Opening statement by Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock during questions put to the Federal Government at the German Bundestag

19.04.2023 - Speech

The last time I attended a question-and-answer session was shortly after the beginning of Russia’s brutal war of aggression against Ukraine. Nobody knew at the time how long this war would last. We all hoped that peace would return quickly. Unfortunately, things turned out differently – despite the intensive efforts on our part to achieve peace, on the part of our European friends, on the part of pretty much the whole world.

Moreover, I don’t think it was clear to anyone just how united our actions would be from that point onwards. After all, we had different opinions in the European Union from time to time before, and people kept on asking just how much can we rely on Europe. We have made it clear – and I’m grateful to all our European partners and also to you, the overwhelming majority at the German Bundestag, for this – that when it came down to defending the most important thing in our country, in our Europe, we stood together as one and stood up for democracy, for freedom and for peace.

But we have also – and I’m grateful for this as well – drawn our conclusions from this together as the Government and opposition – and I mean the biggest opposition parliamentary group here in the German Bundestag. As Members of the Bundestag and the Government, we made it clear that we have a responsibility to ensure that what happened – and where, at least from my point of view, we made political mistakes in the past because we entered into dependencies that made us vulnerable to blackmail – must not happen to us again. That’s why we have jointly launched a National Security Strategy. I’d like to talk about this, and also about our China strategy. There will doubtlessly be a few questions about this in a moment. This isn’t just about two different documents, but it’s about safeguarding our freedom and our system of democracy and the rule of law in the long term.

You had a debate the other day about the fact that this takes a bit of time. Yes, it takes a bit of time. When I travel abroad, I always point out that when you have three coalition partners, you sometimes discuss things for a bit longer than when you only have one party. But that also has many advantages. I’ve made the case for this around the world, because compromises are not bad, because discussions are not bad. They are also an expression, firstly, of freedom and, secondly, of the fact that you can be self-critical, that you can reflect and also sometimes say that your counterpart is right. I believe that this is an expression of strength and not of weakness. This is exactly what we as the European Union have spelled out recently with the various visits of European partners to China. The Spanish Prime Minister has just visited China, then Ms von der Leyen as President of the EU Commission, then the French President, and I have just returned from the country.

China is a partner, competitor and systemic rival for us. I would like to make it clear that our impression – four MEPs were also there; thank you very much for that as well – was unfortunately – and I wish to emphasise the word unfortunately – that the aspect of “systemic rival” is becoming ever more important, not only because China is acting more offensively – you could also say more aggressively – externally, but, above all, more repressively internally. If you have any questions about this, we’ve got a lot to say. It was really more than shocking at times.

It’s clear that there’s no getting past China. It is one of the biggest economic powers in the world. It is Germany’s largest, not necessarily the most important, but its largest trading partner, and that’s also good and important. The world would actually be a much simpler place if we were able to strengthen our societies together through trade. That’s what we want; I also made that much clear in China. We want to cooperate wherever we can. But we don’t want to repeat mistakes. We don’t want to be so naive as to believe that trade automatically brings about change. Or that trade per se is a geostrategic strategy. That’s why the aim now is not to decouple ourselves from China. Rather, we must ensure that, just as China attends to its security, we do the same. We must minimise our risks. I think the President of the Commission has summed this up perfectly with the term “de-risking”.

We must ensure economic security, preferably together with China. As you know, China is a member of the UN Security Council, where it has a responsibility for peace in the world. That is why I called in Beijing, in South Korea and also at the G7 meeting for us to stand up together for the international order openly, but with a clear stance; because what is at stake here is the freedom, prosperity and security of all of us.

Thank you very much.


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