Background Report: Strategic Partnership and Containment


BERLIN/BEIJING German foreign policy towards the People's Republic of China (PRC) pursues the goal to enter into an informal alliance with China, with the assistance of the EU, in order to contain the super power, the USA. Since the current Chinese government is considered to be unpredictable and unreliable, Berlin simultaneously, in cooperation with the USA, uses external and internal pressures on the self confident potential rival. German military and government consultants increasingly consider the use of force in the region, because economic and political instruments don't seem to be sufficient to achieve ,,real European influence in the Asia-Pacific region."

The German Foreign Office (Auswaertiges Amt - AA) describes the relations with the PRC officially as ,,friendly and good"and primarily credits economic relations, which according to the AA, are developing ,,with breathtaking speed into a success story". The PRC has become Germany's most important export market in Asia. Germany is China's greatest European trading partner and, lately, has also become the greatest European investor in the PRC.

Binding effect...

Simultaneously, Berlin demands that the Chinese leadership grant German institutions influence over Chinese domestic and social policies. ,,Verifiable progress in the areas of human rights, democracy, and the rule of law"are an ,,important measure"for further development of Sino-German relations, explains the AA. The political foundation of the SPD, Germany's government party, sees new opportunities which should be utilized to shape Chinese society through its emerging civil society. The ,,differentiation process"with a multitude of interest groups (e.g. environmental associations and social activists) as well as rapidly developing corporatism (industrial and economic associations) in Chinese society, offers numerous opportunities to win over domestic support for Berlin's policy. According to the Friedrich Ebert Foundation, past experience suggests that a ,,binding impact on bilateral relations"due to a change of generations and a shift of the elite results from cooperation in education and science.

Berlin has already secured a treaty guaranteeing continuous German interference in Chinese domestic politics through the ,,State under the Rule of Law dialogue with the PRC". Nevertheless, the social-democratic (SPD) foundation demands far reaching concessions by the Chinese leadership, which it accuses of using ,,jealously protected principles of sovereignty and non-interference in domestic affairs", as well as the ,,defense against insidious infiltration of its system of government from outside ('peaceful evolution')"for the preservation of its power. The Foundation, a seemingly independent non-governmental organization, whose activities are, in reality, financed out of the budgets of German ministries and controlled by the German Foreign Office, still fears a ,,return to the old instruments"from the Cold War, with which the Chinese government could impede German organizations' efforts to influence. 1)

... ,,Sandbox games"...

Berlin's strategies and plans toward the Chinese government are generally characterized by mistrust. The political science foundation (Stiftung Wissenschaft und Politik - SWP), Berlin's most influential foreign policy think tank, takes the position that the PRC is ,,even in 2003 not a state as are all others". Therefore, the impression that Berlin would be willing to ,,condone deficits concerning political procedures in the PRC"should not emerge. At the same time, the government's consultants regard China as a potential partner in Berlin's attempts to ,,curb US supremacy by coordinating, among other things, various foreign policies". According to the SWP, the PRC perceives itself in the meantime surrounded by new alliances and new military partnerships of the USA. This situation should benefit German ambitions for global power: ,,In view of these developments German and European policies are confronted with a choice, either to forgo an important role in the Far East in the future or to offer political alternatives to the strategy of the USA which is predominantly based on military power."

Thus, the Center for Applied Political Science (CAP) which cooperates closely with the Foreign Office, examines, together with the Center for European Studies at the Renmin University Beijing, ,,opportunities and problems regarding a broad strategic partnership between the EU and the PRC."In the most recent EU-Commission paper, mention is made of a ,,clear interest by the EU and China, to work as strategic partners on the international stage". In regard to international politics, however, the PRC is considered an unreliable ,,partner". The SWP states that, the PRC has for all practical purposes so far met American demands at the UN Security Council. This is based primarily on economic considerations for the supreme power which outweighs all ,,multilateral sandbox games"which, at the moment still lack a material foundation.

... Division of Labor...

