Berlin and Beijing: German China Policy After Merkel

The German election on September 26 has significant implications for Berlin’s policy towards Beijing and the broader international effort to address the geopolitical challenges presented by China’s rise. Chancellor Angela Merkel, whose pro-engagement policy towards China has shaped Europe’s approach for more than a decade and a half, will step aside, opening the door to what could be a shift in Germany’s stance. While we do not expect radical change in how Germany approaches the relationship with its biggest trading partner, we consider a meaningful evolution towards a firmer line likely. How significant this shift turns out to be will depend in part on the election result, the coalition government that emerges and who ends up running it.

Although geopolitics has played a secondary role in the campaign so far, and German voters are more preoccupied with the pandemic, climate change and domestic economic matters, the election is being watched closely in Beijing and Washington. Both understand the pivotal role that Germany plays in the relationship that advanced economies have with China — on issues ranging from human rights and climate to trade and technology. In this note, we sketch out the different election scenarios, their implications for Berlin’s policy towards China, and what to look out for under a new German government.

Posted August 23, 2021
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