An official from Germany who occupies a high-ranking post has been identified as having suppressed an intelligence report that warned about China’s rising influence in the European nation. The German official was apparently afraid of causing damage to German-China business ties should the report be made public.
The report was prepared in 2018 and investigated how the Chinese government was trying to influence almost every aspect of German society, from the government to business. Before the report was disseminated to German officials, one high-ranking official intervened and suppressed it. As a result, only a few people, including Chancellor Angela Merkel, knew about the report. Germany has traditionally dealt with China purely from a business perspective.
The German economy is very dependent on exports. Bilateral trade relations between China and Germany were worth US$300 billion in 2019. China has been the biggest trading partner for Germany ever since 2016. As such, it is no wonder that Beijing has a huge influence on the country.
German businesses who have interests in China often lobby their home government to avoid taking a stance or implementing policies that might harm bilateral relations. This is directly opposite to China, which uses businesses as a tool to punish governments and companies if they fail to align with Chinese interests.
The German company Volkswagen is known to run a factory in Xinjiang, a region that has become notorious for the Chinese government’s persecution of the ethnic Uyghur minority. A top economics official from Germany, Peter Altmaier, has often downplayed Beijing’s human rights violations.
China expert Noah Barkin notes that Germany is starting to move away from dealing with China solely on the basis of economics. He believes that Germans are realizing that they need to draw a line for China and also need to push for human rights in the Asian nation.
Since Germany usually sets the tone for the EU, the country’s rising resistance to China should eventually rub off on the organization as well. Earlier this year, the EU was found to have compromised a report that was critical of a Chinese disinformation campaign regarding the COVID-19 pandemic. The organization also kept quiet when its article was censored before being published in Chinese media.
Such pro-China moves have attracted criticism and the EU nations have become stricter with Beijing in recent months. For instance, the EU president announced in September that she would push for placing sanctions on governments and officials violating human rights, a move that will inevitably affect Beijing.
Three Seas Initiative
Back in 2015, 12 European nations founded the Three Seas Initiative to develop the region’s infrastructure. This would allow these nations not to be too dependent on countries like China for investments. “The member states comprise 28 percent of the EU’s territory and 22 percent of the population, yet only contribute 10 percent of the bloc’s GDP. Before the coronavirus pandemic struck, they enjoyed the highest economic growth in the EU, approaching 3.5 percent compared to the bloc average of 2.1 percent,” according to DW.
However, the initiative has been stuck in limbo for several years. In February this year, the U.S. pledged US$1 billion in funds toward the Three Seas Initiative, which once more triggered interest in the project. The member nations will soon be meeting to resolve funding issues. If successful, not only can Chinese influence in the region be countered, but also Russian influence as well.
Poland is said to be very interested in one of the projects that supports the construction of gas pipelines between southern and northern Europe, which would allow the country to free itself from Russian gas supplies.