Mr. Zenglein, there are shocking new reports of human rights violations in the Muslim Uyghur province of Xinjiang in western China. Have we looked away for too long?
In any case, there has been an egg dance for a long time, in which the economy in particular has participated. The difficult situation of the rule of law, democracy and minority rights in the People’s Republic has been known for decades. It was also known that China was not developing for the better under Xi Jinping, on the contrary. But in view of the large and lucrative markets there, many entrepreneurs and politicians did not want to see that. Now no one can turn a blind eye.
Are German companies waking up?
It’s interesting to see what the lockdown in Shanghai is doing among Western business leaders. Many of these expats are only now realizing that they are living in an autocracy when they see their freedom restricted.
Is there a turning point in relations with China?
There is a rethink, for sure. This also has something to do with the new federal government, which is rightly questioning the strategy of former Chancellor Angela Merkel. But changing course will be difficult. Japan, Taiwan and South Korea have been trying to free themselves from their dependency since 2010, and it’s damn difficult. For Germany and Europe, China is not only the largest trading partner and an important investment and manufacturing location, it is also a central sourcing market, so it is extremely important for preliminary products and raw materials. China has been a driver of our economic growth for decades.
What’s wrong with globalization?
Nothing at all, but it used to be more diversified or decentralized. China has absorbed large parts of globalization, which has resulted in major dependencies. Incidentally, this is not a one-way street, after all the EU is the largest trading partner, investor and technology supplier of the People’s Republic. It’s true: 40 to 50 percent of all Volkswagens are sold in China, which helps the group. But VW is also a huge employer there, so it has great local importance. In the relationship between Europe and China, both sides cannot yet do without each other.
The EU is also dependent on Russia. Is that comparable?
After all, it is comparable that you realize quite late how dangerous an excessive dependency can be. In the case of Russia, this is largely limited to energy imports. The networking of the European economy with China goes much further, and the depth of added value goes much deeper. If there are disruptions in relations with the People’s Republic, the EU and Germany will suffer much more than in the case of Russia. If something tears, it hurts us a lot more.
But it is necessary to cool down the relations?