This of course raises a larger question not only for Germany but also for any other democracy: Where is the red line and what happens if this line is crossed? This question shines a light on another question, not less salient: Xinjiang, where more than one million Uyghurs are imprisoned in what China calls re-education camps. The red line for Hong Kong is probably Tiananmen: The Chinese army crossing the border and shooting Hong Kong’s protesters. In the case of Xinjiang there hardly seems to be any red line left. During her visit Merkel did not even mention Xinjiang.
Of course this is not asking whether business with China should continue or not. Developing close economic relations with China has brought economic well-being to hundreds of millions of Chinese, and it has simultaneously contributed to affluence in the West. The question is rather, whether there is a red line and where it is. In the case of Russia, since the annexation of the Crimea Peninsula, Western countries have been able to absorb the damage that sanctions imposed on Russia does to them as well. In the case of China, however, that damage could likely not be absorbed. Should the German government ever consider sanctions it seems impossible to get the German industry in line.
Even without crossing a red line, China is recognized as a "systemic competitor" as the BDI, the Federation of German Industries, stated in a policy paper on China. The larger question to this is how to deal with such a competitor, a competitor that flaunts the rules which have been so beneficial to all sides. This question in fact is not one that Germany alone can answer. It is a question that begs a German and a French answer; and even more importantly, that can only be resolved lastingly at the European level.
A European path, which would have to be a Franco-German path, was, however, the most important topic missing from Merkel’s agenda in China. It remains to hope that Merkel has brought back some reflections on that, which might help to formulate a European response. Last but not least, Ursula von der Leyen, Merkel’s protégé, now holds the responsibility in the European Commission to deal with double challenges such as the ones the chancellor faced in Beijing just now..
Copyright : Andrea Verdelli / POOL / AFP