Author : Manoj Joshi

Expert Speak Raisina Debates
Published on Aug 18, 2022 Updated 3 Days ago
In recent months, Germany has begun working on reducing its dependency on China in critical areas.
Germany plays catch-up in the Indo-Pacific A conversation, under the auspices of the Observer Research Foundation, with a group of visiting German members of parliament in New Delhi earlier this week confirmed that the country has shifted tracks majorly after the Ukraine events. The members of parliament spoke of the greater awareness across the political spectrum of putting across a united German policy in both Europe and the Indo-Pacific. It was now getting down to the job of following through on the decision. Among the important elements of this was the focus on the Indo-Pacific and the need to de-risk Germany from its huge Chinese commitments. India could plan a role here as an alternate destination for German investment and technology. What did come across was the importance of domestic political negotiations as Germany moves ahead. Parties such as the SDP and the Greens have had to change their political outlook and the latter has shifted dramatically from anti-Americanism to anti-Putinism. Germany’s somewhat tardy response to the needs of Ukraine points to the continuing domestic debate in the country. On Monday, six Eurofighters took off from Neuberg an der Donau air base in southern Germany and three A 330 tankers from Cologne, in ExerciseRapid Pacific 2022, and flew in a single flight all the way to Singapore in 24 hours. Four German A 400M transport aircrafts had left earlier to join 16 other nations in Exercise Pitch Black in Australia. The German contingent will also make detours to Japan and South Korea. This is the largest peace-time deployment to the Indo-Pacific region and comes in the wake of last year’s deployment of a German warship in the South China Sea for the first time in almost 20 years.

The German air force chief Ingo Gerhartz made it clear that the aircraft visiting the Indo-Pacific will pass the South China Sea, but use civilian air traffic routes.

Both moves have been aimed at underscoring the country’s decision to participate in the American-led coalition in the Indo-Pacific whose aim is to check China’s assertiveness. The German air force chief Ingo Gerhartz made it clear that the aircraft visiting the Indo-Pacific will pass the South China Sea, but use civilian air traffic routes.  The idea of the mission was more by way of signalling to Germany’s partners in the region, rather than making any statement to China, and their presence should not be construed as any kind of a threat to anyone, he noted.

Germany’s policy shift

These developments mark a sharp direction change for Germany, one that has been led by the ruling Social Democratic Party led by Angela Merkel which had championed pacifism and built up a policy of reconciliation with Russia as well as heavy economic dependency on China. The German-Chinese economic partnership is huge, with German exports of the order of 600 million euros a day, and those of China 1.3 billion daily. German FDI in China is nearly 100 billion euros. Under the influence of the then German Chancellor Angela Merkel, relations with China were deepened and the Europeans reached an agreement in principle on a comprehensive agreement on investment. However, growing tensions arising from the EU’s stand on Xinjiang have frozen the deal. Certain shifts were presaged by the European Union’s 2019 categorisation of China as a “systemic rival” and the growing critique of Beijing on account of its human rights practices in relation to Hong Kong and Xinjiang. In 2020, Germany came out with its Indo-Pacific policy whose important goal was to diversify German’s partnerships away from China to the other countries of the region—Japan, ASEAN, and Australia.

Speaking at the World Economic Forum in May, Merkel’s successor, German chancellor Olaf Scholz denounced the Russian invasion of Ukraine and called for an acceleration of the drive towards a clean energy future.<

In August 2021, the German Navy deployed the frigate Bayern in the Indo-Pacific region. Unlike France and the United Kingdom (UK), Germany has no territorial holdings in the Asia-Pacific region. Further, the navy is quite small and has been content to function largely in the Baltic Sea. Indeed, it is only now trying to catch up with the needs of providing its share in protecting its sea lines of communications which go all the way through the Mediterranean and onwards to the Indo-Pacific. But the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the Chinese actions in Hong Kong shifted the paradigm. Speaking at the World Economic Forum in May, Merkel’s successor, German chancellor Olaf Scholz denounced the Russian invasion of Ukraine and called for an acceleration of the drive towards a clean energy future. On China, he said that while there was no need to isolate the country, at the same time, there was also no need to pander to the “claim of Chinese hegemony in Asia and beyond”. In recent months, Germany has begun working on reducing its dependency on China in critical areas. Confronted by Russian aggression, European countries have rallied together with the United States. Aware of the extent to which they are dependent on the US for security, the Europeans are now sharply boosting their defence spending and also rallying to the American-led cause in the Indo-Pacific. But even before the Ukraine war, the Scholz-led coalition had made it clear that it wanted to expand its partnership with Australia, Japan, New Zealand, and South Korea.

Japan-Germany relations and the Indo-Pacific

Both Japan and Germany made substantial shifts in policy following the invasion of Ukraine. Germany announced a major rearmament campaign involving additional spending of 100 billion euros over the next four years which would enable Berlin to meet the NATO target of spending 2 percent of the GDP on military spending. A Cologne-based think tank has said that Germany may even now actually fall short of its commitment to spend 2 percent of its GDP on defence.

Having Europeans more engaged there, as well as in coordination with a key ally like Japan, is useful for its basic strategy of maintaining stability in the international order.

Japan’s decision to enhance military spending was dictated more by China than the Ukraine developments. In November 2021, Japan declared that it would double defence spending to 2 percent of its GDP. This would help Japan overtake India to become the third largest defence spender after the US and China. At the same time, Japan and Germany have advanced steps toward closer ties amongst themselves. An important development here has been their first “2+2” dialogue involving their defence and foreign ministers in 2021. Germany is seeking to expand this to a summit level meeting involving their respective heads of government.But being where it is, Indo-Pacific issues have greater salience for Japan which has made it clear that any Chinese invasion of Taiwan would be an emergency and would merit a Japanese response. The US has welcomed this shift because, in its view, it is engaged in a strategic competition with China, and the cockpit of this contest is the Indo-Pacific. Having Europeans more engaged there, as well as in coordination with a key ally like Japan, is useful for its basic strategy of maintaining stability in the international order. Incidentally, in an article in The Tribuneformer R&AW Officer and Author, Vappala Ramachandran credited Karl Haushofer, an early 20th century German scholar who had served as a military attaché to Japan, for the origin of the Indo-Pacific concept through a 1924 paper he had authored as “an organic and integral space primed for political consciousness.” This formed the basis of the 1940 pact that linked Japan with Germany and Italy which carved out zones of influence along the longitude 70 degrees east, putting India under the Japanese area of influence.
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Author

Manoj Joshi

Manoj Joshi

Manoj Joshi is a Distinguished Fellow at the ORF. He has been a journalist specialising on national and international politics and is a commentator and ...

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