After Germany’s geopolitical awakening to the threat posed by Russia, would it also reconsider its foreign policy on China?
China is seemingly further away, at least in terms of physical distance (though ironically, well within Germany’s borders and increasingly embedding itself in its digital and physical infrastructure projects), and it would be foolhardy to confront China when its resources are already embroiled in the Russia-Ukraine war.It would, indeed, be unwise to poke and provoke China for the sake of it. And yes, Germany should be highly cognizant of the fact that China is not Russia. But failing to credibly signal Germany’s and Europe’s red-lines to China risks repeating the mistakes it has already made with Russia. The continued pursuit of deeper economic ties with China (given not only the blatant abuse of human rights in Xinjiang, but also the PRC’s adventurism in its democratic neighbourhood) today is the opposite of a credible signal. To build its foreign policy and economic strategy on a rosy expectation that China will ultimately see the light on Russia will just not suffice. Instead, three important steps will be key.
The continued pursuit of deeper economic ties with China (given not only the blatant abuse of human rights in Xinjiang, but also the PRC’s adventurism in its democratic neighbourhood) today is the opposite of a credible signal.Third, research will have a key role to play in guiding the next steps. There is a tendency in Germany to focus on understanding China better (including its strategic thinking and domestic priorities)—and this will no doubt continue to be important. However, much more investment and interest needs to go into understanding the politics, economics, and cultures of the rest of Asia (and especially democratic Asia). India’s fence-setting on Russia and Ukraine may perhaps have played out differently had Germany and Europe been paying greater attention to the linkages between regional and global balances of power. India’s dependence on Russia for military supplies is well-known; helping India diversify over the last decade could have enabled it to take a clear line in favour of Ukraine and democracy now.<2> By focusing overwhelmingly on China, and ignoring other actors in the region, Germany and its European partners are failing to harness the full scale of old friendships and new alliances. Even as Germany focuses on the conflict on its border, it is extremely important that it does not lose sight of the growing threat in Asia. At its best, a strategy of credible signalling by Germany (which would include closer economic and military cooperation with Asian democracies) may help deter China and restore balance in the region (and thereby, also globally). At a minimum, it would improve economic resilience and security of Europe and its partners, and help prepare for possible eventualities in the future.
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Professor Amrita Narlikar is the President of the German Institute for Global and Area Studies (GIGA), Honorary Fellow of Darwin College (University of Cambridge), Non-Resident ...Read More +