On December 8, the new German government was born. Chancellor Merkel, who has been in power for 16 years, handed the seal of government to her current Deputy Chancellor, Scholz. Merkel’s abstention also led to the defeat of her party, the CDU. The ruling partner, the Social Democratic Party, took advantage of the prestige of Deputy Prime Minister Scholz and became the largest party in the current federal parliament in one fell swoop, winning the right to form a cabinet. Under Scholz’s leadership, the history of German party politics was rewritten, and a three-party coalition government that had never existed in German history opened a new chapter in German and even European history.
So, will the new German government inherit Merkel’s consistent “friendship with China” line?
For China, Merkel’s departure is a major challenge. First, Beijing has lost a trusted European heavyweight leader. Although the new Chancellor Scholz has many interactions with China, can he be like Merkel, patiently listening to China’s demands, respecting China’s core interests, understanding the hardships of governing a country with a population of 1.4 billion, and sparing no effort to achieve Germany Seeking a balance between interests and taking into account China’s interests is still an unknown.
Moreover, the Green Party and the Liberal Democratic Party in the new three-party coalition government were originally unfriendly to China. Now that these two opposition parties, Xianyu, have turned into ruling parties, their influence should not be underestimated. In foreign affairs in particular, the Greens control the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. It is impossible for a foreign ministry led by the current Green Party chairman and prime minister candidate Paul Burke to formulate its China policy not to be influenced by the negative personal views of the first female foreign minister in Germany’s history.
Pollock’s Green Party and the Foreign Office she leads are indeed very uncertain factors in the future Sino-German relationship. And the Liberal Democrats who have always claimed that “human rights are above all else” is also a challenge that cannot be ignored.
Even the relatively pragmatic Social Democrats have Atlantic factions abound in their conservative ranks. These so-called “Atlantic factions” believe that the United States, not China, is the best partner for Germany and Europe.
Last year, version 2.0 of the German Information Security Law was forced to insert some clauses unfavorable to the Chinese company Huawei at the last minute. It is not unrelated to the fact that this force cooperated with the opponents in Merkel’s party to put pressure on the Chancellor’s Office and the Ministry of the Interior. Although the new Prime Minister Scholz does not belong to this faction, this powerful force will inevitably hinder his implementation of the new China policy.
It is precisely in consideration of the ideological color and factional structure differences that cannot be ignored of the red, green and yellow three parties, any observer who has been concerned about the development of Sino-German relations for a long time will not be very optimistic about the new German government’s China policy, let alone. It is expected that the Chancellor’s Office in charge of Scholz will fully inherit Merkel’s “friendship with China” line. From the current situation, we can only remain cautiously optimistic.
The newly released three-party coalition governing agreement is a bit unexpected. The campaign rhetoric against China has disappeared, and tough accusations have been replaced by ambiguous statements. Topics related to China are either deliberately erased or taken lightly.
In fact, the Coalition Governance Program titled “Being Enterprising”, Yangyang’s 178 pages do not have much ink on China, and it is placed at the end of the foreign policy program. It consists of two natural paragraphs on page 156, with a total of 17 lines. , which obviously does not match the diplomatic weight of the China policy in the German government.
However, these 17 lines of characters contain a lot of information, and the wording and sentences are a compromise product that has been carefully deliberated and mixed with different viewpoints. The Coalition Governance Program first affirms that the guiding ideology of foreign policy toward China is “based on human rights and international law, and based on the principle of fair competition.”
Here, the three-party coalition governing program does not insist that “human rights are higher than sovereignty” but juxtaposes the two, which highlights the importance of human rights and the respect for sovereignty. This does not seem to be any different from Merkel’s China policy. As for advocating “fair competition as the principle” to guide China’s policy, it is what Merkel has always insisted on, and it is also acceptable to Beijing. Therefore, in terms of guiding ideology, the new government can be said to have basically inherited Merkel’s mantle.
The campaign rhetoric against China has disappeared, and tough accusations have been replaced by ambiguous statements. Topics related to China are either deliberately erased or taken lightly.
In terms of the operation mode of China policy, the new coalition governing program also fully accepts the “trinity” idea of China policy, which is recognized by Merkel in the later period of her administration, namely: partners, competitors and institutional opponents. It turns out that many people are worried that once the Green Party and the Liberal Democratic Party are in power, they will put the “system competition” with China first, market competition second, and economic and trade cooperation third.
This worry now seems superfluous. The mode of trading with China agreed by the three parties still adheres to “cooperation first, competition second, and competition third”. Although Beijing does not agree that China has any “system contest” with Germany and Europe, it still accepts the narrative of cooperation and competition. If the new government insists on putting cooperation first, competition second and competition last, the elements of cooperation and competition between Germany and China will be far greater than the irreconcilable conflict of “competitiveness” in the future.
The basis for this basic judgment can also be found in the three-party coalition governing program, which are all accurately written in black and white in those 17 lines. In addition to the guiding ideology and mode of operation, the new government has also designed an action plan for future China policy. And it is these courses of action that allow us to see how the new government is doing the same thing as Merkel.
“Sino-German Government Consultation Mechanism”
When we talk about whether the new government will inherit Merkel’s mantle, it is impossible not to ask what her legacy is. In addition to respecting China’s core interests and being candid to Chinese leaders, the “Sino-German Government Consultation Mechanism” established by Merkel against all odds and the Chinese government is her greatest legacy to the German government’s China policy.
