Germany will not blindly follow the US in its China policy

2022-06-18 0 By

“Germany’s (Not very) New China Policy”, by Nadine Goedhardt and Moritz Rudolf, was published on The Website of American Diplomats on February 4.The Winter Olympics opened in Beijing on Feb. 4 without officials from the United States, Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.Apart from the five Eyes members, not many countries have decided to follow the United States in boycotting the Winter Olympics.The German government has been cautious.Just a few days before the opening ceremony, Chancellor Olaf Scholz had repeatedly stressed the need to coordinate the German government’s position with its European partners.The German government’s actions come as no surprise to close observers of Its China policy.Mr Scholz’s reluctance to join the so-called “boycott” suggests that while some envisage a new German foreign policy in the post-Merkel era, the new German government will not meet their aspirations.In particular, Washington’s expectations of transatlantic co-ordination on China seem quixotic because they are based on superficial analysis of German foreign policy or wishful thinking.Some reports on the Chinese chapter of Germany’s new governing coalition agreement, for example, suggest that the document has a weight it simply does not have in political reality.Moreover, the interpretation of the term “values-based foreign policy” seems arbitrary, ignoring the complexity of sino-German relations, or the complex political context (including the inner workings of the three-party coalition, the respective party factions in the coalition, the federal Foreign ministry and the European Union).If transatlantic co-ordination on China is to have any chance of success, these realities need to be recognised first.Here are a few things for The US to consider about Germany.In Germany, the Federal Chancellery, rather than the Federal Foreign ministry, usually decides foreign policy.When Angela Merkel was chancellor, this was especially true when it came to China.Difficult coalition treaty negotiations or recent reports that the federal foreign Ministry will develop a new policy towards China have prompted many to conclude that a Green party-led foreign ministry will fundamentally change German foreign policy.Yet this interpretation ignores the institutional limits of Germany’s foreign-policy decision-making process.If the foreign minister wants to play a central role in Germany’s China policy, the federal Foreign Ministry needs to be overhauled first.For example, measures to make the Federal Foreign Office suitable for dealing with China might include: first, the training of Experts on China, including the appointment of special advisers.At present, the Federal Foreign Office relies mainly on generalist advisers and a great deal of knowledge is lost to the principle of rotation.Second, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs needs to expand its financial and personal resources.Third, the Foreign Office can also present a more strategic vision for the department as a whole.The fourth is the establishment of a Special Representative for China, responsible for coordinating all Federal government activities related to China and reporting directly to the Foreign Minister.It should be noted that some German departments have strong expertise on China issues and tend to follow an independent China policy.The federal Department of Economics and Climate Protection, for example, has taken a more co-operative approach to China than the Interior Department.The federal Ministry of Economic Cooperation and Development competes “on the ground” with China in infrastructure projects and third-country development cooperation.This diversification has created an urgent need for greater coordination between German ministries.To become a key player in Germany’s China policy, the foreign ministry needs to transform itself into a facilitator and strategic mediator between ministries, working hand in hand with the Federal Chancellery.At present, the federal Foreign Ministry is unable to carry out any of these tasks, thus limiting its ability to shape Germany’s China policy effectively and constructively.In terms of substance, tougher rhetoric towards China and a so-called “values-based foreign policy” do not necessarily mean that Germany’s China policy will fully align with Washington’s.The devil is in the details.First, Germany’s approach to “values-based foreign policy” is likely to place greater emphasis on upholding international norms, multilateral co-operation and defending the rule of law within international institutions.Washington seems focused on a more ideological “us versus them” approach, exemplified by the Biden administration’s so-called “democracy summit.”Second, it is not clear that Europe and the US are on the same page about the challenges posed by China’s rise.As a result, it is difficult to agree on a simple but crucial question: if China policy is to be coordinated, what is our common goal?There is a lot of competition between the US and Europe and the level of partnership, competition and systemic confrontation in Europe will shape the relationship between China and Germany.This further underlines the widespread recognition in European capitals that geopolitical changes such as sino-US rivalry are not just happening around them, but that Germany and Europe are themselves part of those changes.The US and EU will face each other as competitors on infrastructure projects.Moreover, Germany will need to balance a “values-based foreign policy” with its stated aim of greater policy co-ordination at EU level.It is unlikely that all EU members will follow the so-called “values-based” China policy proposed by Germany.It might be wise for Washington to adjust its expectations for a new German or EU policy towards China.European leaders will not blindly follow Washington’s approach to China, especially given that former President Trump is likely to make a comeback in 2024.