United Against Beijing (II)

BERLIN/BEIJING (Own report) - Germany's Defense Ministry is joining the discussion on Germany's policy toward China with a new publication aimed at "contributing to the debate on security policy in Germany" and seeking an answer to the People's Republic of China's rise to global power status. The defense ministry's analyses span the entire spectrum of the current debate - from a call for an independent EU policy in East Asia, to collaboration with the United States in the struggle for western influence in the region. There is no consensus on whether the EU - independently from the transatlantic alliance - can become strong enough to have influence in the Pacific Basin. While the discussion continues, more conflicts are emerging in concrete policy-making regarding China's influence on the European continent. Germany is beginning to worry about the loss of its hitherto undisputed dominance in Eastern and Southeast Europe.

China's Global Influence

The German defense ministry is joining the discussion on German policy toward China, with a new publication containing lectures that were presented at a meeting of the "'Strategy and Perspectives' Network" established in late 2016 by the ministry. The network is headed by the defense ministry's policy department and aimed at strengthening Germany's "strategic competence." (german-foreign-policy.com reported.[1]) The network's third meeting, in September 2017, focused on China, as a future global power. The importance of dealing with the People's Republic of China can hardly be overestimated "for the international environment's stability," but also "for our competitiveness and our prosperity," wrote Géza Andreas von Geyr, head of the defense ministry's policy department. "By 2030," China will probably "produce one fifth of the global economic output;" Its current military spending is comparable to that of the EU; It is "massively investing in fields of modern research such as quantum technology. "Since some time, it has been setting global standards in the digitalization field," and is "a world leader in the field of artificial intelligence." "Because of its strategic interests" Beijing "will seek to enhance its global influence."[2] This calls for a response.

"Not Allies"

The lectures published by the defense ministry, span the entire spectrum of the current debate on Germany's policy toward China. In his lecture, Michael Staack, professor of political science at the Bundeswehr University in Hamburg, calls for an independent German-European policy toward East Asia. The People's Republic of China does not "seek to replace the USA as the world's most important power, but wants to be recognized as an equal player in the multipolar concert of global powers," writes Staak, who has repeatedly been a visiting professor in Beijing. "The interests of the EU or Germany and the USA with regards to East Asia and China partially coincide," but there are also "significant differences" including "America's Pacific Century" strategy,[3] proclaimed by Washington in 2011, which is aimed at "maintaining its status as hegemonic power." According to Staak, the EU does not have this interest; therefore the EU and Germany are "not US allies in the Pacific region" and also have "no common East Asia or China strategy." "To shape policy in that region, the interests of the other side have to be taken into account." However, this does not weaken Berlin's "independent position" and that of the EU.[4]

"In Close Coordination"

Carlo Masala, a political science professor at the Bundeswehr University in Munich, sees the situation quite differently. Masala considers that China's New Silk Road ("One Belt, One Road," german-foreign-policy.com reported [5]) has the objective of placing the People's Republic of China "at the hub of the future global economy." This is the "core of a hegemonic policy," an "aspect of China's global strategy of creating an alternative to the US dominated liberal world order." Basically, "the influence Germany can have on Chinese policy is limited." "The power imbalance is too great, for that." Berlin could only have influence in Eastern Asia with "a unified EU policy toward China." However, since "even the EU, as a unified political actor, is hardly noticed, let alone taken seriously in Beijing," in the long run "close coordination with the USA is the only way Germany's China policy can have political weight in Asia's balance of power." It is important to view the People's Republic of China "more from the perspective of security policy" - in alliance with the USA.[6]

"A Critical Debate"

Even though the debate on the appropriate approach to Germany's policy toward China is - still - taking place with a broad array of positions, in practice, a conflictual development is already looming. This applies, on the one hand, to the growing conflicts developing between Berlin and Beijing in Eastern and Southeast Europe. In several countries of the region, neglected for years by Germany, China has appeared on the scene with significant investments in their infrastructure - and is thereby winning their political sympathy. For example, this is the case in Greece, where Beijing has developed the capital harbor of Piraeus; in Serbia, which will be getting a high-speed rail line; or in the Czech Republic, where Chinese companies are investing in the media sector.[7] The German government is beginning to worry about losing its dominance, and is introducing counter measures, while being encouraged to do so by experts. The EU must seek "viable alternatives to Chinese offers," is the advice, for example, of the current issue of the specialized periodical Internationale Politik published by the German Council on Foreign Relations (DGAP).[8] "China's engagement" encourages Southeast Europe's "political elite to break away" from the EU, the journal writes. The question is, whether the EU can still take a unified approach to China.[9] The Global Public Policy Institute in Berlin, advises that the EU should not only "prepare alternatives to Chinese investments," it must also launch "a critical public debate" on China's "authoritarian influence" on the West's "liberal democracies."[10] This demand sounds already similar to western agitation against Russia's - real or alleged - influence on the NATO countries' public.

Before Closing Ranks

If a really conflictual development emerges in Southeast Europe - similar to what has been developing in parts of Africa [11] - current economic developments point toward a possible closing of ranks with the United States in opposition to China. This is significant, given the fact that German companies' massive and still growing interests in a continuous lucrative trade with China, until now, has served as a weighty argument against the fear that conflicts in the struggle for dominance with the People's Republic of China could seriously escalate. Indeed, the growing presence of Chinese companies in Europe is giving rise to stronger defense reflexes. Demands, calling for sharp control on Chinese investments in the EU, are becoming louder. Trade with China is increasingly regulated - sometimes with painful punitive tariffs. Recently German authorities openly resorted to seeking transatlantic alliance support from the United States in trade disputes with the People's Republic of China. (german-foreign-policy.com reported.[12]) Therefore, the scales are now tipping slightly toward the scenario described by Carlo Masala at the Third Session of the "Strategy and Perspective" Network at Germany's Ministry of Defense: that coordinated transatlantic measures be taken against Beijing.


[1] See also Auf dem Weg zur EU-Militärdoktrin.

[2] Vorwort. In: Bundesministerium der Verteidigung: China - Perspektiven und Herausforderungen. Bericht zur 3. Sitzung des Netzwerks "Strategie und Vorausschau". S. 7-10.

[3] See also Das pazifische Jahrhundert.

[4] Michael Staack: China: Die maritime Dimension. In: Bundesministerium der Verteidigung: China - Perspektiven und Herausforderungen. Bericht zur 3. Sitzung des Netzwerks "Strategie und Vorausschau". S. 21-33.

[5] See also China's Project of the Century.

[6] Carlo Masala: Chinas geopolitische Ambitionen. In: Bundesministerium der Verteidigung: China - Perspektiven und Herausforderungen. Bericht zur 3. Sitzung des Netzwerks "Strategie und Vorausschau". S. 13-19.

[7] See also Berlin calls for a "One-Europe Policy".

[8] May-Britt U. Stumbaum: Preis der Vernetzung. In: Internationale Politik März/April 2018. S. 18-23.

[9] Jan Gaspers: Schluss mit der Scheinheiligkeit. In: Internationale Politik März/April 2018. S. 24-29.

[10] Thorsten Benner, Jan Gaspers, Mareike Ohlberg, Lucrezia Poggetti, Kristin Shi-Kupfer: Authoritarian Advance: Responding to China's Growing Political Influence in Europe. gppi.net 05.02.2018.

[11] See also Struggle for Influence in Africa.

[12] See also Gemeinsam gegen Beijing.