China: Partner, competitor, systemic rival
With 1.4 billion people, almost a sixth of the global population, China plays a pivotal political, economic and cultural role. China has changed in recent years. Germany is therefore adapting its policy on China too. Before her departure, Foreign Minister Baerbock had a message on this:
Partner, competitor, systemic rival – that is the compass of Europe’s policy on China. The direction in which the dial will shift in the future also depends on which path China chooses. We will take into account China’s changed role in the world with our new China strategy. For our country, a great deal depends on whether we achieve the right balance in our future relations with China – as our biggest trading partner and as a global player that increasingly wants to shape the world order according to its own ideas. China has changed, and after the end of the COVID-19 restrictions, I want to gain a first-hand impression of the direction that the new leadership is heading in, also with regard to the balancing act between political control and economic openness.
Foreign Minister Baerbock is travelling first to Tianjin, about half an hour’s train journey from Beijing. Tianjin is home to the largest container port in northern China, the sixth-largest in the world. It is also an important location for German businesses in the region. While there, the minister will visit Flender, a company which has been making gearboxes for wind turbines under the brand name Winergy since 1981. The company supplies parts for wind-turbine manufacturers like Vestas, assembling and validating its gearboxes with drive components in customers’ wind turbines on its Tianjin premises. On the last day of her visit to China, Foreign Minister Baerbock will also talk to German business representatives at the VW research and development centre about the opportunities and risks for German companies doing business in China. In connection with this, she said:
I want to explore opportunities for greater cooperation in the promotion of civil society, in climate protection and in sectors of the future such as renewable energies. For me, it is clear that we have no interest in economic decoupling – this would be difficult to achieve in a globalised world in any case – but we must take a more systematic look at the risks of unilateral dependencies and reduce them, in the sense of de-risking.
In Tianjin, the minister will also take part in a German lesson at a German PASCH school. Tianjin No. 42 High School is a state school providing lower and upper secondary education which was opened in the city by the municipal government in 1954.
PASCH stands for Schools: Partners for the Future. The initiative is a global network of over 2,000 schools that place a high value on German. PASCH partners provide advice to head teachers, ministries and schools on developing German teaching. Seconded PASCH partner experts provide direct support on the ground and assist with expanding German language teaching. Fostering exchange between international and German PASCH schools is a particular priority. The online SchoolPartnerExchange platform is an important tool in developing school partnerships.
On the following two days, Foreign Minister Baerbock will engage in political talks in Beijing with, among others, her counterpart Qin Gang, Wang Yi, Director of the Office of the Central Foreign Affairs Commission in the Politburo, and Vice President Han Zheng. Alongside the many bilateral topics covered by the talks, Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine will be high on the agenda. On this topic, Foreign Minister Baerbock pointed out:
As a permanent member of the UN Security Council, China bears a special responsibility for world peace. China’s willingness to weigh in on global affairs was recently demonstrated by its mediation efforts to normalise diplomatic relations between Saudi Arabia and Iran. The role that China plays with its influence vis-à-vis Russia will have consequences for the whole of Europe and for our relationship with China.
Another subject that will be in the spotlight during this visit is the situation in the Taiwan Strait, which is of crucial importance to global trade. From Germany’s point of view, therefore, military escalation in the Taiwan Strait absolutely must be avoided. Baerbock emphasised the point: “I will therefore also underline the common European conviction that a unilateral change to the status quo in the Taiwan Strait, and especially military escalation, would be unacceptable.”
China is responsible for 32% of global CO2 emissions today, nearly four times as much as the EU (8%). Consequently, the Paris climate goals cannot be achieved without China. China is now practically on a par with Germany in terms of per capita consumption too and is the second-worst offender for historical emissions. Baerbock said:
And with China, which is now the world’s biggest emitter of CO2 and also the market leader in renewable energies, the focus will be on how we can do more together to tackle the climate crisis.
South Korea: Partner in shared values and high-tech country
As a vibrant democracy, South Korea is a partner in shared values to Germany. The country is one of the most important industrial and trading nations in Asia and can look back on a period of rapid development since the end of the Korean War in 1953. Today, it is setting benchmarks as a high-tech country and thereby harbours great potential for the diversification of German trade relations in Asia. Foreign Minister Baerbock declared:
South Korea is a close ally and stands firmly by our side. This shows that political proximity cannot be measured in terms of geographical distance. In addition to robust democratic values, the experience of national division is another thing that we have in common with South Korea. Our shared interest in regional stability in the Indo-Pacific, which has recently come under serious threat due to North Korea’s missile tests in violation of international law, will also be on the agenda. It is all the more significant that, thanks to the historic rapprochement of South Korea and Japan, two of Germany’s good friends have come together. After all, our external strength as allies is derived from our internal cohesion as partners with shared values around the world.
Foreign Minister Baerbock will first visit the demilitarised zone that separates South and North Korea. The demilitarised zone (DMZ) splits the Korean peninsula into North and South Korea, crossing it from one side to the other, 248 kilometres long and four kilometres wide. Along its centre runs the Military Demarcation Line (MDL), the border between North and South Korea. The DMZ was established on 27 July 1953, in the Armistice Agreement between the United Nations and North Korea. Inside it is the Joint Security Area, where the Armistice Agreement was signed in 1953.
Tensions in the Korean peninsula have increased sharply in recent months. With 35 series of missile tests, North Korea fired more missiles in 2022 than ever before, including intercontinental missiles, which was in breach of the moratorium it had placed on itself in 2018. The foreign minister will discuss the situation in the Korean peninsula with her opposite number, Pak Jin, in the context of the strategic dialogue to be held in the capital, Seoul. The dialogue has been ongoing since 2018. It serves to ensure discussion is engaged in on all subjects. These will include the two countries’ close bilateral relations.
Japan: G7 Foreign Ministers’ Meeting in Karuizawa
At the start of the year, Japan took over the Presidency of the G7 from Germany. The first meeting of G7 foreign ministers under Japan’s Presidency will be held from 16 to 18 April 2023. In several working sessions, the G7 foreign ministers will address various geopolitical and security issues, such as relations with China, cooperation in the Indo-Pacific, Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine, developments in Iran, and the situation in Central Asia and Afghanistan. Alongside these will be matters of economic and social policy such as global health and the climate crisis. The informal nature of the meeting allows the ministers to engage in very close and trustful dialogue.
Karuizawa lies on a plateau some 900 to 1,100 metres above sea-level, on the southern slopes of Asama, Japan’s most active volcano. At the end of the 19th century, it rapidly grew into a popular holiday destination.
On the margins of the conference, there are also plans for bilateral talks between Foreign Minister Baerbock and her counterparts, including the host, Japan’s Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi.