Germany’s newly appointed foreign minister Annalena Baerbock met with her Chinese counterpart Qin Gang on Tuesday to discuss various issues, including trade sanctions on Russia. While the conversation was frank, both sides expressed positivity, with Qin standing firm on China’s commitment to not supply weapons to crisis countries or regions.
One of the main issues discussed during the meeting concerned the eight Chinese companies that could potentially face sanctions from the European Union. The EU believes that these companies are supplying goods to Russia that could be used to create weapons against Ukraine. Baerbock stated that the bloc was working to prevent Russian sanctions’ circumvention as it negotiates a new package of measures.
Speaking to the media in Berlin, Qin reiterated that China does not supply weapons to crisis countries or regions. He stated that this is a law in China, and when exporting dual-use products, laws and ordinances are in place to regulate such cases. Qin added that there is normal exchange and cooperation between Chinese and Russian companies, which must not be disturbed.
The situation in Ukraine and the climate crisis were also high on the agenda during the 45-minute conversation between the two ministers. Baerbock emphasized the critical nature of the sanctions already imposed on Russia and stated that they were not aimed at any specific country but referred specifically to expected sanctioned goods. She also urged all countries, including China, to influence their companies accordingly.
Maintaining strong relationships with China is a delicate subject for Germany. For the seventh year in a row, China is Germany’s main trading partner, accounting for just under $320 billion of trade in 2022, up 21 percent from the previous year.
However, tensions between the EU and China have been rising in recent years, with concerns over human rights abuses in Xinjiang and Hong Kong and trade disputes. The EU has also expressed concern over Chinese investment in critical infrastructure, including 5G networks.
The issue of Chinese investment in Europe has also caused concern among some EU member states. In 2020, the European Commission proposed new rules to scrutinize foreign investment in strategic sectors, including health, energy, and transport, amid fears of Chinese state-owned enterprises acquiring critical infrastructure.
The EU has also been increasing its military presence in the region, with NATO conducting military exercises in the Black Sea in April in response to the Russian military buildup near the Ukrainian border.
The situation in Ukraine has been a major cause of concern for the EU, with ongoing conflict in the Donbas region and Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014. The EU has imposed a range of sanctions on Russia, including asset freezes, travel bans on individuals and entities, and restrictions on trade and financial transactions.
The EU has been working to prevent the circumvention of these sanctions, with Baerbock stating that the sanctions were intended to ensure that sanctioned goods and dual-use goods do not fall into the wrong hands. However, China’s relationship with Russia has caused concern among some EU member states, who fear that Chinese companies could be supplying Russia with goods that could be used to create weapons against Ukraine.
China has expanded its regional influence with investments in critical infrastructure, including ports and railways. China has also been building military alliances in the region, with Russia being a key partner.
The EU has expressed concern over China’s increasing influence in the region and has been working to strengthen its own partnerships in the region. The EU has also been working to diversify its supply chains, reducing its dependence on China.
While the meeting between Baerbock and Qin was positive, the issue of sanctions on Russia and the role of Chinese companies in the region will likely remain contentious.
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz has called for reducing risks in the European Union’s relations with China. Scholz made the comments while addressing the European Parliament in Strasbourg on Tuesday. He acknowledged that China’s rivalry and competition had increased, and the EU needed to react accordingly.
Scholz supported the stance of European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, who has said that the EU should not aim for a complete de-coupling with China. Instead, the focus should be on smart de-risking. Scholz’s comments come amid rising tensions between the EU and China, with concerns over human rights abuses and trade disputes.
Scholz emphasized the need for cooperation with China in areas such as climate change, global health, and economic recovery. He stated that the EU should not isolate itself from China but should instead work towards building mutual understanding and cooperation.
The German Chancellor’s comments reflect a growing concern among EU member states over the EU’s relations with China. While China is a significant trading partner, there are concerns over Chinese investment in critical infrastructure and human rights abuses in Xinjiang and Hong Kong.
The EU has been reducing its dependence on China and diversifying its supply chains. The EU has also been working to strengthen its partnerships in the Indo-Pacific region and has been increasing its military presence in the region in response to China’s expanding influence.
Scholz’s comments also come amid a broader debate on the EU’s strategic autonomy. The EU has been working to develop its strategic autonomy, reducing its dependence on external actors such as the US and China. The EU’s strategic autonomy is crucial to its ability to act independently on the global stage and protect its interests.
The EU has been working to develop its own technologies, including 5G networks, and has been increasing its investment in research and development. The EU has also strengthened its partnerships with other democracies, such as the US and Japan, to promote shared values and interests.
While the EU recognizes the need for cooperation with China, it is also aware of the risks involved in its relations with China. Scholz’s call for smart de-risking reflects the EU’s broader efforts to reduce its dependence on China and develop its strategic autonomy. As the EU navigates the complex geopolitical landscape, it will continue to seek cooperation with China while protecting its interests and values.