After years of shaping its Asian strategy around China, Germany has made a sharp break and will focus instead on stronger partnerships with democracies in the region such as Japan and South Korea to promote the rule of law.
The shift comes as part of a rising sense of alarm throughout Europe about economic dependence on China and the country’s track record on human rights.
“We want to help shape [the future global order] so that it is based on rules and international cooperation, not on the law of the strong,” German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said on Sept. 2. “That is why we have intensified cooperation with those countries that share our democratic and liberal values.”
Germany that day adopted new policy guidelines covering the Indo-Pacific, stressing the importance of the rule of law and promoting open markets in the region. The strategy echoes the approach taken by France, as well as Japan, Australia and members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.
China had been Berlin’s diplomatic focus in Asia, with German Chancellor Angela Merkel visiting the country almost yearly. China also accounts for 50% of Germany’s trade with the Indo-Pacific region.
But economic growth has not opened the Chinese market as hoped. German companies operating there have been forced to hand over technology by China’s government. Negotiations for an investment treaty between the European Union and China to address such issues have stalled, fueling concerns about becoming too economically dependent on Beijing.