While the world is still witnessing the chilling effect of Beijing’s Hong Kong takeover through its draconian National Security Law, Economy and Energy Minister Peter Altmaier has come out defending Germany’s continuing trade relationship with China.
“It has always been the policy of the Western international community, including the EU, that international trade relations cannot be based solely on how democratic a country is,” Altmaier told national newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung.
His comment comes amid international condemnation of China’s new security law in Hong Kong which undermines the island’s independence and will turn it into just another Chinese city.
The protection of, and adherence to human rights remained the government’s highest priority, and this also applied to China, Altmaier stressed, though Germany’s recent actions suggest otherwise.
Sino-German relations have deepened significantly in the 14 years Angela Merkel has been chancellor of Europe’s biggest economy. Her recent trip to China in September 2019 was overshadowed by violent protests in Hong Kong.
Soon after she visited China, German politicians and businessmen set up an elite networking association, “China Bridge”, to strengthen links with China. The organizers say the “China Bridge” initiative is modeled on the “Atlantic Bridge”, a non-profit organization set up in 1952 to boost German-American friendship which has 500 decision-makers in business, politics, science and media as members.
Markel plans to make China a priority of Germany’s six-month presidency (1 July 2020 – 31 December 2020) of the European Union, culminating in an EU-China summit. Markel’s pro-China policies are facing huge criticism from her own party, opposition politicians and other European countries who say she is not taking a tough enough line on China.
Most countries across the globe including the US and the UK have all vocally condemned the new security law, with the UK going ahead offering citizenship to up to 3 million Hong Kong residents. Merkel, however, has been reluctant to condemn China for its human rights abuses.
The Hong Kong crisis has triggered a European backlash against China and as Europe-China relations decline, Merkel will struggle to adjust her China policy. German government’s decision to put trade with China over human rights suggests that Germany has not learned enough from her Nazi past.