Development Minister Gerd Müller’s new strategy for Germany’s involvement in Asia intends to helo the booming continent achieve environmentally and socially acceptable growth with aid from German citizens and businesses. Critics are sceptical. EURACTIV Germany reports.
“Asia’s biggest challenge is paving the way for sustainable growth that will include all people and protect the environment. To achieve this, we are offering our experience and our know-how,” said Development Minister Müller on Wednesday (18 June) at the presentation of the Asia strategy in Berlin.
The Development Ministry (BMZ) has determined new priorities for its Asia policy, aiming to focus more on sustainability in the future. In this way, it hopes to eliminate the significant gap between the poor and wealthy in Asian countries.
No other continent is as contradictory as Asia. Countries like China, India and Indonesia have experienced rapid economic growth in recent years. Asian states will have fulfilled most of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) by the end of the year.
But at the same time, 60% of the world’s poor live in Asia and five of the ten countries most heavily impacted by climate change are on the Asian continent.
Now, Müller is determined to put the spotlight on sustainability with his Asia strategy, especially in light of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which the international community hopes to define in September at the UN General Assembly in New York.
Priorities in the new strategy are climate protection, preserving biodiversity, combating the causes of flight from native countries and shaping the development of a socially- and ecologically-oriented market economy.
The living and working conditions for many people in Asia are still catastrophic, Müller said, pointing to workers in textile factories as an example. For this reason, the conservative minister is also hoping to push his showcase project – the Textile Alliance – in the coming months.
After a shaky start, the alliance was able to win over big apparel manufacturers and now counts 31 new members. These include the three big German textile associations as well as numerous giants like H&M, C&A, KiK and ALDI.
Together with civil society and governments, these companies have pledged to gradually develop and implement fair company standards along the entire supply chain.
Müller also enjoyed a partial victory at the G7 Summit at Schloss Elmau. There, G7 leaders pledged to follow Germany’s example and develop similar alliances in their own countries. G7 development and labour ministers are expected to meet in Berlin in October to implement the plan.
On Wednesday, Müller’s State Secretary Hans-Joachim Fuchtel also made an appeal to German consumers.
Their purchase decisions have a direct impact on the labour conditions of seamstresses in Bangladesh or India, he pointed out.
“Green energy corridors” against climate change
In light of the SDGs and the UN Climate Conference in Paris (COP21), Müller recalled the significant role of newly industrialising countries in Asia. The continent is responsible for two-thirds of global greenhouse gas emissions, he indicated.
“Cooperation from Asian countries is crucial for designing international development and sustainability goals and the new global climate treaty,” Müller said.
According to the Asia strategy paper, Germany’s development policy will support the continent in laying the groundwork for a climate-friendly energy supply. Here, Müller referred to India as an example, where German loans of up to €1 billion are helping to build “Green Energy Corridors” in which wind and solar farms are connected to the supply network.
To protect people from the effects of climate change, the Asia strategy paper says, extensive reforestation and forest protection programmes are planned in areas like the Mekong region or Mongolia.
Meanwhile, the German Institute for Development Policy (DIE) praised the Development Ministry’s new Asia strategy.
“Climate change and environmental protection have long been priorities of development cooperation. These are global challenges that must be tackled at a global level. Without large countries in Asia the international climate targets cannot be reached. In that sense, it is both right and important that this is also reflected in the BMZ’s Asia strategy,” said Asia expert Ulrich Volz.
Gerd Müller’s solo effort?
But opposition parties in the Bundestag are criticising the initiative. “The Development Ministry is defining a strategy for the entire Asian continent. It is doubtful whether such a diverse region can be covered by a single strategy paper,” said Green MP Uwe Kekeritz.
There is reasonable ground to suspect that the Asia strategy – like the Africa strategy – is not coordinated with other departments in the federal cabinet, he contended. “An overall plan from the federal government would be desireable.”
The Development Ministry should do more to fight growing inequality in Asia, Kekeritz explained.
“The German government should ensure that development funds in particular work to reduce poverty and help close the gap between the rich and poor. In building local value chains, particular care should be taken to ensure that these do not impede protection of biodiversity – especially with regard to palm oil projects,” the Green MP argued.
Bundestag MP Niema Movassat also called on the German government to work more closely with Asian countries like China on development cooperation.
“60% of poverty reduction can be attributed to the People’s Republic of China,” Movassat indicated, “the country is becoming increasingly important in helping developing countries. We need stronger North-South-South cooperation”.