German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock on Wednesday described parts of her recent trip to China as “more than shocking” and said Beijing was increasingly becoming a systemic rival more than a trade partner and competitor.
The blunt remarks followed Baerbock’s visit to Beijing last week where she warned that any attempt by China to control Taiwan would be unacceptable.
Beijing claims democratically governed Taiwan as a Chinese province and has never ruled out the use of force to bring the island under its control.
Baerbock had also said China wanted to follow its own rules at the expense of the international rules-based order. Beijing in turn asked Germany to support Taiwan’s “reunification” and said China and Germany were not adversaries but partners.
Speaking to the German Bundestag (lower house of parliament) on Wednesday about her China trip, Baerbock said “some of it was really more than shocking”.
She did not elaborate on specifics, although her remark came after she said China was becoming more repressive internally as well as aggressive externally.
For Germany, she said, China is a partner, competitor and systemic rival, but her impression is now “that the systemic rivals aspect is increasing more and more”.
China is Germany’s largest trading partner, said Baerbock, but this did not mean Beijing was also Germany’s most important trading partner.
The German government wants to work with China but does not want to repeat past mistakes, for example the notion of “change through trade”, she said, that the West can achieve political shifts in authoritarian regimes through commerce.
Baerbock also said China had a responsibility to work towards peace in the world, in particular using its influence over Russia in the war in Ukraine.
She welcomed Beijing’s promise not to supply weapons to Russia, including dual use items, though added that Berlin would see how such a promise worked in practice.
In a departure from the policies of former chancellor Angela Merkel, Olaf Scholz’s government is developing a new China strategy to reduce dependence on Asia’s economic superpower, a vital export market for German goods.