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Merkel's China policy: clear silence


The protests in Hong Kong are escalating, but the federal government is having a hard time criticizing leadership in Beijing. Chancellor Merkel also defies the critics when it comes to Huawei - too important is the trading partner.

Every day, the images of the violent clashes in Hong Kong go around the world. The shock of the recent escalation of the protests is great - but there is relative calm in political Berlin. While the US Senate has passed a bill to support "human rights and democracy" in Hong Kong, the federal government is holding back.

"The federal government must finally find appropriate responses to the violent protests in Hong Kong," says the FDP foreign policy leader Bijan Djir-Sarai. The Hong Kong and Beijing governments have spent the last few months de-escalating the situation and responding to the legitimate demands of the demonstrators. "Instead, they have responded by force, causing the situation to escalate, and the situation is like a civil war."

But in the government, one finds it difficult to find clear words in a confusing situation, in which some of the protesters also launch serious acts of violence.

Merkel is silent

The Chancellor herself has not heard a word about the recent events. As early as September, Angela Merkel had called for a peaceful solution for Hong Kong in Beijing, and it sounds similar now. A government spokeswoman said that the Hong Kong coverage was "increasingly worrying" and that the government was calling for restraint and readiness on the part of all sides, demonstrators and police alike. It is hoped that "concrete measures of de-escalation will be taken as soon as possible in order to arrive at a peaceful solution to the conflict".

But there can be no talk of that right now.

How irritated Beijing reacts, when - once, at least symbolically - a clear position is taken, was shown at the beginning of September, when Foreign Minister Heiko Maas (SPD) was photographed in Berlin alongside Hong Kong activist Joshua Wong. China then ordered the German ambassador in Beijing to the Foreign Ministry.


Protesters near the Polytechnic University (November 19, 2019)

On the other hand, Germans do not like to talk about real consequences of the aggravated situation in Hong Kong. The Grand Coalition speaks only of restrained tones. The SPD foreign politician Nils Schmid told the TV channel "Phoenix" that he had doubts whether "now economic pressure would actually help the demonstrators in the short term". But should it come to the intervention of the People's Liberation Army in Hong Kong, "then certainly sanctions will be on the agenda," said Schmid.

The economic ties between Germany and China are close. Large German companies such as VW export and produce in the country itself, are in their balance sheet results dependent on the development of the sales market in China. For China, in turn, Germany is the most important trading country, between 2018 and 2018, according to the Federal Statistical Office, goods worth 199.3 billion euros were traded between the two countries. For 19 years, Germany has tried to influence the communist system through the "rule of law dialogue". But the successes are controversial.

"Uncompromisingly repressive"

The chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Bundestag, Norbert Röttgen, sees the development in China critically. Under state and party leader Xi Jinping, the country has fundamentally changed, he told the SPIEGEL. "Xi has eliminated the principles of temporary and collective leadership and established a monolithic rule tailored to him, outwardly China has become expansive, inwardly uncompromisingly repressive," said the CDU politician.

At the same time, the ambivalent attitude of German politics can be seen in Röttgen's comments. China has become internationally "indispensable" as a political and economic partner, but at the same time as a competitor. "What matters is that German politics appeals to both sides of China, here the federal government must establish a balance."

The "one country, two systems" principle, which applies to the special status of the former British Crown Colony for Hong Kong, has indeed been promised to China, but has begun to be touched and restricted. "Germany must work towards a great unity of Europeans in dealing with China, only then we are strong and only then will we be taken seriously by China," Röttgen demands.

Huawei becomes a topic at the CDU Federal Party Day

Röttgen is also the one who directs the focus on China with another from the CDU this week on a different topic: It's about the question of whether Chinese network equipment suppliers like Huawei may be involved in the construction of the 5G mobile network, they are critics as a gateway for espionage and sabotage in German networks. In CDU and SPD there is discomfort, several SPD MPs are pushing to exclude Huawei network expansion.

Röttgen in turn brings to the beginning of the week beginning of the CDU Federal Party Congress in Leipzig, an initiative on the subject. In it, a decision on the 5G expansion in the Bundestag is required - and not only by the government. In particular, China is not mentioned in the paper, but even so it is clear who is meant: "Trustworthy" could be "only those outfitters who are not under the influence of undemocratic states without functioning, constitutional structures."

Merkel, on the other hand, has recently defended her attitude of not excluding Huawei. Although she takes all "discussion contributions" seriously, but trust their own security agencies.

The Chinese Chamber of Commerce in Germany had warned at the beginning of the week urgently against an exclusion Huawei. This "would have a highly negative impact on the future economic cooperation between Germany and China," the Chamber wrote in a statement.

Source: spiegel

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