German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock has described her recent trip to China as “more than shocking” and warned that Beijing is becoming more of a systemic rival than a trade partner and competitor. Baerbock’s visit to Beijing last week was marked by her warning that any attempt by China to control Taiwan would be unacceptable.
Beijing has long claimed that democratically governed Taiwan is a Chinese province and has not ruled out using force to bring the island under its control. However, Baerbock has stated that China wants to follow its own rules at the expense of the international rules-based order.
Speaking to the German Bundestag, Baerbock said that “some of it was really more than shocking,” without elaborating on specifics. Her comment followed her observation that China is becoming more repressive internally and more aggressive externally. For Germany, she added that China is a partner, competitor, and systemic rival, with the systemic rivals aspect becoming increasingly more prominent.
Despite China being Germany’s largest trading partner, Baerbock warned that this did not mean that Beijing was also Germany’s most important trading partner. The German government aims to work with China but does not wish to repeat past mistakes, such as the notion of “change through trade,” whereby the West can achieve political shifts in authoritarian regimes through commerce.
Baerbock also stated that China has a responsibility to work towards peace in the world, particularly using its influence over Russia in the war in Ukraine. While welcoming Beijing’s promise not to supply weapons to Russia, including dual-use items, Baerbock noted that Berlin would wait to see how such a promise worked in practice.
The Olaf Scholz government is developing a new China strategy to reduce dependence on Asia’s economic superpower, a crucial export market for German goods. This marks a departure from the policies of former Chancellor Angela Merkel.