AWhen the Chinese housewives’ association performs, the people in suits in the first row look a little tired. Before that they saw folk dances, a children’s group and a sword demonstration. Now and then passers-by stop in front of the improvised stage in the Europa-Center, the aging shopping center next to the Berlin Zoo. Otherwise, this ceremony marking the fiftieth anniversary of diplomatic relations between Germany and China does not attract any celebrities. It’s an oddly dwarfed celebration of a historic landmark.
The dreary October event shows Germany’s ambivalence in dealing with its most important trading partner China, the second most powerful country in the world. After half a century of German-Chinese diplomacy, nobody in Berlin feels like celebrating. At the anniversary concert in the Chinese Embassy in Berlin, the most notable guest is former Chancellor Gerhard Schröder.
Twelve hours in Beijing
When Chancellor Olaf Scholz, as the first head of government of a G-7 country since the beginning of the pandemic, meets head of state and party leader Xi Jinping in Beijing on Friday, there is a big question in the room: How does Germany feel about the totalitarian government of China, which openly rules-based world order and in which German companies sold goods worth more than a hundred billion euros last year?
Scholz will only be in Beijing for twelve hours. Alongside Xi, he meets Premier Li Keqiang, who was sidelined at the Communist Party Congress that just ended. Scholz’s every word and gesture will be followed closely: by the coalition partners in Berlin, who want to push China policy in a new direction. From the EU partners, whose view of China has darkened significantly since the Russian invasion of Ukraine. From the United States, where Germany is considered an unreliable partner in terms of joint action against Chinese expansionist policies. And by the Chinese leadership itself, which has long viewed Germany as a possible swing state in the major power conflict with the United States.
Before the Chancellor’s trip to China, German politics showed a picture of disunity. In the dispute over the entry of the Chinese state-owned company Cosco into an operator of the Tollerort terminal in the port of Hamburg, Scholz ignored the warnings from six federal ministries and the intelligence services. “Russia is the storm, China is climate change,” warned the President of the Office for the Protection of the Constitution, Thomas Haldenwang.
The supporters of the Cosco deal think of jobs and the economic future of Germany’s most important port. Critics warn that China is about “first getting your big toe in the doorway, then your foot, then your whole body.” This is how Johann Wadephul, deputy chairman of the Union faction and head of his party’s China AG puts it. Many Greens and Liberals see it similarly. Former Chancellor Angela Merkel had already been accused of ignoring geostrategic issues when dealing with both China and Russia. Is Scholz falling into the same trap now?