Allies blast Scholz over Chinese investment in German port

AP Photo/Martin Meissner,file
Container ships are seen at the Terminal Burchardkai at the port in Hamburg, Germany, Wednesday, Jan. 19, 2022.

BERLIN (AP) — Lawmakers from two of Germany’s governing parties on Thursday slammed plans for Chinese shipping group COSCO to take a major stake in the operator of the country’s biggest container terminal, warning that they pose a national security risk.

Public broadcaster NDR reported that Chancellor Olaf Scholz has asked officials to find a compromise that would allow the investment in Hamburg to happen, after six ministries initially rejected it on the grounds that COSCO, already the port’s biggest customer, could get too much leverage.

Two officials with knowledge of the matter, who spoke on condition of anonymity as they weren’t authorized to be quoted, confirmed that several ministries opposed the deal. Scholz’s office said the investment review would follow existing rules but declined further comment, citing business confidentiality.

Lawmakers from the Green party and the Free Democrats, which formed a coalition last year with Scholz’ Social Democrats, openly criticized the plan.

“Our critical infrastructure must not become a plaything for the geopolitical interests of others,” Green party lawmaker Marcel Emmerich said. Citing a past government decision by one of Scholz’s fellow Social Democrats to let Russia buy German natural gas storage facilities, he accused the chancellor of wanting to “flog off parts of the port of Hamburg to China, whatever it takes.”

The pro-business Free Democrats likewise expressed opposition to the deal.

“The Chinese Communist Party must not have access to our country’s critical infrastructure,” the party’s general secretary, Bijan Djir-Sarai, told German news agency dpa. “That would be a mistake and a risk.”

“China is an importing trading partner but also a systemic rival,” he was quoted as saying. “We should act accordingly.”

Another Free Democrat lawmaker, Reinhard Houben, told news portal t-online that the chancellery should respect the decision by six ministries opposing the sale.

But Hamburg port operator HHLA insisted that it would retain “sole control over all significant decisions” if COSCO takes a 35% stake in the container terminal business.

“The cooperation between HHLA and COSCO does not create any one-sided dependencies,” it said. “On the contrary: it strengthens supply chains, secures jobs and promotes value creation in Germany.”

The spat comes days after Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock said Berlin must avoid repeating with China the mistakes it made with Russia over recent years, leading to a dependence on Russian energy imports.

German intelligence agencies also warned this week of China’s rising might and how it could become a risk for Germany, particularly because of the strong economic and scientific ties between the two countries.

In a hearing with lawmakers, the head of Germany’s domestic intelligence agency, Thomas Haldenwang, made a comparison with the current geopolitical turmoil over the war in Ukraine, saying that “Russia is the storm, China is climate change.”