Horizon Robotics focused on autonomous vehicles. On November 4, Scholz became the first G7 leader to visit China since the start of the pandemic — a visit that no doubt perpetuates German vulnerabilities. He took with him a dozen German industrialists, including the CEO of chemical giant BASF, who recently expressed caution against “attacks on China.”
the Global Times, a spokesman for the Chinese Communist Party, praised him for his “pragmatism”. Nobody pretends that separating the German economy from the Chinese will be easy (almost half of German manufacturing companies depend on China, although one in two already plans to reduce imports in the future). But, as the German energy crisis with Russia shows, maintaining a long-term dependent relationship with a country contrary to the West is anything but pragmatic.