What does Trump's dream world look like

Superpower duel: China is about to destroy Germany's dream world

  • In a dream world, Germany could have excellent relations with both China and the United States.
  • In a dream world, Germany could continue to hold onto China as an important trading partner and generously overlook the fact that Beijing has “a different understanding of civil rights”, as Economics Minister Peter Altmaier put it.
  • In reality, Germany now has to admit: Who is more important - a democratic ally or an authoritarian economic power?

Germany would have liked best if China and the USA had got along well.

In Germany's dream world, the Americans would have remained the great protectors of the liberal West. Confident, reliable - and understanding when Germany deviates a little from the US line.

In Germany's dream world, China would have become an increasingly larger and more important trading partner at the same time. A trading partner who adheres to international rules, who does not artificially cheapen its own products, who finally opens its huge market completely according to the principles of the free market. A trading partner who also politically complies with the US-led liberal world order, who no longer tramples human rights, respects and even guarantees the rights and freedoms of minorities and dissidents. Its model company can therefore also build the cellular network of the future in Germany.

This week it became all the more evident that this is a dream world. Then US President Donald Trump escalated the conflict with China with new sanctions. China countered with threats and punitive measures.

The trigger for the renewed exchange of blows was the close US ally Great Britain, who announced that it would exclude the Chinese telecom giant Huawei from expanding its fast 5G mobile network. Accordingly, the conservative government around Prime Minister Boris Johnson wants to completely ban the purchase of Huawei 5G components for network providers. Parts that have already been installed are to be removed by 2027. In addition to security concerns, the government also cited the consequences of the recently imposed US sanctions.

Shortly afterwards, US President Trump followed up. He signed a new sanctions law against China. This is intended to hold the People's Republic accountable for "repressive actions" against the people of Hong Kong, argued the head of the White House. The law gives his government effective new tools to take action against people and institutions that are "wiping out Hong Kong's freedom".

The trigger is Hong Kong's National Security Protection Act, which China enacted at the end of June. It is directed against activities in the Chinese Special Administrative Region that Beijing regards as “subversive”, “separatist” or “terrorist”. It is also said to punish “collusion” by activists with forces abroad. The law gives China's State Security extensive powers to operate and investigate in Hong Kong. It is feared that China will put an end to the pro-democracy movement in the city.

Also read: "Do not sacrifice Germany's values ​​to please China": Hong Kong activists make a dramatic appeal to Chancellor Merkel

China responds with threats and punitive measures

China didn’t let it sit down. The times in which the People's Republic allowed itself to be instructed, indeed controlled, by the West are long gone anyway. Rather, China's autocratic ruling President Xi Jinping wants to lead his country back to where it was before the rise of the West in the 19th century: past the USA, to the top of the world.

So China shot Great Britain first. "It is a major threat to the security of Chinese investments," said Foreign Office spokeswoman Hua Chunying. The question is whether the UK market will remain “open, fair and non-discriminatory”. The Chinese government is very concerned about this and urges Chinese companies to pay close attention to the growing political risks in the UK market.

In plain language this meant: Dear British, you may have made billions in business with China in the past. But that can change quickly. As recently as December 2019, China was Great Britain's third most important export market worldwide.

On Wednesday, China then took on the United States. The Beijing government announced punitive measures against US citizens who “misbehave” on Hong Kong issues. The Chinese State Department also appointed the US ambassador to Beijing, Terry Branstad. Deputy Foreign Minister Zheng Zeguang accused the US of interfering in internal affairs at the meeting. He spoke of an attempt to "hinder and curb the development of China."

The more the US-Chinese conflict intensifies, the more uncomfortable many Western countries, which are in a similar situation to Germany, become. They usually stand behind the USA in political and military matters, share their democratic values ​​with them, but at the same time maintain close and lucrative economic relations with the communist state of China.

So far, only a few countries have complied with the US's vehement pressure to break with China. So far, in addition to the USA and Great Britain, only Australia, New Zealand, Japan, South Korea, Italy and Denmark have practically excluded the Chinese tech group Huawei from participating in the expansion of the future-oriented 5G mobile network. Other countries such as Spain, France, Canada or Germany are still hesitating.

They also hesitate because they fear not only the wrath of China after a Huawei expulsion, but also a clear economic disadvantage. Huawei is considered a pioneer in 5G technology in specialist circles. In addition, in many places the 4G network already comes from the Chinese group.

Minister of Economic Affairs Altmaier: "Often have to deal with difficult partners"

If the countries exclude Huawei as a provider in the 5G network, they will also have to remove the Chinese 4G systems as part of the 5G upgrade, although these are actually still fully functional. Therefore, the providers in Germany are also resisting banning Huawei from the group of competitors. However, neither Telekom nor Vodafone and Telefónica use Huawei technology in their core networks.

Germany likes to see itself as a state that gets along with all countries in the world. Although the federal government is also concerned about the Chinese Hong Kong law, it is also concerned about a possible Trojan horse Huawei. But then she avoids confronting China on the open stage.

“We often have to deal with difficult partners and we have to talk more often in difficult times,” said Economics Minister Peter Altmaier in an interview with the European magazine “Politico”, which appeared this week. "We have trade relations with many regions across the globe, including in many cases with countries that have a different understanding of civil rights than we do in Germany."

Altmaier also recalled the well-known German strategy “change through trade”, which from the German point of view had already proven itself in the Cold War and, according to Altmaier, is now supposed to lead to better results with authoritarian states than protectionism and confrontation.

The minister is aware of the close ties between the German economy and China. The People's Republic was Germany's most important trading partner in 2019. It has been the largest sales market for German cars for years. Without them, hardly anything works with medicines and masks.

Germany relies on China in the fight against Corona

And: The German economy is also relying on China in the fight against the Corona crisis. Their hope: If the gigantic country in the Far East recovers, the local economy will soon be booming again. Then, in the best case scenario, Germany can put up with a new lost decade in Europe and further turbulence in the USA.

Also read: The myth is shaky: China is taking drastic measures to save itself from an historic recession

In Germany's dream world, a corona recovery based on China would not be a problem. In reality, yes. The US wants Germany not to wait for a common European response to the challenge of China. Especially since this is likely to be comparatively mild in view of the many China friends in the EU. The US wants Germany to finally move forward. They found a possible partner in the Bundestag.

"While our international partners in the People's Republic are clearly showing the consequences for the breach of international law in Hong Kong, the EU is still looking for a common line," said FDP politician Gyde Jensen, Chair of the Human Rights Committee in the Bundestag. If no European agreement can be found, the Federal Government must take its own measures: "For example, by simplifying the entry and residence conditions here in Germany for Hong Kong residents, or by the Federal Republic of Germany independently stopping exports for dual-use goods [goods such as fire hoses or software, which can be used civilly and militarily, note d. Red.] Imposed. "

Also read: New study fuels debate: Is China using Corona to grab the pearls of the German economy?

Altmaier did not go that far in the “Politico” interview. He merely announced that he would soon hold a video conference with employees of German companies in Hong Kong to ensure that they did not suffer from the new incidents. In Beijing they should be able to live with this answer. Probably not in Washington.

with dpa

Note: This article was published on July 17, 2020.

Warning to Germany: China can be tough - these 5 world brands felt this painfully

Warning to Germany: China can be tough - these 5 world brands felt this painfully

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