According to the German Society for Foreign Policy (Deutsche Gesellschaft fuer Auswaertige Politik - DGAP), another influential think tank of German foreign affairs, this is due to the powerful influence of the USA on the PRC: ,,US companies seem to have won the first round in the struggle for the Chinese markets, as well as the race for networking with China's next leadership generation, most of the future elite being educated in the U.S."This competition must become the guideline of future China policy ( ,,competition will be the leitmotiv of future EU-US interaction with China"); simultaneously a complementary strategy should be pursued which would put pressure on the Chinese leadership by using the division of labor concept among governments in order to create suitable grounds for the enforcement of American and European interests: ,,Against the background of a de facto division of labor (for instance, in terms of human rights), the different European and US China policies might complement each other."The DGAP organized, in cooperation with the Henry L. Stimson Center, conferences with ,,experts"from the US, Germany, France, the UK, and the EU-Commission, who study such topics as ,,Managing Political Change in China: US and European Responses". 2)

From the point of view of Berlin's government consultants, this cooperation with the USA vis-à-vis China serves to connect the PRC with Berlin's informal system of alliances in order to contain the USA. So far, the country is considered to be too self-confident and as a potential rival who is unwilling to follow Berlin's proposals for a ,,New World Order". According to the SWP, China, nevertheless, follows a ,,multi-lateral strategy since the end of the Cold War, which provides the framework for variable coalitions with Russia, Japan, the community of South-East-Asian States or Europe to contain the USA."However, this policy aims for a balance of power and, ultimately, obstructs the enforcement of global organization under a central command: ,,Multi-lateralism and containment are based on the balance of power concept and, thus, are the opposite of a qualitative multi-lateralism, in which national goals are subordinated to solutions for great global problems."

... and war games

Towards the EU, Berlin pushes for a greater engagement in China, especially in the area of military policy. So far, foreign policy in the region has been determined too much by economic interests and the results have been unsatisfactory ( ,,present policies have not translated into real European influence in the Asia-Pacific region"), complains Frank Umbach of the DGAP, who is in charge of ,,International Security Policy"and the Asia-Pacific region. This contradicts world power ambitions, which Berlin pursues by way of the EU: ,,Europe should ask herself whether it makes sense to continue a traditional foreign policy vis-à-vis the Asia-Pacific region that is almost exclusively defined by economic interests. This would run counter to the EU's 'Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP)' and strategic security interests in the region and worldwide."This makes it necessary to prepare for the use of military means, according to Umbach: ,,Europe and the EU should recognize the imperative to play a more substantial role."CAP reports, that the region - in spite of the limited military capacity of the EU in Asia - is ,,already on the road to being considered an important area for EU's Common Foreign and Security Policy".

Umbach presented Berlin's objective, to promote its influence in China with military means, in front of the ,,Waldbroel Group on the European Coordination of Security Policies vis-à-vis the Asia-Pacific". The ,,Waldbroel Group"was established in 1998 on the initiative of the Center for analysis and studies of the German military (Bundeswehr) 3)and the SWP. Until 2000, these meetings in Waldbroel (Province Nordrhein-Westfalen) served to prepare for the internal European preparation for a policy of military intervention in the region outside of the official EU bodies. Since 2001, the group is called ,,Waldbroel Group on the European and Euro-Atlantic Coordination of Security Policies vis-à-vis the Asia-Pacific,"and is located in Berlin. The name change was necessary because US-officials now participate and Bundeswehr experts coordinate their military policy plans with them.

1) See also earlier article ,,The Most Effective Instruments of German Foreign Policy"
2) See also earlier article Complementary War Power
3) See also earlier article German Global War

Beziehungen zwischen China und Deutschland;
Frank Umbach: ,,Trends in the Regional Balance of Power and Potential Hotspots", in: Waldbroel Group on the European Coordination of Security Policies vis-à-vis the Asia-Pacific, Third Meeting, Waldbroel, Bundeswehr Office for Studies and Exercises, March 27/28, 2000, S. 7-48
EU und China - Konzeption einer strategischen Partnerschaft;
Evaluating EU-China Relations and the Consequences for the China policy of the US: Synergy or Competition? May 3-4 2001, Center for Applied Policy Research, Munich;
Joint Research Project of the Research Institute of the DGAP and the Henry L. Stimson-Center, Washington D.C.: ,,Transatlantic Dialogue on China";
Die USA und China: Sanftes Containment. SWP-Studien S 11/02, April 2002
FES-Analyse Juli 2003: VR China - Partner Deutschlands;
SWP-Aktuell 52, Dezember 2003: Europa und China: Strategische Partner?;