The German government maintains institutionalized and uninterrupted regular government consultations with only a few countries in the world. Only four countries outside Europe have been selected by Berlin as important “partners of the government consultation mechanism”: one is the “old enemy” or “adversary” Russia that Germany can’t get rid of, and the other is regarded by Germany as “her security is Germany’s security” Israel, the third is what Germany calls “the world’s largest democracy” India, and the fourth is China.
The scale and effect of the government consultation mechanism is far greater than other bilateral talks or summit meetings between governments. It is actually a regular joint meeting of key cabinet members of the two governments. Here, the mid- and long-term cooperation plans between the two countries are formulated, problems arising from cooperation are sorted out and resolved, and strategic misjudgments or misunderstandings caused by them are eliminated.
In any case, whether the Sino-German government consultation mechanism can be continued is the touchstone to test whether the new government is determined to inherit Merkel’s “friendship with China” policy. At least for now, the three parties have withstood the test. Chinese strategists must have a sense of relief when they read the promise.
With Scholz’s personality, he will continue to keep the dominance of foreign policy, especially the dominance of China’s diplomacy, firmly in his own hands like Merkel, and make the Ministry of Foreign Affairs a diplomatic executive department. In terms of so-called human rights issues, he will leave “room for action” to Boerback, but in terms of China-Germany strategic interaction and government consultation mechanism, I believe he will maintain his determination, balance the interference of the green and yellow parties, and be pragmatic. Promote the continuous development of China-Germany substantive cooperation.
The “pragmatic faction” of the Social Democratic Party
However, the future development of Sino-German relations will become more complex than in Merkel’s era, showing a trend of continuous and intermittent constraints and constraints. Especially in the early stage of the three-party governance, the “New Deal” from the Green Party and the Liberal Democrats will have some impact on Sino-German relations. Having held the position of the “opposition party” for too long, the two parties will definitely have the urge to “refresh people” when they come to power.
What Merkel has not done to China, they may do it; what Merkel has not said, they will say; what Merkel has not supported, they will support. Leaders of both the Green Party and the Liberal Democrats have accused Merkel of being too soft on China, too polite to Beijing and too arrogant to the rest of the European Union. It is foreseeable that the rookies of German politics will, to a large extent, break through Merkel’s maturity and rationality, say “ugly” words from time to time, and do some “outrageous” things.
The new generation of leaders of the Green Party and the Liberal Democrats has a generation gap with Merkel. Merkel is 67 years old this year, and is an old man on the way to 70 years old. In terms of age, Merkel, known as the “grand chancellor”, can indeed be the mother of Green Party Foreign Minister Paul Burke and Liberal Democrat Finance Minister Lindner in her early 40s. The different world outlooks and ways of dealing with problems between the two generations will certainly be reflected in their dealings with China.
Merkel made a thought-provoking remark at the grand farewell ceremony held by the Bundeswehr for Merkel. It is this quote that helps us understand why Merkel is so patient when dealing with leaders of China, the United States, Russia or other countries. She said: “Look at the real world through the eyes of other parties.” The outgoing prime minister chose this occasion to say this sentence, which can be understood as a summary of his own rules for handling international affairs, and can also be understood as a successor government. Advice from leaders.
Debuting in such a political genre, it is impossible for Scholz to be like his new generation of ruling partners, who shouts and fights every day, puts slogans above actions, puts interests before values, and makes Sino-German relations deviate from normal. track.
The Green Party and the Liberal Democrats may not listen to this sentence. They are a group of firm believers who believe that European values are “one size fits all”. They are a group of people who are used to seeing the world from their own values and deciding Politicians who act on their own. They may not necessarily listen to China’s core interests, and they may not necessarily understand China’s various narratives and explanations. Different concepts and different perspectives will inevitably lead to many misunderstandings and even frictions. For this, Chinese strategists should also be prepared.
However, Merkel’s heartfelt words should resonate with new Chancellor Scholz. There is no generation gap between Scholz and Merkel. As the former mayor of Hamburg, Scholz has rich experience in cooperation with China, and has more perceptual knowledge than his governing partners when dealing with China. At the same time, within the Social Democratic Party, he was seen as a “pragmatic faction”.
In the “pragmatic faction” of the Social Democratic Party, there have also been two German Chancellors. One is the former Prime Minister Schmidt, who has full respect for China and regarded “non-interference in internal affairs” as the golden rule all his life. Although he has passed away for several years, he still enjoys high prestige in German politics and society. The other is the still-surviving Chancellor Schroeder, who has been controversial in Germany because of his close relationship with Putin and the head of the board of directors of the “Nord Stream 2” natural gas pipeline project. But he is no worse than Chancellor Merkel in advocating pragmatic cooperation with China.
Scholz was Schroeder’s confidant. When Schroeder was chairman of the Social Democratic Party and federal chancellor, Scholz was his party’s chief steward. Especially in the later period of Schroeder’s administration, the reform was difficult, walking on thin ice. Scholz silently undertakes the complicated affairs within the party, allowing the party chairman and prime minister Schroeder to concentrate on presiding over government affairs. It can be said that he is one of Schroeder’s most trusted people.
Debuting in such a political genre, it is impossible for Scholz to be like his new generation of ruling partners, shouting and shouting every day, putting slogans above actions, putting interests below values, and making Sino-German relations deviate from normal. track. Traditionally, the German Chancellery has the final say in the formulation of major power foreign policy. It is believed that Scholz will inherit the “double legacy” left by the pragmatic faction of the party and Merkel, and promote the substantive cooperation between Beijing and Berlin in a quiet way.