The New Silk Route
The recent continuation of the trade war between China and the United States has created a stark realization all over the world. First, Joe Biden will not be remembered as another Neville Chamberlain. Furthermore, it is a realization that many of those involved in the upper echelons of various governments were already aware of but might come as news to the rest of us, especially the more idealistic few. It is the realization that the decisions a nation makes are not based on ethics, or national consensus of the Majority, or some other ideals that we are told our government believes in. It is the realization that in the end, national policy on a global scale is decided by Money. And right now, there is no greater example of this than Germany.
Politically or economically speaking, Germany is one of the most stable nations in the West. More importantly, it also happens to be one of the most powerful nations in the west. Metternich, the famed chancellor of Austria-Hungary, once remarked that “when France sneezes, the rest of Europe catches a cold”. But right now, it is Germany that has the rest of Europe reaching for a blanket. The matter in question is Sino Germanic entanglement. Angela Merkel, one of the most powerful women in the world, is under fire at home for her soft stance on China. Now, whether the German stance on China should be weak or strong is not the question being answered in this article. To put it concisely, all this article aims to do is present the reader with a compilation of facts, and draw a highly versatile conclusion from them.
Unlike the United States, or its protectorate, the United Kingdom, the German leadership seems reluctant to ban Huawei. This seems rather offhanded since the German government itself has received reports that Huawei has worked with Chinese intelligence. According to the South China Morning Post, Merkel is facing a ‘Revolt’ over the issue of a full ban on the Chinese corporation. Germany, a trendsetter in the European ecosystem since its unification, holds immense sway over the decisions of the other nations in the region. German opposition to a foreign power in Europe would make it exponentially difficult for a said foreign power to gain influence in the region. And German refusal to oppose a foreign power, which in this case happens to be China, is worrying to some people.
According to an exclusive from Axios, a high-ranking German official is alleged to have suppressed a report looking at how the CCP was seeking to influence the various elements of German society and Business. According to the same exclusive, Merkel is alleged to have seen the report. There is, of course, a justifiable apathy towards taking an Anti China stance. The German economy relies heavily on exports to foreign populations, and China is host to almost a fourth of the said population. German business, which is responsible for the nation's prosperity and hence the stability of its government, is used to having its opinion well heard by the nation's leaders.
There might be other reasons for this too. The state has a third of the stake in Deutsche Telekom, which is Germany's largest telecom. According to data, this telecom has a heavy reliance on technology and equipment from Huawei. The same firm has, according to The Economist, lobbied hard against action that would make the deployment of 5G in Germany any harder. And the Ministry of Economic Affairs, understandably keen to defend the interests of the German industry, has given the firm it’s backing. Volkswagen was recently trying to defend its presence in the rather controversial province of Xinjiang, which implies some interesting historical parallels. The company has been in China since the 80s, which only serves to indicate the Germans' long economic ties with the Communist party.
According to Politico, companies that championed the field of German Industry, like Siemens and BASF, were amongst the first western companies to make big bets on China in the 80s. To say these bets have paid off would be an understatement. In the fifteen years since Merkel took over as chancellor, German exports to China have quintupled, according to The Economist. That is a 400% increase, for perspective. China is the largest trading partner of the Germans, and they have sufficient incentive to maintain the status quo. Some allege that these efforts have materialized in Huawei’s plans to set up a media outlet in Germany. It’s like JioTV...in Bangladesh.
Of course, till now, the impression that the reader must have developed is decidedly one-sided. One must realize that Germany unlike North Korea or Pakistan is not totally wrapped around the dragon’s talons. Merkel has met the Dalai Lama an astounding two times. That beats most American presidents as well as Indian Prime Ministers. But criticism does not equal willingness to endure economic damage. Being the largest economy in Europe indicates a will to prioritize business, and the German leadership cannot be entirely blamed for that.
What is even more worrying to some people are certain comments made by German elites, buying into the idea that there should be different standards for the judgment of different peoples. A German Billionaire who has notable ties with China has been quoted as endorsing the aforementioned view.
All in all, in the eyes of a lot of observers, the above facts can be constituted as a problem for Germany, and such a conclusion would be hard to dispute. But it would be wrong to allege that it is strictly a Chinese problem. According to other observers, the issue is tied between business and politics, and how they stand as a bulwark against the will of the people.
To conclude, one must remember that as much as the success of a policy is credited to a politician, this credit is more highly emphasized when such policies fail. This, coupled with the fickleness of Public opinion, creates a razor blade, on which the leaders of a democracy must balance. And Angela Merkel, despite the opinions that exist about her, is a master of maintaining this balance, and will presumably continue to remain so.