The cross : How does the German Chancellor defend himself from being the first EU and G7 leader to visit China since the start of the pandemic, and this just after Xi Jinping was reappointed as head of the country?
Alexandre Robinet-Borgomano : Olaf Scholz justified this on Thursday November 3 in a column published in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung and on the English-language news site Politico Europe. It’s not completely convincing, but it helps to qualify the massive volley of criticism it has drawn in Germany, France and Europe.
For him, Berlin’s empowerment vis-à-vis Beijing can only be gradual: “As China changes, the way we deal with China must also change,” did he declare. In Germany there is a relationship to reality that prevails over grand declarations. For Olaf Scholz, it is simply impossible to throw overboard the dependence of our economies on China, and it would be completely unreasonable to envisage today a decoupling of economic relations, in particular in a when Berlin is already trying to get rid of another dependency, that of Russian gas.
Finally, the diversification of economic ties is still very far from being a reality: in the first half of 2022, German direct investment in China reached a new record – 10 billion euros -, according to a study by the economic institute IW .
Does Olaf Scholz play, as he claims, the German card and at the same time the European card?
A. R-B. : He said it in his gallery: “German policy towards China can only succeed if it is integrated into European policy towards China. » It confirms the fact that China has become a “systemic rival” and ensures that Emmanuel Macron was closely associated with the trip.
I admit to being divided. On the one hand, we can estimate that Olaf Scholz has not yet acquired the European reflex. In 2017, during Xi Jinping’s trip to Paris, Angela Merkel and then European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker were invited. The Chancellor could have waited for a more favorable circumstance to show a united European front.
On the other hand, I tend to think that Germany is mainly blamed for finally assuming its status as a power, after having been criticized for a long time by its partners, including France, for its lack of leadership. In fact, Berlin is in the process of changing its model and wishes to strengthen the sovereignty of Europe. Maintaining an axis of close cooperation with Beijing also shows a desire not to be subservient to the United States. This does not prevent the German government from currently preparing, under the leadership of the Minister of the Economy, the environmentalist Robert Habeck, tools to encourage German companies to diversify their markets, so as not to depend on a single country. However, it is regrettable that this reflection is not accompanied, for the time being, by more intense Franco-German exchanges.
Are some of the criticisms justified in your view?
A. R-B. : It is certain that Olaf Scholz stands in the middle of indefensible contradictions when we take the example of the port of Hamburg, where the German chancellor authorized a Chinese participation in the port terminal. This case goes against the principle of reciprocity that he defends, since German companies do not have the right to own Chinese ports. And this also goes against the defense of Europe’s strategic infrastructure.
Many consider that Beijing is indeed stepping in the door to appropriate key infrastructure. The agreement set up by Scholz in his own electoral stronghold is a real revolution, because until then the port was owned by German capital, almost exclusively from Hamburg! Privileging in this case the Chinese shipping company Cosco rather than the French group CMA-CGM defies all logic.