China has Germany in a firm embrace and it does not seem as if they will be letting go any time soon, nor does it seem as if the Germans want to be let out of that embrace. Given the hostility a great many western countries have toward China, this is quite surprising, especially in light of the noises that were made during the initial outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic. But then, Germany’s reasons for wanting to stay close to China are tied to its need to dominate Europe economically.
But why is this the case? Why has Germany decided to stray from its Western allies, when everyone else seems to be willing to take a hit in order to stand for something? The answer to that seems to stem from the financial crisis of a decade ago.
When the financial crisis of 2008/09 hit, demand for German goods from the US fell exponentially, and in order to fill that demand the Germans turned to the only country not significantly affected by the crisis, China. Chinese demand for German goods continued unabated until the pandemic hit, and even then in June, German car sales in China rose by 11% following months of decline. All this whilst the US, which still remains Germany’s largest export market overall, continues to struggle to control the outbreak, China is gradually returning to normal.
Indeed, though there are concerns being voiced by some within the German establishment over China’s handling of issues such as Hong Kong and 5G, Germany led by Merkel has ploughed on with its relationship with the country. This seems quite odd given the image many people have of Merkel as being led by her morals, such as when she decided to go against much advice, and accept thousands of refugees from war torn Syria in 2015. But if one actually examines her track record on China, a much clearer picture emerges.
Whether it’s the oppression in Tibet, detention of Uighurs or the mass surveillance state being mobilised in China, Merkel has always made the right noises about rights and freedoms, and the need for dialogue, but has always put business first. Such is her dominance of the state of play in the EU as well, it seems that even the EU have shied away from outright criticising China on some measures, with Ursula von der Leyen stating that ‘It’s not possible to shape the world of tomorrow without a strong EU-China relationship.’
As such, it must be hard for the Chinese government to actually take any language that criticises it seriously, knowing as they do that many in Germany and in the EU establishment are relying on their country to act as a counter to an increasingly unreliable US.
It can come as no surprise that many in Berlin are waiting for November to see if the US will finally become a reliable ally again, but until then the ever growing distance between the two countries continues to play a role in Germany’s pivot to China. Trump’s barbs over NATO and as regards the trade deficit the US has in regards to Germany will not have helped, nor will the wrangling over Huawei and 5G.
Ultimately, Germany and China are engaged in a dance that will end either with China completely dominating the once great power, or there will be a divorce. For everyone’s sake, let us hope that no blood is shed before that final moment comes.