Germany’s new China strategy has irritated Chinese leadership which has been closely
watching unfolding developments. While Germany has been looking for an alternate or
another trade partner , China warned that if Germany politicises trade issues, it will bring
risks to economic ties with China.
The change in Berlin’s relationship with Beijing became visible after Olaf Scholz took over
as German Chancellor last year. Although German Chancellor Olaf Scholzhad told
Chinese President Xi Jinping that Germany would deepen economic ties with China “in the
spirit of mutual respect and mutual trust” soonafter he assumed office, but government has
apparntly decided to change its approach towards China.
China’s obfuscation over Russia’s actions in Ukraine, its zero-Covid strategyand its alleged
persecution of the Uygur people in Xinjiang were compelling factors for Berlin to revise its
policy on China. As far as China is concerned it said that if Germany allows itself to be
involved in this anti-China political farce, only China-Germany relations and economic and
trade cooperation will be damaged. Germany should not cooperate with the US anti-China
strategy at the expense of its own economic interests.
Germany and China have been trading partners since the latter started opening up its
economy in the late 1970s. Berlin has always followed the mantra “change through trade”,
which also extended to Russia. Germany had hoped that trading with an authoritarian
regime would lead it to become politically liberal, and in turn enrich German industry.
The diplomatic ties between Germany and China have completed 50 years. Goods worth
262 billion US dollars were traded between the two nations in 2021. In March, China told
the German business community to add impetus to Beijing’s attempt at cooperation and
improved relations with the European Union. The move left German investors panicky
whose businesses got disrupted by China’s zero-Covid strategy. The European Chamber
of Commerce in Beijing ‘s flash survey in April made startling revelations about the
European businesses in China. It showed 85 per cent of European businesses in China
struggled to gain access to raw materials, while more than two-thirds had difficulty retaining
Foreign affairs experts put the onus on China for forcing Germany to change its approach.
They said that China has been trying to leverage Germany’s economic dependence in
order to keep Germany out of any US coalitions against China. In fact, China has been
using the dependence of the largest German automobile producers on the Chinese market
to achieve favourable economic and political results.
The access of Huawei to the German market was one example. In December 2019,
Chinese ambassador to Berlin, Wu Ken, had suggested that German automobile
companies could be targeted by the Chinese authorities if Huawei were excluded from the
Besides, China has also been trying to frighten Germany away from military engagement
in the Indo-Pacific. When the Bayern was sent into the region, it not only avoided any
disputed waters, but was also supposed to visit the harbour of Shanghai to demonstrate
Germany’s friendly attitude towards China.
China, though, refused to admit the ship into the harbour and explained that this was due
to a lack of trust between China and Germany. Despite the German naval presence being
largely symbolic, it provoked strong opposition from the Chinese government.
More so, China has always stuck to its holy grail of territorial integrity and national
sovereignty when it came to international relations. Some German experts view that
Germany was entering a new phase in which China was seen less as a partner and
increasingly as a strategic competitor and rival
Germany was also worried about the unprecedented growth of Chinese power combined
with the challenge China’s international strategy presents to the existing liberal
As indicated by Norbert Röttgen, former Chair of the Bundestag Foreign Affairs Committee,
the two states find themselves at odds over Hong Kong, Taiwan, and the South China Sea.
In fact, China’s desire to reshape the regional order concerns Berlin, particularly in the
context of China’s efforts at military modernization. In an interview to a website after he
wrote an article on oxford university press’s international affairs,Ulatowskihighlighted
German policy towards China from the Cold war time. The Federal Republic of Germany
was on the frontline of potential conflict with the Soviet Union during the Cold War.
Afterwards, Germany unified, the Soviet Union disintegrated, Central and Eastern
European countries turned towards the West, and US military forces remained in Europe,
making Germany a safe country surrounded by friendly states. The improved security
situation enabled the German authorities to devote more attention to countries beyond the
As the US increased its engagement with China following the opening of the Chinese
economy in the 1980s, Germany supported US policy. German politicians believed that,
by integrating China into the global economy, China would not only become richer, but
also more politically liberal.
This was a change through trade strategy that Germany applied to countries such as China
and Russia. Ultimately however, China did not reform its political system in line with
Western expectations, and its policy towards the West has become increasingly
From mid 2010s ,the two states have become increasingly distant. Germany has been
extremely cautious about economic cooperation with China. Germany had joined the Asian
Infrastructure Investment Bank, becoming its fourth-largest shareholder, but avoided
joining the Belt and Road Initiative due to concerns over transparency, a level playing field
for business and European labour, as well as environmental and social standards.
In the last two years, Germany has attempted to limit Chinese influence by increasing its
own diplomatic engagement with Indo-Pacific states. This has involved German politicians
undertaking unprecedented levels of diplomatic activity in the Indo-Pacific region, meeting
frequently with the leaders of other regional powers throughout 2020 and 2021.
Germany has now been trying to diversify its economic relations away from China and
towards ‘democracies and partners with shared values’, as the German Indo-Pacific
guidelines indicate. Additionally, Germany has been becoming more politically engaged in
the region.Also it has increased its military presence albeit to a limited extent. Germany
had sent the frigate Bayern into Indo-Pacific waters, a symbolic gesture intended to
strengthen the position of Germany’s democratic partners in the region.