Language : English 简体 繁體
Foreign Policy

Should Germany and EU Turn Toward China?

Apr 30, 2024
  • Dong Yifan

    Assistant Research Fellow, China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz began his second visit to China on April 16. Many details of his tour underscore the high importance he attaches to close cooperation between the two nations. For example, during this visit, his longest in China since taking office, he had extensive engagement and communication with people from all sectors in Chongqing, Shanghai and Beijing. He is also the first German chancellor to visit Chongqing. 

China rolled out the red carpet for Scholz. Following talks, he enjoyed a leisurely walk with President Xi Jinping at Diaoyutai State Guesthouse, taking in the spring scenery and exchanging ideas on national governance in a relaxed atmosphere. The visit was significant for both nations, particularly in navigating international relations and the external environment.

Amid a turbulent international geopolitical landscape, China and Germany have reached consensus on the direction of world development, forming a basis for relations to move beyond economics. Strategically, China believes that profound changes unseen in a century are accelerating and that the world has entered a new period of turmoil and transformation. These beliefs resonate with the notion of what Scholz has called “the turning point of the times.”

Moreover, the Munich Security Report 2024 — titled “Lose-Lose?” — reflects the concerns of the strategic community in Germany and Europe generally about the spread of geopolitical conflicts and the escalation of international political and economic competition. In fact, these issues are tough waters that China, Germany and Europe at large must navigate.

In the context of multiplying risks and challenges and mounting governance issues, China and Germany, as the world's second- and third-largest economies, have to expand their cooperation beyond economic and bilateral realms to safeguard their mutual interests and meet their responsibility to foster global peace and development. Together, both nations need to inject more stability and certainty into the global arena. This is a pragmatic imperative.

Scholz recognizes that Germany and Europe need to grapple with internal and external shocks. To make matters worse, differences over domestic and foreign affairs have intensified within the three-party governing coalition he leads. Therefore, it is a sensible and practical thing for him to enhance win-win cooperation with China and contribute to the strategic enhancement of China-EU relations in partnership with Chinese leaders. Doing so will help re-affirm his authority over foreign policy and dispel negative projections regarding German national power and leadership.

In fact, even against the background of the intensified conflict between Iran and Israel and the existing crisis in the Middle East, China and Germany have reached a consensus on both the Palestinian-Israeli and Ukrainian conflicts. This alignment underscores their shared commitment to advancing peace talks and reducing the spillover effects of the conflicts as they work to translate their diplomatic rhetoric into solid action on the ground.  Their consensus will lay a more solid foundation for coordinated action by China and the EU to address the conflicts and repair the damage caused by third parties to their mutual trust.

On economic and trade issues, China and Germany are taking a rational and pragmatic approach to market competition and the risks perceived by Europe. While the EU has pushed the notion of “de-risking,” the Chinese government and Chinese companies see certain EU institutions as creating risks for bilateral economic and trade relations. For example, the European Commission has launched a series of investigations into Chinese-made electric vehicles and an inquiry into Chinese-backed solar bids looking for unfair government subsidies. These moves are viewed by China’s Ministry of Commerce as reflecting double standards and protectionism.

The German government adopted the notion of de-risking in its Strategy on China released last year; however, aware of challenges posed by the rise of electric vehicles to domestic auto companies that are still tied to internal combustion engines, it has emphasized the importance of fair competition and competition-driven progress. Scholz has mentioned on many occasions that protectionism doesn’t foster competitiveness. His recent visit to China reflects a mainstream belief within the German economic community favoring deepened bilateral cooperation and promoting the integration of shared interests.

In addition, Scholz was accompanied by a wide array of multinational companies as he inspected joint projects in education and scientific research and joint ventures in the green industry in Chongqing and Shanghai, injecting confidence and momentum into bilateral cooperation. In his newly opened TikTok account, he praised the effectiveness of China’s visa-free policy in promoting people-to-people exchanges and showed his support for enhanced exchanges.

In the future, China-Germany cooperation will continue to play a stabilizing role in China-EU relations, but both nations need to remain alert to potential uncertainties. For example, atlanticists in German and European politics continue to exert a negative influence, as seen in the remark by German Minister for Economic Affairs and Climate Action Robert Habeck during his visit to the United States this year: “Germany will still choose the United States if necessary.” Meanwhile, the upcoming elections in the United States and European Union mean that any China-related agenda could be politicized and ideologically hyped.

If Donald Trump returns to the White House, an important question arises: Should Germany — which has been heavily criticized by the former U.S. president — consider strengthening its cooperation with China, and press for wider China-EU cooperation, to mitigate potential shocks in the realms of economics, trade, climate change, the Middle East situation and others? Such a course may be wise.

You might also like
Back to Top