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World on Fire
Why Is Germany Turning to China?

On the occasion of Chinese Premier Li Keqiang’s high profile visit to Berlin, the FT has a write up of how Chinese-German relations are progressing, especially in light of the crisis in Ukraine. Angela Merkel has positioned her country as China’s economic door to Europe and is working to parlay that into a diplomatic tool for curtailing Russia’s aggression, given the warming relations between Beijing and Moscow. The FT:

Ms Merkel also hopes that Mr Li can help mediate with Russian president Vladimir Putin over the crisis in Ukraine, in an unusual departure for a country that normally shies away from shuttle diplomacy. The second stop on the Chinese premier’s European tour will be Moscow.

“Germany’s top priority is the Ukraine and stabilising relations with Russia,” says Sebastian Heilmann, president of the Mercator Institute for China Studies in Berlin. “For Berlin, China has become a very important partner because Russia will listen to it. It’s a new diplomatic configuration that we are seeing here.”

“This huge delegation of several hundred decision makers is also an indicator of how important China sees its relationship with Germany,” Prof Heilmann adds. “There must be one gateway open for China to communicate with the west. Right now that gateway is Germany.”

Germany’s diplomatic moves raise a number of questions for a U.S. that is struggling to cope with the return of hard power geopolitics to the world stage:

1) Is Germany’s approach to China for help in mediating the Ukraine issue with Russia something that Berlin coordinated with Washington, or is it the case the Berlin doesn’t see much leadership coming out of DC and is going about addressing this problem on its own?

2) As leaders of two of the world’s export powerhouses meet—both of whose economies have decelerated against the background of slowing demand—are they going to be thinking about ways of promoting a healthier world economy, or will they simply be looking at bilateral issues?

3) China’s massive delegation for its Germany visit is an impressive display of interest and commitment. What are the goals of China’s current policy toward Europe and Germany?

4) One of the sore spots in German-Chinese relations is China’s hunger for a greater and greater transfer of German know-how as the price of opening China to more German business. How much of this friction involves technology transfers that would have significant implications for China’s military capabilities—and how effectively is the US working with the German government to make sure that military security issues are given due weight by German firms in these constant and very focused discussions?

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  • Pete

    Nobody concerned about Hong Kong?

    • Andrew Allison

      An altogether different, albeit important, topic..

    • AndrewL

      Economic and geopolitical interests trump values. Nothing new.

  • Jacksonian_Libertarian

    The Germans are being duped, the Chinese are there to steal as much intellectual property as they can, and won’t help with the Russian problem at all. That big delegation is mostly to over task the German intelligence officers, and leave many of the Chinese unobserved so they can run operations.

    • AndrewL

      In 2013, German export to China totaled 67 billion euros, import 73 billion, for a trade deficit of just 6 billion euros. In the same year, the U.S. exported to China $121 billion, imported $440 billion, for a trade deficit of $319 billion. If the Germans are dupes, what does that make the Americans?

      • phadras

        Idiots as well. We on the right recognize the Chicomm threats but the lefties just see them as fellow travelers.

      • Corlyss

        “If the Germans are dupes, what does that make the Americans?”
        It’s a mutually beneficial obsessive relationship.

    • Sibir_RUS

      Washington still hurts that when in the White house entered B.H.Obama, the U.S. offered the PRC model of the «big two» as a system of privileged global partnership. However, at the end of the 2009 China has officially refused to American proposals, rejected the concept of a «big two» and reaffirmed its commitment to the model of the «multipolar world».

