“China is a partner, competitor and rival”

12.07.2020 - Interview

Interview by Foreign Minister Heiko Maas with Redaktionsnetzwerk Deutschland

Minister, as a result of China’s “security law” for Hong Kong, the UK is offering the city’s inhabitants British citizenship while Australia is suspending its extradition agreement with the Special Administrative Region. Why is the Federal Government holding back in its criticism of Beijing?

I don’t share that view. We have adopted a very clear position on the new security law for Hong Kong in our capacity as the EU Foreign Ministers. Above all, we have made it clear that the principle of one country, two systems must not be undermined. This is the yardstick against which we will judge Beijing’s actions.

After you met democracy activist Joshua Wong last year, the Chinese Government accused you of an “act of disrespect”. Would you meet Mr Wong and his fellow activists again?

As Foreign Minister, I also meet representatives of civil society – that’s part of my job. And that’s not about to change. The main issue now is whether China complies with its international obligations. We will now take a very close look at the tangible impact of the security law. It’s clear that we will be guided by the extent to which the human rights situation and fundamental freedoms in Hong Kong are affected, which are guaranteed in the Basic Law.

You have put dealing with China on the agenda of the EU Foreign Affairs Council for Monday. Will the Europeans come up with a common position on Beijing?

I have been pressing for us to hold discussions in the very near future about the consequences that the law will have for our relations with Hong Kong and China. Initial proposals will be made on Monday. I firmly believe that we can only achieve something vis‑à‑vis China if we as the EU speak with one voice. Only then will our voice carry the necessary weight in order to be heard in Beijing. During our Presidency of the Council of the European Union, it is therefore our urgent task, together with the High Representative, to coordinate the common EU position.

China is the third most important export country for Germany, and economic recovery in this country also depends on whether Chinese people buy German cars. Does this economic dependence oblige us to exercise restraint vis‑à‑vis Beijing?

It goes without saying that we want to have good relations with China, also economically, as China is an important partner for us. But it is also a competitor and systemic rival. Europe has a clear moral compass to guide us. And that has nothing to do with the German cars we sell. Rather, we expect that obligations under international law and human rights standards are observed.

In view of the growing rivalry between the US and China, can Germany be neutral or will it have to take sides?

First and foremost, Europe must be careful not to get caught up in the great power rivalry between the US and China. And we can only succeed here by elaborating a common European position. We also see a number of points that need to be discussed with China, such as market access issues, investment opportunities and the new security law for Hong Kong. We must remain in direct dialogue with China on these matters. Only then can we clearly express our position.


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