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Germany must choose between China and America

The Chinese emperor unimpressed by European emissaries, in a 1792 print by James Gillray

Back when China was ruled by emperors, emissaries from around the world made pilgrimages to the Forbidden City bearing gifts, says Christoph Giesen in Der Spiegel. German chancellor Olaf Scholz will do the same later this week, when he becomes the first G7 leader to visit Xi Jinping in Beijing since the pandemic. His gift? Overruling six of his government departments to allow Cosco, a Chinese state-owned shipping company, to buy a 25% stake in Germany’s largest port, Hamburg. To Xi, who wants to “rewrite” the international order, it’s nothing less than “a gesture of submission”.

Scholz naively believes that Germany can trade with both Beijing and Washington in the “new Cold War”. Big business has made the same bet: Volkswagen now sells 40% of its vehicles in China. But the “grim reality” is that the globalisation which has made Germany rich is under threat – now it’s all about “self-sufficiency”. For America, that’s relatively easy: it produces much of its own food and plenty of fossil fuels. Not so with China, which is much more dependent on the rest of the world. Deals like the Cosco acquisition are designed to “bind” Germany – and by extension Europe – to the Chinese economy. In the long term, that would be a disaster: Berlin cannot be beholden to a “nationalistic” superpower that’s increasingly at odds with the West. Cutting links to Beijing won’t be easy. But it’s what Germany must do. As one of the country’s spy chiefs said recently: “Russia is the storm; China is climate change.”