Germany’s changing China policy

Roderick Kefferpütz
5 min readApr 8, 2022
Photo by Christian Lue on Unsplash

Germany’s China policy is all at sea; drifting without anchor. In the past, it was dominated by a clear number of people, principles, and policies. It was driven by the Merkel Chancellery, under the guiding principle of Wandel durch Handel (change through trade), pursuing a clear policy of engagement in the hopes it would turn China more liberal and democratic.

But this constellation has ended, and it has failed. Over Angela Merkel’s 16-year tenure, China has changed. But for the worse, not the better. Beijing has become more authoritarian domestically and antagonistic internationally. Yet, Berlin was incapable of departing from its political course. Doing so would have openly admitted failure of a long-standing policy.

The inauguration of the new German government has offered a necessary break. Former advisors and ministers in Merkel’s cabinet, have grasped this opportunity to distance themselves from past policy. So too has Angela Merkel herself to some degree, when she acknowledged that Germany may have been “too naïve in our approach to some cooperation partnerships”.

Now, German China policy is at an inflection point. This year, the new traffic light coalition will draft Germany’s first-ever China strategy. But in which strategic direction will it go?

Three broad dynamics amongst stakeholders, three principles and the answers the German government will give to fundamental questions of the world order, will influence and determine the shape of Germany’s future China policy.

With regards to determining actors, three dynamics are at play:

· Internal party dynamics, particularly in the Social Democrats, where a more vocal faction of China critics has emerged in the parliamentary group.

· Coalitional dynamics between the Greens, Free Democrats (FDP) and Social Democrats (SPD), with the former two being more critical of China than the latter.

· And the dynamics of the domestic and foreign environment, which will be shaped by public opinion, business and civil society (which too are divided on how to approach China), Germany’s European partners and allies, as well as China’s own behavior.

In this myriad constellation of forces, three broad principles can so far be…

Roderick Kefferpütz

Advisor and Writer on the changing geopolitical and economic world order. ( )