As Angela Merkel prepares to write her autobiography, ‘explaining her key decisions in her own words’, her successor has his hands full dealing with the decisions she did not make. Germany’s new chancellor Olaf Scholz has taken captaincy of a ship on a course to nowhere in particular. He is beginning to find out just how difficult it is to steer his predecessor’s middle course between China and the West. Sooner rather than later, some difficult decisions will have to be made as their political world drifts too far apart to be navigated in tandem from Berlin.
Admittedly, this dilemma is not of Scholz’s making. Over the course of Merkel’s chancellorship, trade ties between Germany and China have become so close that they are now very difficult to untangle. Imports from China doubled and exports to it nearly tripled over the last 12 years. At a trade volume of €213 billion (£180 billion) last year, China was Germany’s biggest trading partner for the fifth year in succession.
Unsurprisingly, Beijing is keen to keep business as usual with Germany’s new government. Chinese president Xi Jinping was one of the first world leaders to congratulate Scholz following his inauguration, calling for a continuation of the ‘win-win cooperation’ their two countries had achieved with Merkel at the helm. China’s prime minister Li Keqiang went even further, calling Sino-German ties ‘one of the most important bilateral relationships in the world.’
Despite China’s appalling human rights record and its expansionist policy towards Hong Kong and Taiwan, Germany’s new chancellor is happy to continue Merkel’s work in cosying up to China. In his first telephone conversation with Xi, Scholz failed to press him on any problematic issues; instead he assured him that ‘Germany wanted to continue to work with China in a spirit of mutual respect and trust.’ Diplomatic