The European Union is not known for speed or astuteness – which makes its firm attitude towards China all the more surprising. EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has long called for greater resilience among the 27 member states in the face of Beijing’s quest for power, and last week, she laid out in the European Parliament how that could work.
With its military presence in the East China Sea, China threatens Taiwan’s democracy and, in the Xinjiang region, the world’s number two economic superpower systematically violates human rights against the Muslim population, such as the Uighur.
With few exceptions, the EU has recognised the potential for conflict that emanates from the “new era” proclaimed by China’s party and state leader Xi Jinping. But while Brussels has a plan for China, Berlin does not.
The German government is still struggling to come up with a new China strategy. Decoupling Germany from China is not the solution, chancellor Olaf Scholz argues, since the People’s Republic is Germany’s biggest trade partner and important for many German multinationals, like Volkswagen and Siemens. Scholz insists on derisking by diversifying. But Germany has failed to branch out in the past.
Nowhere has this become clearer than in the energy sector after Russia invaded Ukraine.
The risk of dependence on Moscow’s hydrocarbons was widely debated since the annexation of Crimea in 2014, but instead of diversifying its energy supply, Germany allowed the pipeline Nord Stream 2 to be built. The rest is history.
The threat of a major conflict of interests, like in the event of a Chinese attack on Taiwan, is real and would have devastating consequences for the global economy.
Therefore, it would be helpful if Scholz learned from the errors his Social Democrats made in the past. If Germany’s foreign policy continues to take an ‘economy-first’ attitude in the face of China’s growing belligerence, it risks repeating the same mistakes it made in its appeasing attitude to Russia.