By Sun Keqin Source: Global Times
Germany’s Defense Minister and Christian Democratic Union (CDU) party leader Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer delivers a speech during the party’s convention in Leipzig, Germany, Nov. 22, 2019. (Xinhua/Shan Yuqi)
German defense minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer said in an interview with the Sydney Morning Herald that a German naval presence in the Indo-Pacific region would help safeguard the rules-based international order, and “hopes to be able to deploy next year”. In the article, the Australian media outlet also mentioned, “German officers are expected to be deployed with the Australian Navy, and a German frigate will patrol the India Ocean under Berlin’s plan to manage China’s influence in the Indo-Pacific region.”
The German government on September 2 released policy guidelines for the Indo-Pacific region. It was the first time Germany endorsed the notion of the “Indo-Pacific.” Several factors have led Germany, a country outside the region, to meddle in the Indo-Pacific region.
First, Germany hopes to become a great power and guide the EU’s Indo-Pacific policy. The guidelines list eight German interests, and seven principles in its policy on the Indo-Pacific region, ranging from open markets and free trade to multilateralism.
Second, it also shows Germany is adjusting its policy on Asia, shifting from a China-centric Asia policy to diversifying its relations with more regional countries.
Third, Germany has paid close attention to its interests in this region. Many of its prominent trade partners lie in the Indo-Pacific region, where this European country has enormous economic benefits.
Fourth, with US engagement, the regional security situation has changed. To safeguard its economic interests, Germany wants a military presence in the region.
On the other hand, instead of insisting on its previous Asia policy, Germany embraces the controversial, security-oriented Indo-Pacific policy, showing its intention to cooperate with the US. Washington has been piling pressure on Berlin to coordinate its hard-line policy against China. Germany’s rhetoric can be seen as a response to US pressure.
Berlin also has its own calculations, such as deepening its relations with Tokyo and New Delhi. It is consistent with Germany’s interests to strengthen its investment in security in this region.
China should be vigilant toward Germany’s potential deployment in the Indo-Pacific region. As the US Indo-Pacific Strategy is directed at China, Germany’s intention to deploy in the Indo-Pacific region is clear. The Sydney Morning Herald said that “a German frigate will patrol the India Ocean.” This potential move will be less sensitive than patrolling the South China Sea, but still deserves China’s attention.
Germany’s constant emphasis on the Indo-Pacific Strategy includes the adjustment of its China policy. This shows that Germany believes cooperation and confrontation may coexist in its future relations with China.
Germany’s position toward China – an economic partner, a competitor in technology and an opponent in social system – is basically the same as that of the EU. The call to reduce dependence on China has never stopped in Germany. Cooperation still dominates Germany’s China policy, but competition is constantly increasing.
How Germany’s intervention in the Indo-Pacific issue will affect China-Germany relations depends on the country’s further action. If Germany acts provocatively in the military field, it will have a relatively large impact.
Kramp-Karrenbauer said in the interview, “What will be crucial, regardless of the outcome of the US presidential election, is whether the West can be more unified in its dealings with Beijing.” German foreign minister Heiko Maas has also said the future of transatlantic relations will be “determined by the right way of dealing with Beijing.” Their similar statements show that Germany is eager to form a unified China policy between the US and EU.
This is also worthy of vigilance. The US, regarding China as its main competitor, is now tough on China. As the EU and the US coordinate, Germany and some other European countries are bound to tilt toward the US in their China policy, which may be tougher than before.
On the other hand, completely confronting China is notin the interests of Germany or the EU. Thus, these countries may somehow dissuade the US from containing China too hard. It is almost impossible for Germany and the US, or the EU and the US, to form a unified China policy because the basis of their China policy is different. It’s hard to tell which side will dominate the process, the US or the EU. Cooperation and disputes coexist in the China policy of the US and the EU, and they may not reach a consensus.
Within the EU, Germany has been committed to forming a unified China policy, trying to add greater pressure on China and strive for more negotiation conditions with the strength of 27 EU member states. But this could be hard as well. EU members have huge disputes on many issues. Some countries are tough on China and some are friendly. It is difficult to reach a consensus, but Germany has hoped to work in this direction.
The author is a research fellow at the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations. [email protected]