Don’t let economic temptations obscure future security hazards

Overemphasizing economic relations must not lead to overlooking China’s expansion of its military power and its moves to disrupt the international order.

As the European Union’s leading power, Germany must have a balanced policy toward China.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz met with Chinese President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang during a trip to China, and the leaders agreed to strengthen bilateral ties and expand economic cooperation.

Scholz cautioned against China’s support for Russia over the Ukraine conflict and expressed concern about Beijing’s human rights problems as well. As Scholz is the first Group of Seven leader to visit the country since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, it was highly significant that he directly conveyed the G7’s position.

On the other hand, it is worrying that Germany seems to be too eager to promote economic cooperation with China. Scholz is said to have been accompanied on the trip by executives and others from German companies.

In October, the Scholz administration decided to allow a Chinese state-owned shipping giant to acquire a stake in a logistics terminal at the Port of Hamburg. This means Germany is accepting Chinese capital into the operation of key facilities at its largest port and harbor.

It is a known fact that China is trying to increase its economic and military influence by making inroads into ports, harbors and other infrastructure around the world in line with its Belt and Road Initiative, which is aimed at creating a huge economic zone. One can’t help but wonder why Germany allowed a Chinese company to make such inroads now.

Germany adopted a conciliatory policy toward China that placed importance on the economy during the administration of former Chancellor Angela Merkel, and China has been its largest trading partner for six consecutive years. Beijing has been increasing its coercion against Taiwan and making clear its confrontational posture against the United States, Europe and Japan. Will Berlin maintain its existing policy amid such a situation?

Germany’s economy, which is heavily dependent on Russian energy, was hit hard by the Ukraine crisis. Berlin must not repeat the same mistake by willingly deepening its relationship with China. It should be mindful of the moves of the United States, Europe and Japan, which are wary of dependence on China in their supply chains.

In the EU, China is increasingly recognized as a security threat even though it is geographically distant. Particularly in Eastern Europe, which was ruled by the former Soviet Union, there is a strong distrust of China, which acts in concert with Russia.

It is obvious that China hopes to use Scholz’s visit as a breakthrough to improve relations with the EU. It may also serve as a propaganda opportunity to show that Xi’s just-inaugurated third-term administration is recognized by major countries.

Germany will hold the G7 presidency this year. To ensure that the solidarity of the democratic bloc is not disturbed, it should maintain firm coordination with the G7 and the EU in its policy toward China.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Nov. 5, 2022)