Europe can no longer afford Germany's failed China policy of 'change through trade'

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We need to talk about Germany. Let's start with an inconvenient truth: German governments, both past and present, have consistently prioritized trade with China over other enlightened German national interests, for example democracy and human rights. Such a commercially-driven China engagement, however, is not a value-free proposition.

Whether it is the incarceration of 1.5 million Uyghurs and Kazakhs in mainland Chinese internment and labor camps, the suppression of Hong Kong's democracy movement, or the cover-up of Covid-19: German Chancellor Merkel does not seem to fully appreciate how continued Communist Party rule endangers peace, security and public health, not just in China, but around the world.

On Monday, 25 May 2020 Europe's top diplomat Josep Borrell addressed a gathering of German Ambassadors. He told them that the European Union and its member states need to develop a "more robust strategy” toward China. It is self-evident that the EU will struggle to develop a more assertive European China policy without the backing of Germany.

But how can German diplomats change tack if Chancellor Merkel is unwilling to give directions? It is understandable that a nation which is guilty of the horrors of the Holocaust is wary of playing an assertive global leadership role. But there is also a real danger of an 'oblivion of power', where Germany in fact underutilizes existing leverage in global affairs. 

Germany is often praised for facing up to its Nazi past. Never again has long been a guiding principle of an ethical German foreign policy. But how then can the German government remain silent when Uyghurs and Kazakhs are incarcerated, Hong Kongers have their civil and political liberties stripped away and Taiwanese are threatened with military annexation?

China under General Secretary Xi Jinping is regressing on all fronts: human rights violations are now systemic and endemic, even criticism by Chinese academics are no longer tolerated, and the Chinese Communist Party is increasingly aping Russian disinformation strategies in Europe. Germany must now ask if it will continue to actively support such a regime.

So far Chancellor Merkel has failed to answer this question. She has been unable to articulate what enlightened German ideational and material national interests look like beyond trade and investment. This is a serious shortcoming which not only undermines German foreign policy towards China but also makes it harder to develop a new European strategy towards China.

At a time of heightened geopolitical tensions between the United States and Communist Party-led China, Europe can no longer afford Germany's unprincipled and failed China policy of 'change through trade'. In 2020 it is abundantly clear that China didn't liberalize and democratize as a result of German car manufacturers enriching themselves by selling cars to China.

We need a Europe-wide approach which repositions the EU in light of Xi's increasing totalitarianism. While trade clearly matters, European values need to be defended, too. I ask you to sign this petition to put pressure on the German government. Chancellor Merkel should abandon her failed China policy and join Europe's search for a more principled approach towards China.