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Balance Policy of Germany: China and Japan

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According to a source in the Japanese government, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz plans to visit Tokyo in March 2023.[1] The meetings between the delegations, which will also be attended by ministers, are expected to address a range of issues, from the energy and food crisis to the economy and global developments. The fact that Scholz plans to visit Tokyo this time after his visit to Beijing in November 2022 reveals that Germany is in a dilemma in foreign policy and follows a policy of balance.

It is claimed that the Berlin administration has not been able to reach a consensus on the China issue and therefore has difficulty in developing policies. This uncertainty in Berlin’s view of Beijing also negatively affects German Japanese relations. Cause Tokyo is trying to unite the G7 countries around itself in the fight against China in 2023. But among the bloc members, Germany’s position differs from that of other actors. On the one hand, Scholz stated that cooperation with China is inevitable and that they will continue the dialogue; Moreover, the German Foreign Ministry is preparing a new strategy document that will limit the economic relations of German companies with China.

Germany is taking steps to struggle China, especially pointing out that it will give more support to actors such as the United States of America (USA), Britain and Japan. But at the same time that the problems with China must be resolved peacefully, that this is not a military issue like in Ukraine; on the contrary, it states that there is an economic dispute.[2]In short, the Berlin administration argues that Beijing’s increasing claims against the international order constitute an economic problem and that it is wrong to solve the Taiwan Problem by military means.[3]

In saying this, Germany takes into account the war in Ukraine. As it is known, Berlin is discussing withdrawing its military support to Ukraine. The United States and Britain are pressuring Germany to continue this support. Berlin, on the other hand, is looking for a way out of both Ukraine and China. The G7 countries give Germany only one way out: to be hostile to China. After its last contacts with China in November 2022, US pressure on Germany increased and forced Berlin to change policy.

While this uncertainty in Chinese politics continues, the transition of the G7 Presidency to Japan has been an important opportunity for Germany to review its policies.  Because in the recent period, Tokyo has been making radical outbursts on both Ukraine and China. Berlin approaches the solution of these problems more peacefully.

By comparison, Germany urges G7 members to remain calm; Japan, by contrast, urges these countries to be proactive. Therefore, if Germany wants to prevent a crisis with China from breaking out, it will first have to calm Japan down. Because Tokyo plans to use the G7 Presidency for this purpose. Berlin is trying to increase its dialogue with Japan because it sees this danger.

As it will be remembered, after taking over, Scholz made his first visit to Asia, not to China, but to Japan. This step was interpreted as Germany giving up on China and would move closer to Japan from now on. Before long, however, Scholz saw that Japan could not be an alternative to China and decided to continue cooperating with Beijing. After seeing Scholz’s contacts with Beijing in recent months, Tokyo has begun to distance itself from Berlin. Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida even missed Germany when he went on a European tour to visit the G7 countries. Kishida also cited the overlap of programs as the reason for this. But if desired, a meeting could have been arranged between Kishida and Scholz. It is likely that Kishida did not make or did not want to make a suitable plan to visit Germany.

Whatever happened during this time, it was announced that Scholz was planning to go to Tokyo. It seems that; Germany, and Scholz in particular, is under intense pressure from the United States to fight China. The same applies to the Russo-Ukrainian War. German Defense Minister Christine Lambrecht, who has announced that they will not provide more arms to Ukraine, recently announced her resignation.[4] Potentially that Scholz demanded the resignation of the Secretary of Defense as a result of intense pressure from the United States.

Similarly, Germany is now preparing a new strategy to struggle China, and Scholz is preparing to visit Tokyo to further align itself with the G7 countries. It seems that; The United States wants Germany to give more support to the G7. Therefore, it can be argued that the pressure from Washington was effective in Scholz’s visit to Tokyo. Although Germany tries to separate itself from the US policy on China, it fails to do so.

As expected, Scholz will try to reduce his differences with Japan during this visit. Berlin’s main aim is to prevent new crises from emerging in the world. Accordingly, Germany meets with both China and Japan and invites the parties to peace and dialogue.  Beijing’s concern is that Germany will join other Western powers by returning to the politics of polarization.[5] Japan, by contrast, is worried that a rift could form within the G7 due to Germany’s incompatibility with China.

As a result, while the polarization in the global system continues, Germany is trying to reduce this tension by pursuing a policy of balance. In this way, the Berlin administration is trying to ensure its economic security. China has been Germany’s largest trading partner for the past seven years. Japan is also Germany’s second largest trading partner in Asia. In addition, Germany is one of the world’s largest automakers and relies heavily on chips manufactured in Taiwan, China, and Japan to maintain this position. In fact, these addictions apply to the whole world. In this sense, Germany, which has learned from Ukraine, seems to do its best to prevent a new crisis that will drag it down economically.


[1] “German Leader Scholz Plans to Visit Japan in March”, Japan Today, https://japantoday.com/category/politics/german-leader-scholz-plans-to-visit-japan-in-march, (Date of Accession: 18.01.2023).

[2] “Germany Will Not Arm Taiwan, Senior Lawmaker Says”, US News, https://www.usnews.com/news/world/articles/2023-01-11/germany-will-not-arm-taiwan-senior-lawmaker-says, (Date of Accession: 18.01.2023).

[3] “Germany’s Scholz Tells China: Any Change in Taiwan’s Status Quo Must Be Peaceful”, US News, https://www.usnews.com/news/world/articles/2022-11-04/germanys-scholz-tells-china-any-change-in-taiwans-status-quo-must-be-peaceful, (Date of Accession: 18.01.2023).

[4] “Almanya Savunma Bakanı Lambrecht İstifasını Sundu”, DW, https://www.dw.com/tr/almanya-savunma-bakan%C4%B1-lambrecht-istifas%C4%B1n%C4%B1-sundu/a-64403342, (Date of Accession: 18.01.2023).

[5] “Germany’s İdeology-Driven China Policy Not in Interests of Either Side: Chinese Ambassador”, Global Times, https://www.globaltimes.cn/page/202301/1283496.shtml, (Date of Accession: 18.01.2023).

Dr. Cenk TAMER
Dr. Cenk TAMER
Dr. Cenk Tamer graduated from Sakarya University, Department of International Relations in 2014. In the same year, he started his master's degree at Gazi University, Department of Middle Eastern and African Studies. In 2016, Tamer completed his master's degree with his thesis titled "Iran's Iraq Policy after 1990", started working as a Research Assistant at ANKASAM in 2017 and was accepted to Gazi University International Relations PhD Program in the same year. Tamer, whose areas of specialization are Iran, Sects, Sufism, Mahdism, Identity Politics and Asia-Pacific and who speaks English fluently, completed his PhD education at Gazi University in 2022 with his thesis titled "Identity Construction Process and Mahdism in the Islamic Republic of Iran within the Framework of Social Constructionism Theory and Securitization Approach". He is currently working as an Asia-Pacific Specialist at ANKASAM.