Germany must act as an honest broker between different interests: former German Federal Interior Minister
Germany’s economy minister reportedly said on Tuesday that the government was working on a new trade policy with China to reduce its dependence on it. Will there be a change in Germany’s China policy? Will there be a decoupling between Germany and China? Hans-Peter Friedrich (Frederic), former Vice President of the Bundestag, former Federal Minister of the Interior and President of the China-Bridge Association, shared his views in an interview with the Global Times (GT) journalists Li Aixin and Bai Yunyi, during the sixth Taihe Civilizations Forum.
GT: How do you assess current Sino-German relations? In the foreseeable future, what are the biggest opportunities and challenges facing the bilateral relationship?
Friedrich: The past 50 years of German-Chinese relations have been successful: Today, Germany and China are closely linked economically and both have benefited greatly. German-Chinese relations, in particular, are proof that the international division of labor brings prosperity gains around the world. A major challenge is that Germany and the EU play their own role in a multipolar world and that we have to treat each other politically and economically according to fair rules.
Hans-Peter Friedrich Photo: bundestag.de
GT: There has been quite a bit of talk in Germany lately about “decoupling from China” or about “reducing (economic) dependence on China”. In your opinion, can Germany really “decouple” from China? Why?
Friedrich: Germany and China cannot dissociate from each other without causing economic damage to both sides. And there is no reason for that! German companies visibly feel comfortable in China and want to participate in the growing Chinese market. Chinese investors in Germany and German exports to China guarantee jobs in our country.
GT: To what extent do you think the current relations between China and Germany and between China and Europe are affected by US policy towards China?
Friedrich: The United States and Europe form a community of values with a common cultural identity. During the Cold War, the United States was the protective power of Germany and Western Europe, and we belong to a common military alliance. The trajectories of Germany and the United States are therefore closely linked. That being said, of course, we also see that the US and the EU do not have the same geostrategic interests. That is why it is important that we Europeans define and play an independent role vis-à-vis the world powers.
GT: We have noticed that both in Germany and in Europe, the voice of hardening towards China seems to be getting louder. What are the reasons for this trend? What do you think are the common misconceptions about China that exist in Germany?
Friedrich: On the one hand, people still have to get used to China’s role as a geopolitical and technological power. At the same time, the Germans also realize that economic interdependencies have an impact on their own political options for action. In our globalized world, there is no alternative to dialogue and the search for peaceful coexistence. The biggest misunderstanding is that we try to classify China in our Eurocentric world.
GT: Some observers have mentioned the fact that European strategic autonomy is close to “brain death”. How do you see the prospect of European strategic autonomy?
Friedrich: The term “brain dead” of the French president referred to NATO, which however took on new weight following the war in Ukraine. For example, NATO recently welcomed two new members, Sweden and Finland. Nevertheless, the European defense capability remains for me one of the most important tasks of the European Union. Without European defense capability and strategic autonomy, European integration would be stuck halfway.
GT: Given the changing international situation, what role do you think Germany should play? What role should Germany play in Sino-American and Russian-European relations in particular?
Friedrich: Germany’s most important role is to ensure the unity of Europe. This requires a high level of tolerance towards all members of the EU, but also the power of persuasion to make it clear that we are all in the same boat. Germany must play this role of honest broker between different interests not only within Europe, but also with the EU vis-à-vis Russia, China and the United States. We can have no interest in the world being again divided into two irreconcilable blocs against each other; instead, we need a global balance of power that takes into account the interests of all countries.
GT: Do you think that the West, China and Russia will fall into a situation similar to a “new cold war”? If so, what would that mean for the world?
Friedrich: I believe that there is a great danger of a new cold war and that we must counter it with all our might. The great challenges facing humanity can only be overcome together, not in conflict.
GT: On the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between China and Germany, what are your expectations/reminders for the bilateral relationship?
Friedrich: I hope we will look back with gratitude on what has been good and be determined to make the most of the relationship in the future.
GT: What do you think of the changes that have taken place in China over the past decade? What aspects of China’s development have impressed you the most?
Friedrich: China has become more self-confident and more active in its foreign policy. But above all, China has even shown global leadership in certain technological fields. That’s what impresses me the most.