CHINA / DIPLOMACY
German coalition govt may change China policy, but to 'Germany's own jeopardy'
Published: Nov 25, 2021 11:16 PM
German Chancellor Angela Merkel receives a bouquet of flowers from Vice Chancellor and Finance Minister Olaf Scholz before the cabinet meeting in Berlin on November 24, 2021. Due to the schedule of coalition talks for a new German government, it is probably Merkel's last cabinet session as German Chancellor, after a historic 16 years in power. Photo: VCG

German Chancellor Angela Merkel receives a bouquet of flowers from Vice Chancellor and Finance Minister Olaf Scholz before the cabinet meeting in Berlin on November 24, 2021. Due to the schedule of coalition talks for a new German government, it is probably Merkel's last cabinet session as German Chancellor, after a historic 16 years in power. Photo: VCG

As Germany prepares for a center-left government for the first time in 16 years, some media said the coalition deal implies a tougher policy toward China. However, Chinese analysts disagreed with the possibility of a sharp change from Merkel's pragmatic strategy, but warned of twists in relations in the post-Merkel era that would hurt Germany's interests.

Social Democrat Olaf Scholz will succeed Angela Merkel as German chancellor, and will form a government with the Green Party and Free Democratic Party.

Scholz's Social Democrats, the environmentalist Greens and the pro-business Free Democrats are set to take the reins of Germany as they vowed on Wednesday to modernize Europe's biggest economy. The three-party alliance is a first for a German government, Associated Press reported on Wednesday. 

A 177-page government deal the three parties negotiated to form the government was also unveiled on Wednesday with "China" being mentioned more than a dozen times and human rights topics related to China's Xinjiang, Hong Kong and Taiwan regions being referred to. Some media interpreted it as sign of a tough China policy, and implied a change from Merkel's strategy. 

In response, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian told a press conference on Thursday that Taiwan, South China Sea, Xinjiang and Hong Kong are all China's internal affairs and related to China's integrity and sovereignty. Successive German governments all adhered to the one-China principle and we hope the new government would carry on with the policy, respect China's core interests and defend the political foundation of bilateral ties. 

He Zhigao, a research fellow at the Institute of European Studies of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, disagreed with the interpretation of the coalition agreement as the "sternest" policy toward China. "To develop ties with China as a 'partner, competitor and rival' are not fresh words." 

He told the Global Times that the three words reflect different focuses and voices of the three parties of the new German government, and have also been symbolic factors for the EU's relations with China.

Mentioning China many times shows the new government attaches great importance to relations with China and is taking a serious attitude toward the bilateral relations. But China-Germany relations may become bumpy, for a government with three parties may mean different voices and political appeals, experts said, noting that the new government should draw experience from previous twists in the early Merkel era, and the two countries should not repeat the twists and turns again. 

Compared with Merkel who sought a balanced and stable strategy on China, the new agreement demonstrated a radical attitude, especially by mentioning China's domestic affairs in it. This may have been brought by the Green Party and Free Democrats, but it remains to be seen whether their political influence would be implemented, Cui Hongjian, the director of the Department of European Studies at the China Institute of International Studies, told the Global Times. 

Cui noted that China-Germany ties may encounter some problems as the new government may be eager to carry out policies from the agreement to show its capability, including making some remarks on China's domestic affairs. Whether they can fix problems will be key to future bilateral relations, Cui said, noting it depends on whether the Social Democrats can play their role.

The Social Democrats have been the ruling party for a long time and participated in formulating the China policy for Merkel. Scholz has been Merkel's finance minister and vice chancellor since 2018. 

Some experts noted that it is unlikely to see fundamental changes in Germany's China policy in the long run except for short-term twists, since the two countries have benefited from the pragmatic strategy of the Merkel era and embraced the fruitful achievements. 

Cui noted that in the Merkel era, Germany served as a bridge between China and the EU, and its cooperation with China has set good example to promote China-EU relations. But given the negative factors that affect the China-EU relations and the pressure given to Germany, there may be more twists in China-German relations in the near future. 

Experts said that to avoid repeating previous twists and turns, the legacy of Merkel should be maintained, including the close communication between the two governments and exchanges on trade. 


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