Armin Laschet, the first leader to become Germany’s next chancellor, warned of the dangers of a new cold war against China, agreeing with Angela Merkel that Beijing was a partner as well as a systemic rival.
Laschet was speaking to the Financial Times after US President Joe Biden’s first official trip to Europe, which was dominated by warnings about the challenge China poses to the West. Biden made it clear that he wanted to working with allies to curb China’s ambitions.
In a lengthy interview Laschet, leader of the German center-right Christian Democratic Union, suggested that many in Europe were skeptical about his faltering attitude towards China.
“The question is – if we talk about ‘restricting’ China, will that lead to a new conflict? Do we need a new adversary?” He said. “And here the European response has been cautious, because, yes, China is a competitor and a systemic rival, it has a different model of society, but it is also a partner, especially in things like the fight against climate change. “.
Laschet also demanded that Russia be made out of the cold, saying the West should seek to “establish a sensible relationship” with Moscow. “Ignoring Russia has served neither our interests nor the US,” he said, praising Biden’s decision to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin in Geneva last week.
Three months after the election saw Merkel resign from the post of chancellor, polls suggest Laschet’s CDU is on track to win, even if it faces a strong challenge from the opposition Greens. One possible result is a CDU-Green coalition, the first in German history, with Laschet as chancellor.
During the interview, Laschet was reluctant to suggest continuity with Merkel’s policies. The two had very different personal biographies, but “on fundamental issues we always agree.”
An area of the deal seems to be China. Merkel has often been accused of tempering her criticism of Chinese human rights violations for fear of harming the interests of German companies active in China.
Laschet said Germany should never shy away from dealing with “critical issues”. “But I am not sure that speaking out loud and aggressively in public about a country’s human rights situation really leads to improvement on the ground,” he added.
“Often we can achieve more in the field of human rights by addressing issues in private conversations with leaders of other countries than by talking about this in press conferences.”
This slow-moving approach could create a potential clash with the Greens, who are far more eager to publicly challenge China over its human rights record, as well as tensions with the Biden administration.
Biden’s tough position on China was in evidence during his European travels. The G7 summit communiqué criticized Beijing for human rights, trade and lack of transparency regarding the origins of the coronavirus pandemic.
Asked if he thought Biden was trying to drag Europe into a new cold war, Laschet said, saying he was “right” to see China as “one of the biggest challenges for us, for example. on new technologies ”and on wanting to“ strengthen cooperation between democracies ”.
But he also said the West should resist running away in a cold war mentality when it comes to its geopolitical rivalry with China. “The 21st century is very different and the prism of how the world looked before 1989 offers limited advice,” he said. “We have a multipolar world [now] with different actors ”.
Laschet insisted, however, that it would not be a sweet touch for China. “We will try to foster our partnership where possible, and at the same time clarify what we expect from China: accept reciprocity, embrace multilateralism and respect human rights.
Speaking about Russia, Laschet said he had always insisted that the annexation of Crimea was an “unacceptable” violation of international law. But he also argued that Russia, a member of the UN Security Council, should not be ignored or belittled.
He took into account, for example, Barack Obama’s famous characterization of Russia as a “regional power,” saying it was one of the causes of growing tensions between Moscow and the West over the past decade.
“It is the largest country in the world, a nuclear power,” he said, adding that Biden’s approach – re-establishing ambassadors, describing Russia as a “great power” and “taking Russia seriously as interlocutor “- had sent a” very important signal “.
Laschet defended the Pipeline Nord Stream 2, the Gazprom project that brings natural gas directly to Germany from Russia via the Baltic Sea, saying Germany will need more gas that will gradually eliminate nuclear power and coal power.
But he also had a warning for Moscow: the pipeline “should not become a geopolitical tool against Ukraine.” “Ukraine’s interests must be protected,” he said. “And if the Russians don’t stick to that, the basis of the NS2 agreement will cease to exist.”