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Date: 31 December 2021 Author: Patryk Szczotka
Baerbock’s Tough Stance on China?
The end of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s long political career and the resulting change of government in the Federal Republic of Germany (FRG) is a reorganization that is significant not only in the German and European context, but for this country’s policy towards the People’s Republic of China (PRC).
Merkel’s administration became famous primarily for the idea of Wandel durch Handel (change through trade), which prioritized the development of economic relations with the PRC over value-based policy or human rights.[i] Prior to this year’s elections in Germany, this approach has been increasingly criticized by some political circles, including The Greens and their candidate for chancellor – Annalena Baerbock. She expressed her conviction that despite the deep, economic dependencies, which are difficult to reduce and that bind her country to China, Germany, as a liberal democracy, must uphold its values.[ii] Baerbock’s proposals included a ban on the import of products from forced labor in Xinjiang as well as limiting cooperation with Chinese economic and communications companies.[iii] Although the Greens candidate did not become chancellor, she was appointed Minister of Foreign Affairs, which gives her the opportunity to actively shape German policy in accordance with her vision.
Baerbock’s views were confirmed in an interview for Die Tageszeitung (TAZ) newspaper, published in December, where she stated that “for me, a value-based foreign policy is always an interplay of dialogue and toughness.”[iv] Moreover, she regarded the PRC a “systematic competitor” and called for “strategic solidarity with democratic partners, defending our values and interests together, and patiently advocating these values in our foreign policy.”[v] In addition, she announced that she would not take part in the upcoming Olympic Games, which will be held in Beijing, noting that it is her personal decision and not the official line of the government.[vi] While Baerbock’s decisive turn towards value-based policy can be seen as a departure from Angela Merkel’s pragmatism, the implementation of her postulates is not certain. German political system allows the chancellor to actively steer the country’s foreign policy, significantly limiting the power of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.[vii] Olaf Scholz, the newly appointed German chancellor, appears to be a pragmatic continuator of Merkel’s policy, which could potentially undermine the Green Party’s plans for a political turnaround.[viii]
Germany’s stance will be crucial in shaping the broader response of the EU to the Chinese actions and will become an important factor in determining Joe Biden’s success in his attempts to create a joint transatlantic agenda. It will also be significant in the face of the “cognitive split,” which the Chinese often highlight – Europe seeks to be the partner of the PRC, but simultaneously sees it as a rival.[ix] The coming months will show whether Germany is able to sacrifice some of its economic gains to pursue a more ideological foreign policy.
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