by N. Peter Kramer
Germany will be the rotating President of the European Union in the second half of this year. Merkel had already put China at the top of the agenda. The goal was some sweet talk with China’s President Xi Jinping at an EU-China summit on September 14 in Leipzig and defend the German car industry’s investment in China. But corona has changed the atmosphere. More than three-quarters of Germans believe that Xi’s China is at least partly to blame from the corona outbreak. The Leipzig summit has been cancelled due to corona.
Meanwhile, the pressure on Merkel in her own country is increasing. She stays too often at the side-lines in Brussels, refusing to use Germany’s weight in the EU to address ‘systematic abuse of human rights, repression total surveillance and censorship’ , Bundestag members say. Germany is always an uncertain international player and Merkel is often a follower. Now the consensus in Germany turns sceptical to China, Merkel will follow.
Until now, it was mainly the US that was concerned. President Obama worked on a trade agreement with democratic countries around China to bind them to the free world, and, if necessary, protect them against China’s military might. His successor Trump moved faster than Obama and confronted Xi’s regime, he imposed sanctions and threatened to sever all ties with China. EU member state leaders were almost automatically pursuing a pro-China policy as the antithesis of Trump. The EU top diplomat Borrell followed them and recently was cowed three times by Chinese intimidation. The EU’s reaction to China’s latest attack on Hong Kong’s rights has been shamingly poor.
But it looks like the attitude in the EU is changing. Merkel and Macron flirted with Xi; Merkel out of dislike for Trump and because of the interests of the German car industry in China; Macron because he wants the EU, under French leadership, to be an independent superpower between the US and China and because of the interests of Hermes, Renault and the French nuclear industry. The French President now openly argues with Xi and supplies weapons to Taiwan. When Xi criticised him for that, Macon told him it would be better to focus on fighting the corona virus.
It is clear, Merkel and Macron have finally started to feel more uncomfortable with China. The question is whether they can reconcile their reflexes and interests with those of India, Japan, Australia, the US and other democratic countries. It is to be hoped so.