Ahen the Foundation for Family Businesses held its annual conference in the Hotel Adlon in Berlin at the beginning of July, the medium-sized companies were obviously trying to make the Chinese ambassador feel comfortable with them. Foundation board member Rainer Kirchdörfer praised China as a partner for solving the world’s urgent problems. It is important to talk to each other and not just about each other. Before Ken Wu entered the stage in the magnificent Palaissaal with the wine-red velvet armchairs and chandeliers, the high desk was carefully disinfected. The diplomat returned the appreciation: He had postponed his vacation by a week in order to be able to attend this event, he said.
However, his speech was less aimed at the assembled medium-sized companies in the room. Wu knew most of them were on his side anyway. Rather, his words were an open warning to the new German government not to go on a confrontational course with China. Fear is a bad advisor, he explained to the Germans and criticized the restrictions for Chinese technology companies in this country – which may have meant the de facto exclusion of Huawei from the development of the 5G mobile network. And he warned: It is difficult for him to imagine that Germany, in view of a huge world market, could decide to only do business with about 40 Western nations with similar social systems. “Friends aren’t only found among like-minded people,” Wu said.
Apparently harmonious, but actually quite irritated: the mood that day in the Adlon reflects the current German-Chinese relationship well. Even in the days of the grand coalition, the attitude of politicians towards Germany’s most important trading partner, China, had changed. The former Economics Minister Peter Altmaier (CDU) slowed down Chinese investors with several tightening of foreign trade law. For his first trip to Asia, Altmaier demonstratively chose Japan and Indonesia as destinations.
Risk instead of strategic advantage
No sooner had the traffic light coalition taken over government affairs in December than it began a debate about a diplomatic boycott of the Olympic Games in Beijing. At the end of June, the SPD, Greens and FDP presented a paper on their future trade policy in which the word China did not appear once. “There is a different tonality in politics, a different description of the situation,” says Mikko Huotari, director of the Mercator Institute for China Studies (MERICS) in Berlin. “The expansion into China is no longer seen as a strategic advantage, but also as a risk.”
The experiences of the past few months have taught Germany how dangerous it is to be dependent on individual trading partners. And even if these days everything revolves around how quickly as much replacement for Russian gas can be procured as possible – there is always the question of whether Germany is not much more vulnerable elsewhere. The country from which Germany imports by far the most goods is China. Imports totaled almost 142 billion euros last year. In terms of exports, China is the second most important trading partner after the United States with a volume of 104 billion euros.