If Volkswagen is any yardstick, there’s little chance of Germany getting tough about the persecution of the Uighurs, says Timothy Garton Ash in The Guardian. China accounts for 40% of VW’s car sales and, even though it has a plant in Xinjiang, it’s painfully silent on Beijing’s woeful human-rights record. Which is all the more dismal because of the forced labour VW used under the Nazis. The result is “a moral car crash”. And don’t expect Angela Merkel’s likely successor to stand up to Xi Jinping – Armin Laschet’s home state in western Germany is the terminus for China’s giant container trains.
It used to be said that the West could change China through trade, but “who has changed whom”? Coca-Cola and Wall Street “are piling into Chinese markets”, and British bankers, lawyers and estate agents are “falling over themselves” to service Chinese apparatchiks. The pandemic gave us a nasty glimpse of the consequences of British dependence on China when we realised how much PPE it supplied us. So the government is right to be nervous about Huawei dominating our 5G networks. I don’t expect the boss of VW to speak out “like some fiery human-rights advocate”. But he could set an example – VW should publicly acknowledge any human-rights problems in its Chinese supply chain and invite reporters to tour its Xinjiang factory. “History and conscience demand nothing less.”