  • John Tyler

    Just because the FT states that Germany is warming to China to help pressure Putin, does not mean this is true at all.
    No one thinks that Putin will listen to China, Merkel or anyone else for that matter.
    It is very clear that the real economic growth over the next few decades will be in Asia; this is a no brainer. Economic growth in Europe will be abysmal at best, and Germany SURVIVES on exports. By opening up doors to China, Merkel is taking the only path available to keep the German economy up and running.
    Germany and all of Europe are strangled by sclerotic labor rules and immensely expensive social programs that , in the foreseeable future, cannot be changed due to the power of the unions and the neo-communist greens ( who have never been lacking in finding new ways to make life ever more difficult and costly for the average citizen, while at the same time enriching the pockets of the ruling elites, a là the Soviet Nomenklatura).
    Increasing trade with China and Asia is really the only choice Germany has at the moment.
    As for the USA, well, we screwed over the Canadians, Egyptians, Libyians, the Kurds, the Arab Christians, Israel, our own oil/gas industry, our corporations , our citizens; pretty much anything and everybody ( excepting our worst enemies) , so, why in hell should Merkel trust the USA?
    You would have to be a total idiot not to see that the USA is by far a totally untrustworthy and undependable as an “allie.”

  • George Costanza

    Germany can shill for China all its wants, in the end, it will only hurt it

  • VeryOldB

    Because the Chinese under Li and the Russians under Putin are more trustworthy than the good old USA under El Figurehead?

  • themaskedblogger

    “…or is it the case the Berlin doesn’t see much leadership coming out of DC and is going about addressing this problem on its own?”

    That’d be my guess.

  • Sibir_RUS

    USA sold in China all German gold to keep afloat dollar from hyperinflation, and now Germany demands the return of gold, which in America not.

  • Levant1234

    Obama said the last week the world always turns to us for solutions.
    Why, because we were the only ones able to solve world problems.
    Haha, President Hope and Change did it,
    He has changed the paradigm!

  • Corlyss

    The post-Wall Germans, frankly, aren’t smart enough to manage themselves, never mind Putin or China.

  • Dhako

    In my view, Germany is only country worth talking to in the whole of the bankrupt EU, and that is they have excellent mid-size engineering firms and most importantly those high-added value industries that will always make profit in any economy of scale are to be found in Germany.

    So, in that sense, from Chinese national perspective “Market-access-for-transfer-of-technology” is the win-win-deal China will have to insist on.

    In other words, if the German’s companies wants to be at the fore-front of getting access to what soon will be the largest internal market in the world, especially one that is growth-orientated and dynamic as far as the eye can see, which is opposite of what is likely to prevail in rest of the developed world, then, they will have to come to China bearing a “gift” of technology transfer.

    And in return they will be allowed to profit from China’s growing prosperity. Otherwise, they should stay and stick around in their bankrupt continent, just in the hope, that somewhere in 2040s, European’s Euro-Zone may return to a sustainable growth that can then soak up the German’s engineering output.

    As for the Russia, China, should be careful, since Putin is not in the mood to be trifle with. And, the reason is that EU and Frau Merkel have done their worst to sabotage his economy and in fact, without Mrs Merkel going out of her way to hurt him, I doubt it the American’s sanction would have been as biting as it now.

    Hence, to Chinese leadership, they have strategic understanding with Russia, which is Russia will look after China’s resource need through a pipe-line at her back, so that her national resource-dependency will not become a victim of America’s naval supremacy in the pacific and in the Indian ocean, if and when the strategic cold-war that exit between the US and China becomes a naval skirmishes in and around the pacific.

    So looking from that perspective and how Russia is the “Decisive Card” for China in her need to guarantee a delivery of natural oil and gas, that is not likely to be interdicted by Uncle Sam (if he so chooses) then it’s important China should do minimum diplomacy to complicate Putin’s position vis-a-vis that of the EU, regardless how much Frau Merkel pleads her case to them.

    After all, in the final analysis, from strategic point of view, today’s Russia and what natural resources she can provide to China, particularly in the sense of seeing to it that China’s dependency of that resources is not at the mercy of US’s naval fleet in the Pacific are far more decisive to China’s national security than what EU as a whole could provide to the Chinese’s economy.

    Hence, you can say, that EU is a secondary commercial interest to China. While on the other hand, Russia is a first “strategic priority” to China, and therefore relative importance of the EU and Russia in the Chinese eyes, is self-explanatory.

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