Can Germany Be a “Driving Force” On Europe’s China Strategy?

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One of the current debates in the west is how to deal with China after Russia, which is allegedly threatening the world’s peace and security. While countries like Germany opt for the continuation of economic relations with China and in this sense, a moderate policy, western countries pioneered by the United States (US) advocate putting a distance in relations with China. As a matter of fact, on 23rd November 2022, in the article, which was published in American-centered Foreign Policy, Olaf Scholz undermines the unity of the West in the issue, the heading used.[1] In the article in question, it is claimed that the German Chancellor has alienated himself both in domestic politics, in Europe and at the global level by deciding to go to Beijing alone.

Despite this divergence in the West, Germany may be right regarding China in the long term. Namely, it can prove to the West how significant a dialogue with China is in encumbering a possible conflict in Taiwan. In addition to this, Germany has indicated to the West that China’s influence on Russia can be used to resolve the conflict in Ukraine.

According to a second likelihood, Germany’s temperate approach to China may end in disappointment, as was the case with the Russia-Ukraine War. Because it does not want to achieve such a result, the Berlin administration may revise its view of China to act more in harmony with Continental Europe. According to the news of Politico Magazine dated November 23, 2022, the German Ministry of Foreign Affairs is committed to taking a tougher stance against China, forcing German companies to reduce their dependence on Beijing, and at the same time, the European Union (EU) to sign an investment agreement with Taiwan. develops a new strategy to underpin its efforts.[2]

The real question here is whether this stance of the ministry will ultimately create a radical change in Germany’s China policy or not. As a matter of fact, it is unthinkable for Germany to act separately from the general attitude in Europe. On the contrary, Berlin can be defined as the driving force of Europe. Therefore, Germany can make a prominent difference in shaping European policies concerning China. Despite this, Continental Europe does not trust Germany’s China policies, based on its experience in the Russia-Ukraine War. Because although Berlin had the political power and diplomatic ability to prevent the war, it could not use this national power over Moscow successfully enough.

Germany thought that Russia needed Europe for energy and therefore could not easily act against Ukraine. In other words, Berlin underestimated the risk of this war. Even considering such a possibility, Germany did not have many means to stop Russia. Before the war, the leaders of both Germany and France visited Moscow for mediation. After these visits, Europe obviously saw that it was not possible to convince Russia and that they would do nothing to hinder the war in Ukraine. Despite this, Europe put the main burden of this on Germany after the attack of Russia on Ukraine started. Because Berlin was the main actor in the Nord Stream-2 Project, which will make Europe more dependent on Russia in the energy issue. So to speak, Europe claims that it has made a great strategic mistake because Germany insists on cooperating with Russia.

Today, Continental Europe is trying to abate the damage that can be caused by counting on the policies followed by Germany in energy and trade relations. Because it is seen that Germany is the “driving force” in Europe’s China policy. The main question in Europe’s mind is how much and to what extent Germany’s policies can be trusted.

Despite everything, it can be said that Germany does not want to make a radical change in its Chinese policy. In this context, it can be estimated that Berlin will continue to voice China’s claims of human rights violations and will continue to criticize its military activity in the region. In addition to this, German companies will be asked to be mindful when doing business with China and to reduce dependency.[3]

The main change here can be in a positive way. In other words, Germany may give more importance to dialogue with China. This strategy has begun to attract the attention of Europe and continental countries have begun to see the advantages of increasing communication with Beijing. The starting point for this is the German Chancellor Scholz’s visit to Beijing on 4 November 2022. Here, Scholz said that after his meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping, they agreed to oppose Russia’s nuclear threats. Also, Scholz pointed out that China can use its influence over Russia to end the war in Ukraine. According to Chinese authorities, Cinping expressed to Scholz his opposition to the use of nuclear weapons in Eurasia.[4]

After the statements, Western powers saw that doing business with China may be advantageous. Approximately ten days later, both US President Joe Biden and French President Emmanuel Macron talked about nuclear weapons in their bilateral meetings with Cinping by means of the G20 Summit held in Bali, Indonesia. In other words, the Western powers realized that China was sensitive to the nuclear issue thanks to Germany’s policies and started to go against it over this issue. Namely, the actors in question thought that by pulling China to their side, they can isolate Russia in the international arena. At this point, the West has a significant question to answer. Who is the West’s real rival/enemy? In this context, to end Russia’s war in Ukraine as soon as possible or is stopping the rising Chinese threat an urgent policy?

The West has difficulty in answering these questions. According to the Atlantic powers, Russia has lost the war in Ukraine and therefore it is necessary to deal with China, which is the main threat in the next decade. That is why, the main purpose of the dialogue with China is not to stop Russia; To protect interests in the Indo-Pacific.

According to Continental Europe led by Germany, it does not seem possible to fight China intensively before the war in Ukraine ends. Even after the Russo-Ukrainian War, it is not possible to completely wipe out economic ties with China. However, these bonds can be weakened, and dependence can be abated. Germany goes beyond this and sees that an open settling with China and marginalizing it is not a realistic approach.

In a nutshell, it is seen that the USA and Germany are positioned at different points in the West’s perspective on China. Despite this, both actors learn new strategies from each other. For example, after his Beijing visit, Scholz made a phone call with US President Joe Biden and conveyed his impressions of the visit. After that, the USA started to talk about nuclear weapons with China. On the other hand, Germany has commenced preparing new laws and advanced strategies to reduce its economic dependence on China. Germany says that it will be more careful in constituting relations with China on critical technology and trade items in the future.[5] The basic view of Europe is also moving in this direction. Therefore, in the West’s struggle with China, Germany becomes a “driving/determining” force.

[1] “Olaf Scholz Is Undermining Western Unity on China”, Foreign Policy,, (Date of Accession: 25.11.2022).

[2] “Germany Weighs Harder Line on China and Its ‘Massive Human Rights Violations”, Politico,, (Date of Accession: 25.11.2022).

[3] “Germany Must Trade with China Warily, Economy Minister Says”, Reuters,, (Date of Accession: 25.11.2022).

[4] “President Xi Jinping Meets with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz”, FMPRC,, (Date of Accession: 25.11.2022).

[5] “Germany Must Trade with China Warily, Economy Minister Says”, Reuters,, (Date of Accession: 25.11.2022).

Dr. Cenk TAMER
Dr. Cenk Tamer, 2014 yılında Sakarya Üniversitesi Uluslararası İlişkiler Bölümü’nden mezun olmuştur. Aynı yıl Gazi Üniversitesi Ortadoğu ve Afrika Çalışmaları Bilim Dalı’nda yüksek lisans eğitimine başlamıştır. 2016 yılında “1990 Sonrası İran’ın Irak Politikası” başlıklı teziyle master eğitimini tamamlayan Tamer, 2017 yılında ANKASAM’da Araştırma Asistanı olarak göreve başlamış ve aynı yıl Gazi Üniversitesi Uluslararası İlişkiler Doktora Programı’na kabul edilmiştir. Uzmanlık alanları İran, Mezhepler, Tasavvuf, Mehdilik, Kimlik Siyaseti ve Asya-Pasifik olan ve iyi derecede İngilizce bilen Tamer, Gazi Üniversitesindeki doktora eğitimini “Sosyal İnşacılık Teorisi ve Güvenlikleştirme Yaklaşımı Çerçevesinde İran İslam Cumhuriyeti’nde Kimlik İnşası Süreci ve Mehdilik” adlı tez çalışmasıyla 2022 yılında tamamlamıştır. Şu anda ise ANKASAM’da Asya-Pasifik Uzmanı olarak görev almaktadır.