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West’s Struggle with China and Germany’s Differentiating Attitude

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With the approval of the third term of General Secretary Xi Jinping at the 20th Congress of the Communist Party of China (CCP) on October 16-23, 2022, Western countries began to worry about further strengthening of China. In this context, Beijing’s proactive foreign policy is said to threaten not only the Indian-Pacific but also the security of Europe. Expecting the deepening of the United States (US)-China rivalry in the new era of Jinping, European states are preparing to “systematically confront” China in near future.

The European Union (EU) officially sees China as a “strategic partner”, an “economic competitor” and a “systemic competitor”.[1] Institutions such as the EU and the G7, which represent Western democracies, criticize Beijing on issues such as Hong Kong and Taiwan and security policies, although they want to benefit from China’s economic potential.

In this context, Western powers have difficulty displaying a harmonious stance against Beijing. On the subject, Charles Michel, President of the European Council used the phrase: “Europe has shown a very clear will to avoid being naive towards China, but we did not want to enter into the logic of a systematic confrontation with it.” [2] Similarly, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands Wopke Hoekstra said, “There is an increasing realism in the dialogue with China. We are leaving naivete behind.” [3]

Worried that Jinping will be more assertive in his third term after the 20th CCP Congress, the EU has started to increase its consultations to keep up with the new conjuncture. Michel, as the US-China rivalry deepens; argued that the union should develop its model. In other words, it is thought that Europe should be prepared for this competition and take precautions.

European leaders have said they will continue to cooperate economically with China but will avoid dependence on critical trade items and technology, as they did in Russia. Chancellor of Germany Olaf Scholz stated that there is a consensus in Europe on economic cooperation with China and that avoiding it is pointless. President of France Emmanuel Macron called for a more balanced relationship between China and the EU and stated that they made “strategic mistakes” due to the infrastructure transfer to China in the past.

Throughout Europe, there is fear that global competition will deepen during the third period of Jinping. The economic effects of this will reflect on all of Europe. Europe, which agrees on reducing economic dependence on China, is also taking care to retain the sanctions card for use when necessary.

As it will be remembered, China has imposed “secondary economic sanctions” on Lithuania due to political reasons (establishing relations with Taiwan). The EU is concerned about this step in China. Surely China’s pressures in this direction will continue to increase. It will therefore be difficult for Europe to find ways to cooperate with China without making it an enemy.

There is confusion about what Europe wants to do with China. The general view of Continental Europe, excluding Germany, is that it is necessary to be prepared for the crises that China will create shortly. Because a big strategic mistake was made due to unilateral dependence on Russia in the field of energy. It would be a similar mistake to become dependent on China for trade. Germany planned to turn to Japan in 2021 to fill the gap of China in the economic market. Already after Scholz took office, he made his first Asian visit to Tokyo and never visited China. However, it is seen that the Chancellor of Germany has stepped back from this idea as of November 4, 2022. Thinking that marginalizing China would be a worse choice, Scholz planned to secure economic relations with his visit to Beijing.

The reason for Germany’s sensitivity to China is the problems in trade and even more in technology. It is very difficult for Germany, which has a large market in automobile production, to replace Taiwan and China in the chip supply chain in a possible crisis. For this reason, Germany is trying to play a stabilizing-mediating role on the Beijing-Washington line to prevent the outbreak of a Taiwan-related crisis.

In addition to all of these, Scholz demanded from Jinping to use influence over Moscow for stopping the war in Ukraine. Because Jinping has given messages on getting through the war at the SCO Summit. Putin, on the other hand, said that “we understand your concerns” mentioning Jinping. Therefore, the Chancellor of Germany knows that the President of China is against Russia’s war against Ukraine and expects Jinping to stop this war.

The European power chooses the marginalization of China, instead of cooperating and negotiating with Beijing. It should be noted that; the radical right in Europe has recently been talking about the dangers of cooperating with China. In this context, Scholz’s trip to China drew criticism.[4] To balance this, President of Germany Frank-Walter Steinmeier went on a trip to Japan and South Korea, and on the same dates; Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock went on a tour of Central Asia.[5] These steps show that Germany is trying to implement a balanced policy in Eurasia. At the same time, Berlin aims to allay concerns about China within Europe.

The general trend in Europe was that war in Ukraine was not sustainable, the energy crisis could become inextricable and this would put great pressure on the economy. Before the Russian attack in Ukraine started, the Berlin Government wished that their cooperation with Moscow in the field of energy would not be disrupted, and in this sense, tried to reduce the risk of conflict in Ukraine until the last moment to avoid any disruption in the Nord Stream II project. In other words, Germany could not give strong enough messages to Russia on Ukraine, as it prioritized its interests in the energy field, and was accused by Western powers of being soft on Moscow. At this point, it is said that Germany could make a similar mistake in its relations with China. If Germany isn’t tough enough on China, it could become the country hardest hit by a potential crisis in Taiwan.

Another Western institution that wants to join forces in the fight against Russia and China is the G7.  In this context, the G7 Foreign Ministers met in Germany on the 3rd of November 2022 to discuss policies regarding Russia’s attacks on Ukraine and China’s growing influence.[6] Just as in the EU example, it is difficult to harmonize the interests of the G7 states regarding Russia and China. First of all, some of these countries are on different continents. Despite this, they must collaborate within common security interests. For example, US and UK’s approaches to China are tougher. Canada, which cares about economic cooperation, is more reluctant in the fight against China.

Similarly, Germany is another Western state that focuses on economic interests in relations with China. It can be said that Italy also has common concerns with Germany in this sense. Within Western powers, Washington and London aim to shift the direction of G7 to China after Russia. Therefore, these actors are concerned about the Chancellor of Germany’s visit to Beijing, China. Because the majority of Western states are in favor of being careful in their relations with China. Germany, on the other hand, seems to follow an optimistic line until the last moment in relations with China after Russia.


[1] “EU Not Seeking ‘Systematic Confrontation’ As Rival China Grows”, Al Jazeera, https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2022/10/22/eu-not-seeking-systematic-confrontation-as-rival-china-grows, (Date of Acession: 04.11.2022).

[2] Ibid.

[3] “EU Is Leaving ‘Naivety’ Behind with China, Dutch Foreign Minister Says”, US News, https://www.usnews.com/news/world/articles/2022-10-17/eu-is-leaving-naivety-behind-with-china-dutch-foreign-minister-says, (Date of Acession: 22.10.2022).

[4] “Worries Over Germany’s China Dependency Overshadow Scholz Trip”, Saw The Beirut, https://english.sawtbeirut.com/world/worries-over-germanys-china-dependency-overshadow-scholz-trip/, (Date of Acession: 04.11.2022).

[5] “German Politicians Are Drawn to Asia”, New Sing Germany, https://newsingermany.com/german-politicians-are-drawn-to-asia/, (Date of Acession: 04.11.2022).

[6] “G7 Foreign Ministers Seek Aligned Policy on Ukraine War, China”, Euractiv, https://www.euractiv.com/section/global-europe/news/g7-foreign-ministers-seek-aligned-policy-on-ukraine-war-china/, (Date of Acession: 04.11.2022).

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.