Ger­man chan­cel­lor’s trip a bench­mark in many ways

Global Times US Edition - - FORUM - By He Zhi­gao

Ger­man Chan­cel­lor An­gela Merkel kicks off Fri­day a two­day visit to China, less than 15 months af­ter her last trip to the coun­try. Ger­many is fac­ing an eco­nomic down­turn, while pop­ulist par­ties have surged in the coun­try and the in­ter­na­tional sit­u­a­tion is be­com­ing more un­cer­tain. As such, it is wor­thy of at­ten­tion whether Merkel’s visit to China, which has some spe­cial mean­ing, could be a new start to the bet­ter­ment of China-ger­many and China-europe ties.

Af­fected by global eco­nomic down­turn and in­ter­na­tional trade dis­putes, Ger­many is ex­pected to have an eco­nomic growth of 0.5 per­cent in 2019, less than the 1.4 per­cent growth of 2018. Ger­man GDP in the sec­ond quar­ter of 2019 de­clined by 0.1 per­cent and the trend is likely to con­tinue, which re­flects a high risk of re­ces­sion.

Ger­many was the world’s third­largest ex­port­ing coun­try in 2016, only be­hind China and the US, and the de­cline in the coun­try’s for­eign trade has slowed its eco­nomic growth. Thus, Ger­many needs ex­ter­nal sup­port. When Us-europe eco­nomic dis­putes are spi­ral­ing up­ward, China-ger­many co­op­er­a­tion is nec­es­sary. En­hanc­ing trade with China, which re­mained the most im­por­tant trad­ing part­ner of Ger­many in 2018 with a to­tal trade vol­ume of 199.3 bil­lion euros ($218.7 bil­lion), will help re­vi­tal­ize Ger­many’s econ­omy.

Dur­ing the Eu-china sum­mit in Brus­sels in April, both sides agreed to work to­ward a con­clu­sion of a com­pre­hen­sive bi­lat­eral in­vest­ment agree­ment by 2020. But ac­cord­ing to a re­port re­leased in May by ac­count­ing firm Ernst & Young, in the first quar­ter of 2019, the an­nounced value of China’s merg­ers and ac­qui­si­tions deal in Europe had de­creased by nearly 90 per­cent year on year. The de­cline was due to the EU’S “frame­work for the screen­ing of for­eign di­rect in­vest­ments,” which was of­fi­cially ef­fec­tive in April. Such be­ing the case, trade and in­vest­ment is­sues will be a key topic of Merkel’s trip to China.

Ger­many is also fac­ing in­ter­nal po­lit­i­cal crises. The surge of the far-right Al­ter­na­tive for Ger­many (AFD) Party in elec­tions, the dis­putes within the rul­ing Chris­tian Demo­cratic Union of Ger­many Party and the end of Merkel’s ten­ure in 2021 could lead to a po­lit­i­cal dilemma in Ger­many and thus an ab­sence of lead­er­ship in Europe.

AFD won the sec­ond-most votes in par­lia­men­tary elec­tions on Sun­day in two east­ern Ger­man states, namely Sax­ony and Bran­den­burg. In ad­di­tion, dur­ing the elec­tion to the Euro­pean Par­lia­ment in May, the Euro­pean Greens Party re­ceived about 20 per­cent of votes in Ger­many, be­com­ing the coun­try’s sec­ond-big­gest party in the Euro­pean Par­lia­ment. All these have brought about new un­cer­tain­ties for the Ger­man rul­ing coali­tion and po­lit­i­cal struc­ture.

In the con­text of in­ter­nal con­straints,

Merkel’s visit to China is an op­por­tu­nity to re­shape Ger­many’s con­fi­dence and build con­sen­sus in­ter­nally, which can help Berlin re­lieve do­mes­tic pres­sures and strive for ex­ter­nal op­por­tu­ni­ties.

The re­turn of com­pe­ti­tion be­tween big pow­ers and in­ter­na­tional geopol­i­tics is an­other chal­lenge fac­ing Ger­many. US Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s Europe pol­icy didn’t fa­vor transat­lantic re­la­tions but widened a split within the EU. Berlin wishes to in­te­grate Moscow within the Euro­pean sys­tem to mit­i­gate ten­sions be­tween the two sides, but Trump can­not ac­cept a dé­tente in Ber­lin­moscow ties. Be­sides, Trump op­poses EU’S at­ti­tude on the Ira­nian nu­clear is­sue.

The EU re­gards China as a “sys­temic ri­val” in the re­port Eu-china – A strate­gic out­look is­sued in March, and it is be­com­ing a con­sen­sus among EU mem­bers. How­ever, China and Ger­many are ma­jor economies and de­fend­ers of mul­ti­lat­er­al­ism, there­fore, their im­prov­ing co­op­er­a­tion is sig­nif­i­cant.

In the sec­ond half of 2020 when Ger­many will hold the ro­tat­ing pres­i­dency of the EU, whether Ger­many could turn the Eu-china sum­mit into a 28+1 co­op­er­a­tion for­mat will de­ter­mine the route and mech­a­nism of China-eu re­la­tions in the fu­ture and de­ter­mine whether Berlin and Bei­jing could jointly deal with in­ter­na­tional and re­gional chal­lenges, as well as pro­mote eco­nomic devel­op­ment, peace and sta­bil­ity of the world.

Ger­many needs a new part­ner from out­side to help it ad­vance in the game of big pow­ers. As Chi­nese eco­nomic and po­lit­i­cal in­flu­ence rises, Merkel is more prag­mat­i­cally seek­ing a bal­ance of in­ter­ests and strength­en­ing talks with China to pro­mote mu­tu­ally ben­e­fi­cial win-win co­op­er­a­tion.

Some Ger­mans think that they should con­tain China as it is a threat to them, while oth­ers be­lieve China will bring them devel­op­ment op­por­tu­ni­ties. Such con­tra­dic­tion is be­com­ing more se­vere. Merkel’s visit to China will, at least, demon­strate that Berlin is will­ing to have strate­gic talks with Bei­jing and seek con­sen­sus through high-level di­a­logues, mak­ing co­op­er­a­tion the key­note of China-ger­many re­la­tions. The au­thor is re­search fel­low with the In­sti­tute of Euro­pean Stud­ies, Chi­nese Academy of So­cial Sci­ences. opin­[email protected] glob­al­times.com.cn

Il­lus­tra­tion: Liu RUI/GT

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