Position on Russia, China a test for the new German government


WASHINGTON – Germany has faced a series of challenges in its relations with Russia and China that have tested the courage of the new government’s foreign policy since it took office last month.

Among them are Moscow’s military buildup near Ukraine and the diplomatic fallout from a court verdict finding the Russian government was behind the 2019 killing of a Chechen dissident in Berlin. China’s pressure on another member of the European Union has also prompted Germany to take sides against one of its main trading partners.

The problems were highlighted during a whirlwind visit German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock made to Washington on Wednesday, with the aim of underline the common position between his government and the United States on Russia. She returned to Germany on Thursday.

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But amid the show of unity, differences also emerged with its close transatlantic ally and within the German government itself.

In last year’s election to succeed longtime German leader Angela Merkel, Baerbock campaigned on a foreign policy platform that called for a tougher line toward Moscow and Beijing on security and rights issues. of man. His rival Olaf Scholz, who became chancellor of Germany after his Social Democratic Party won the vote, has taken a noticeably softer stance on Russia.

Baerbock’s party, the Greens, has also been skeptical of Nord Stream 2, a recently completed pipeline to bring more natural gas from Russia to Germany that is not yet in use.

The Greens’ position is driven in part by environmental concerns over continued reliance on fossil fuels. But of all the major German parties, he is also closest to the position of the United States, which has warned that the pipeline risks increasing Europe’s dependence on Russian gas.

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This skepticism is not shared by Scholz, however, whose center-left Social Democrats have lobbied heavily for the pipeline. With the Social Democrats being the largest party in the coalition government, it seems unlikely that Berlin will stop gas from flowing through the pipeline unless Russia launches a military strike against Ukraine.

Eyebrows were also raised this week when the German government announced that Scholz’s foreign policy adviser would meet with his French and Russian counterparts to discuss the situation in Ukraine. Some observers say Scholz is keen to exclude Baerbock’s foreign ministry from direct talks with Moscow – a suggestion that German diplomats have strenuously rejected.

Baerbock incurred the ire of the Kremlin last month when it expelled two officials from the Russian Embassy after a Berlin court ruled that Moscow was behind the broad daylight murder of an ethnic Chechen man in the German capital two years earlier. Russia responded by expelling two German diplomats from Moscow.

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Baerbock, who had never held a government post before becoming Germany’s top diplomat, pledged during the election campaign to pursue a foreign policy guided by interests and values.

This, and his promise to make the defense of democracy a subject of Germany’s presidency of the major Group of Seven economies this year, puts Baerbock on an uncomfortable footing with China.

The 41-year-old’s remarks at a Washington press conference with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Wednesday reinforced those political views and likely caught the attention of German companies that depend on exports to the China.

Asked if Berlin backed US criticism of China’s human rights record, Baerbock said Germany backed proposals “that proceeds from forced labor, resulting from severe violations of human rights, cannot enter the European market”.

“And the same goes for solidarity with Lithuania,” she said. referring to a spat between the tiny EU nation and Beijing. Lithuania’s decision to let Taiwan open an office in the country has infuriated China, which considers the island part of its territory.

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The United States has long argued for a tougher stance against rival China, but during Merkel’s 16 years in office, Germany has often sought to balance its commercial interests with human rights concerns. . Baerbock drew a clearer line this week.

“As Europeans, we stand together with Lithuania,” she said.

But Josef Braml, an expert with the non-governmental Trilateral Commission which seeks to improve cooperation between Japan, Western Europe and North America, said it seems likely that Germany’s foreign policy could be led more strongly by the Chancellery in the future.

“We will have to wait for the actions of the new Chancellor to make a firm assessment,” he said.

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