“China is our greatest security-policy challenge.”
“(In Africa,) we don’t want old chains to be replaced by new ones.”
“We need China so that we can curb the climate crisis.”
These are three different quotes; they are from a colleague from Asia, from the President of Nigeria during his remarks to the UN General Assembly and from a UN representative; all these statements were made while we were gathered in New York last week.
They make clear that it is not only us who are very preoccupied by how we should deal with China; rather, the same holds true for the overwhelming number of our partners worldwide. Because China is changing – as a partner, as a competitor and, increasingly, as a systemic rival.
We must not forget that China is not just any country – it is home to 1.4 billion people, it our largest trading partner and it has meanwhile become one of the largest military powers in the world. It is therefore no surprise that we are all once again finding the latest news from the region so troubling. China’s Foreign and Defence Ministers have been deposed, or they have simply vanished. The country is grappling with a substantial real-estate crisis, and probably also with high youth unemployment – although Beijing is no longer publishing any of those data.
Then there is the big subject of foreign policy. On the one hand – and this is a relief to everyone in the world – we are finally witnessing some rapprochement between the United States and China. On the other hand, there is the Chinese Government’s support for the Assad regime, its diplomatic relations with the Taliban, and its ever more antagonistic activities in the Indo-Pacific.
This includes a new map the Chinese Government just recently published. It did not even make it onto our agenda over here; but it has very much preoccupied people in the South China Sea region. Because, looking at this map, you can see that China lays claim to nearly the entire South China Sea, all the way up to the shores of the other littoral states, thus highlighting its territorial conflicts with other neighbouring countries – and interestingly enough, this includes Russia.
We must neither overlook nor ignore this development. How we position ourselves in the future together with our partners – first and foremost in the EU, but also partners around the globe – is a process in which we have already fully engaged, both in the Federal Government and here in this distinguished chamber.
I therefore want to take this opportunity to thank my colleagues in the German Bundestag, and in particular in the Foreign Affairs Committee, as well as in the many other committees, for their collective contributions to our Strategy on China.
In the short time remaining, I want to point out three things:
First, I want to mention minimising risks – that is, de-risking and not decoupling. We have been jointly implementing this policy over the past few months, both in coordination with and by involving all Ministries. For this, it is key that we further broaden all of our economic relations, that we further diversify ourselves economically. That is the focus of the European Economic Security Strategy, and of our many discussions in various international organisations – most recently, as I said, in New York.
For example, I spoke with my Australian colleague Penny Wong about how Australia mines more than half of the world’s lithium, yet some 90 percent of this lithium is then shipped directly to China for processing. This is also a huge problem for Australia. We for our part, as the EU, import 90 percent of the lithium we need from China, instead of through direct trade with Australia. So minimising risks means that, in future, we should not take this circuitous route as often. Instead, we must promote the downstream processing of critical raw materials in the countries where they are mined, such as Australia.
Obviously, this will not happen on its own. We often hear people say in discussions: So what role should politics play here, if any? If logic had its way, then this circuitous route would not have been taken for decades. This is why we must pursue an active economic security policy. And this is why we – Economics Minister Robert Habeck in particular as well as our Federal Foreign Office, along with other colleagues – have been making a big collective effort to drive forward our economic security policy.
The second point is that we must begin here at home, by reducing our unilateral dependencies, for example by examining foreign investments in Germany even more carefully. Just recently, the Federal Government blocked the full takeover of a German satellite company by Chinese investors. The upcoming EU Anti-Coercion Instrument also plays a role here.
This needs to be said time and again: We should not hide our light under a bushel. Together in the EU, we have an incredibly strong tool, namely our European single market.
Chinese firms, too, need this European single market – in much the same way that we cannot do without the Chinese market.
We must therefore, also for economic reasons, not be indifferent when it comes to tensions in connection with Taiwan. Military escalation would be unacceptable, and would also massively affect our own economic interests.
And third, and this is something we also underscore in our Strategy on China, the world is a safer and better place when we work together, on the basis of fair rules. This is an offer we have always extended to every country, including to China. And that is why, in our Strategy on China, we underscore that we seek to cooperate wherever possible – but we must do so on the basis of common and fair rules.
That is why it is so important for us to cooperate on the issues of global health, fair trade and, above all, the climate crisis. This is exactly why our Special Envoy for International Climate Action Jennifer Morgan just visited Beijing, where she discussed what progress we can achieve, together with China, at the COP28 climate conference.
Our Strategy on China, ladies and gentlemen, is a call to action – to get engaged, together with the Federal Government, together with the German Bundestag, with the business and science communities, and with society as a whole, as well as with our partners in Europe and around the world.