Merkel’s visit to China comes at a difficult time

Mikko Huotari, the deputy director of the Chinese institute MERICS, said that if Beijing does not uphold the fundamental freedoms and extensive autonomy in Hong Kong, "it also means that China is not a reliable partner." EPA-EFE/YOAN VALAT [EPA-EFE/YOAN VALAT]

The Hong Kong crisis and the backlash over the Chinese takeover of German companies could make Chancellor Angela Merkel’s twelfth trip to China particularly delicate. EURACTIV’s media partner der Tagesspiegel reports.

The Chinese media have been praising German Chancellor Angela Merkel, calling her a friend of the People’s Republic. In particular, the media have highlighted the rift between her and US President Donald Trump, as well as her fondness of Chinese dumplings and attempts to play Kongzhu, a Chinese game.

However, her twelfth trip to China, which starts today (5 September), will not be the most pleasant. Accompanied by a high-ranking business delegation, including Siemens CEO Joe Kaeser, her visit will also be about the growing concerns of German companies located in China. In times of tough US trade policy, however, China is almost considered to be a reliable partner.

 

Hong Kong a 'test for European leadership', trade unions say

A contingency of trade unions came out in solidarity with Hong Kong pro-democracy campaigners on Monday (2 September), with a group in Brussels calling for Europe to lead the way in ensuring that human rights are eroded no further in the region, amid greater political pressure from Beijing in the region.

Hong Kong

Although Honk Kong’s controversial extradition bill was withdrawn in time for Merkel’s trip, the economic powerhouse could still intervene.

“Hong Kong is increasingly becoming a burning glass, as we deal with China,” said Mikko Huotari, the deputy director of the Chinese institute MERICS.

Huotari said that if Beijing does not uphold the fundamental freedoms and extensive autonomy in Hong Kong, “it also means that China is not a reliable partner.”

Joshua Wong, one of the leaders of the pro-democracy party Demosistō, is urging Merkel to stand up for the concerns of the Hong Kong party.

However, the German chancellor does not want to snub her hosts too much. The importance of China as a partner is demonstrated by the fact that the first summit hosted by the German EU presidency in 2020 will welcome all EU member states, and China.

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Rival or partner?

Even German business representatives do not see eye-to-eye when it comes to China.

A paper by German industry federation BDI, in which China was classified as a systemic rival, has been causing an uproar.

“Between our model of a liberal, open and social market economy and China’s state-dominated economy, there is the emergence of a systemic competition,” the paper wrote.

As an emerging economic power, China is shaping other markets and the international economic order – many, for example, consider the agreements on the Silk Road Project as ‘diktat’ contracts.

The BDI is, therefore, calling for European cooperation on the issue.

Volker Treier of the Association of German Chambers of Industry and Commerce (DIHK) called on Merkel to advocate for equal and open market access for all companies, “be it for investments in China, or opportunities for participation in the ‘New Silk Road’ project.”

To expand its sphere of influence, China is already trying to attract countries like Italy.

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Tensions

The Chinese embassy has been a harsh critic, for example, when the Bundestag discussed Chinese repression against the Muslim Uighur minority. The Bundestag’s digital committee’s trip to China was even cancelled as a result. And there is a lot of resistance against Huawei’s participation in the German 5G expansion.

The Green politician Jürgen Trittin also referred to new hurdles for German companies and the lack of an investment protection agreement. “Foreign companies are forced to transfer technology, and a rating system is used to put pressure on employees in companies,” he said.

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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