DForeign Minister Annalena Baerbock’s trip to China was considered difficult anyway. After her critical statements about Beijing, the excitement surrounding the chancellor’s visit to the Chinese head of state and party in November and the discussions about the new China strategy, expectations of her inaugural visit were already high. Then, before their departure, the statements of the French President were added. In China, Emmanuel Macron has just called for greater European sovereignty and said a Taiwan conflict is “not our” crisis. What words will Baerbock now choose in China?
“According to Macron, the foreign minister’s trip has taken on a new meaning,” says the deputy chairman of the Union faction responsible for foreign policy, Johann Wadephul. “Baerbock has the chance to straighten out the image of Europe,” he says. “To show what kind of Europe you are dealing with and that Europe is not naïve. Many countries are waiting for this now.” No other country in Europe is as economically vulnerable and at the same time has as much influence in Beijing as Germany, says the chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee in the Bundestag, Michael Roth (SPD). “That’s why our European partners are watching very closely how we are readjusting our relationship with China.” The federal government should therefore set a good example.
Visiting Lula as a representative of the “Global South”
This Thursday, Baerbock will be in the Chinese port city of Tianjin, and on Friday the train will continue 120 kilometers to Beijing. Unlike Macron, she is not accompanied by a business delegation, but foreign politicians from the Bundestag are there, including Wadephul. It is said to be about tensions in the Taiwan Strait, the war in Ukraine, human rights and the fight against climate change. Baerbock will meet Foreign Minister Qin Gang, as well as the country’s top foreign policy leader, Wang Yi. Whom she will not meet, if only for reasons of protocol: State and party leader Xi Jinping. He will receive another guest on Friday: Brazil’s President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva.
For China, Baerbock’s trip is one of many visits in recent weeks. After the corona restrictions were lifted, the People’s Congress and the declared goal of stimulating its own economy again, Beijing is again welcoming numerous visitors – at least those who do not have an American passport. Actually, the EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell was expected. He had to postpone his trip due to a Covid illness.
One way or another, the focus of Chinese attention is the Brazilian Lula these days. The party newspaper “Global Times” announced twenty new bilateral agreements for his visit, ranging from satellite technology to agriculture. Lula brings three hundred entrepreneurs to China. Lula, who shows a certain distance from the USA, is also courted there as a representative of the “global south”, not least because Brazil is a lithium producer.
Beijing is critical of the Greens
But Germany is also interesting for the Chinese. It is the economically strongest EU member, which in turn does not want to lose China entirely to the United States for strategic reasons. China’s growth has slowed, while the United States is increasingly restricting its market access.
China wants to find out from Baerbock “how the EU’s largest member state can change the pace in terms of risk reduction,” says Agatha Kratz, director of the think tank Rhodium responsible for China. EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen emphasized risk reduction in economic relations with China and advocated a diversification strategy. Beijing now wants to ensure that the EU’s announced economic policy measures against China are as mild as possible.
In addition, there is a “deeper fear” in Beijing, says Kratz, that German companies are leaving the Chinese market, not least because of the transparency laws passed in Germany. The Green Economics Minister Robert Habeck, who questioned investment guarantees for German companies in China, was also involved in this. The Greens have long been considered an unreliable part of the federal government for China, while the “pragmatics” in the SPD are praised. Beijing is aware that there is disagreement both in the EU and within Germany about the speed at which relations with China are to be restructured.