by Katja Hoyer
Wednesday, 4
August 2021
Explainer
15:43

Is Germany finally standing up to Beijing?

The Bayern's voyage marks a sea change in Germany's foreign policy
by Katja Hoyer
A German warship enters the South China Sea. Credit: Getty

‘And off we go’ came the jolly tweet from the German frigate ‘Bayern’ on Monday as it left the port of Wilhelmshaven to go on a seven-month journey through the Indo-Pacific region. But the winking faces and waving hands emoticons that accompanied the Auf Wiedersehen message, bely the gravity of the situation. For the first time in nearly 20 years, Germany is sending a warship into the South China Sea.

American efforts to push back on Chinese expansion in the region have long been under way. The U.S. Navy itself conducts so-called ‘freedom of navigation’ tours through contested waters and has urged its allies to do the same. Britain and France have both sent war ships into the South China Sea in defiance of protests from Beijing.

But so far Germany has shown reluctance to get involved — for two key reasons. The first is the country’s general reluctance to commit itself to international military missions of any description. The legacy of the two world wars which emanated from German soil still runs deep.

On Monday, Defence Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer’s speech to the crew of the Bayern about to leave Wilhelmshaven was therefore purposely bland: “We want existing law to be respected, sea routes to be freely navigable, open societies to be protected and trade to follow fair rules” — a far cry from Kaiser Wilhelm II’s belligerent speech, almost exactly 121 years ago and 18 miles to the East at Bremerhaven. He too had sent German ships to China, but told the men on them to behave like ‘the Huns under their King Attila’. It was not only the epithet that would stick and be reinforced but also the association of the German military with bestiality and aggression.

The result of Germany’s deep-seated historical guilt is that rearmament and military involvement have been highly sensitive political topics in the country since the Second World War. Germany’s armed services are woefully under-resourced. It was only under pressure from President Trump in 2019 that the government agreed to raise its military spending to the 2% of GDP required by NATO, and it will only reach this by 2031. When Kramp-Karrenbauer first mentioned the Indo-Pacific deployment of a German frigate three years ago, the opposition jeered that she would have to make one seaworthy first.

The other strong reason against German intervention in the South China Sea is that China is Germany’s most important trading partner with a total trade volume of 212 billion Euros in 2020. This helped both nations get through the Covid crisis comparatively well. Import and export are also almost evenly split — a ‘win-win cooperation’, as Chinese Premier Li Keqiang put it on the visit earlier this year. He also used the same opportunity to warn Merkel to stay out of ‘internal affairs’, meaning human rights abuses and aggressive regional expansion.

This has put Germany in a difficult situation as it attempts to keep its economic relationships with the East while maintaining its strategic alliances in the West. The nearly-complete oil pipeline Nord Stream 2, which will deliver energy directly from Russia to Germany is as much of a thorn in Germany’s relationship with the U.S. as it is financially lucrative. The same applies to the scale of trade with China. Both have continuously tainted relations between Berlin and Washington over the years.

So as Germany sends its first war ship into the South China Sea in decades, it may do so accompanied by smiley emoticons and hollow political statements. But the Bayern’s voyage marks a sea change in German foreign policy — so long as it does not turn around at the slightest sign of stiff wind blowing from Beijing.

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Matt B
Matt B
11 months ago

Until recently we all wished China well, with its rights to security too, but non-respect for MFN global terms of trade, UNCLOS, HK, SC Sea, Covid, beliefs, Uighurs and much else leaves open the question of kind of world PRC (and its allies) have in mind after knocking the US off its perch. Sure we are not perfect either but if an EU country opened modern gulags to suppress its minorities would we trade with it? At what cost?

Last edited 11 months ago by Matt B
Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
11 months ago
Reply to  Matt B

Unherd is getting like Twitter, the canceling is so pernicious one wonders how to ever post without being blocked – I will add more * to try to get past by post below ‘awaiting for moderation’
“Until recently we all wished China well,” All of us? Back in 1950 when they invaded across the Yalu and created the No*rth Ko*rea St* lini st state many of us began to wonder about their good intentions. Then 1956 and the invasion and complete subjugation, and migrant pushing to gene* tically engineer Tib et, and the crushing of Sinki* ang, then invasions into Vietn am – then the entire ‘Default Diplomacy’ around Africa (pay the gov official in charge of infrastructure to take HUGE loans for infrastructure knowing they will default – then they default – then Chi na takes control of the resources) – and then this spreading through out the globe, now in South and Central America….and naturally the South Ch ina Sea annexation, the Belt and road out to do all kinds of unpleasant things –
“China could SEIZE land from tiny Montenegro for failing to repay $1 billion ‘BeltandRoad’ loan for 270-mile roadtonowhere – of which only a handful of miles was ever built”
“after knocking the US off its perch.”
Good luck with that. The only one knocking USA off its perch are the Ma* xi st/Liberals like The Sq*uad, the ma* xist/F as* ists/Liberal education industry, The Ma* xi st/1984 Social Media Fas* i*sts, and the pandering Democrats. But 2024 and Trump will ride back to save the nation at the final moment, like El Cid saved Europe, and all will be OK.
redacted to avoid upsetting the moderation * then redacted yet again as it did not get by the first time

Matt B
Matt B
11 months ago
Reply to  Galeti Tavas

Somehow the occasional adults in the room look beyond the perpetual division between states to the art of the possible – and give a begrudging benefit of the doubt, if only to nudge. Your comment suggests you would not be among them. As for ‘All’: it is a diplomatic figure of speech (no doubt long dead in the US, I’ll grant you that). As for the perch …. it would a shame, but we’ll see. “Events, dear boy”.

Last edited 10 months ago by Matt B
Bill W
Bill W
10 months ago
Reply to  Matt B

Well, I for one have been dismayed by the West’s relaxed horizontal attitude towards Communist China for since the 80s when my work in investment banking alerted me to our insouciance.

Matt B
Matt B
10 months ago
Reply to  Bill W

The west has had a pretty horizontal attitude to banks too – and look where that led. Right to China.

Andrew Fisher
Andrew Fisher
11 months ago
Reply to  Galeti Tavas

I sometimes think your comments must be spoofs, they become so unhinged, not to mention self-contradictory. The people you name call ARE in fact an important part of American society, however much you may deprecate them, and their views have influence. Trump isn’t in my opinion going to win in 2024, but if he does he’ll lose the popular vote, which he has already managed to do twice in a row. By the way this should tell you something about the limitations of his appeal to the ‘American people’, who (who knew?), don’t all agree with each other, you or various Unherd commentators.

But even if Trump should regain power, it will be limited, and since the American people have no desire whatsoever to get into a war or conflict with anyone, let alone China, I don’t think the latter will be too phased. The US lost in Vietnam not because it was militarily weaker but because it lost the will to fight, as half the population were opposed. They’ve also just lost, you may have noticed, in Afghanistan, after a futile 20 year war. And we could add the huge strategic defeat of Iraq.

El Cid didn’t save Europe by the way, he was a medieval Spanish mercenary, who fought for both Christian and Muslim rulers, who often fought each other. I expect you know this, so maybe we can stick to writing serious points.

.

Last edited 11 months ago by Andrew Fisher
Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
11 months ago
Reply to  Andrew Fisher

“I sometimes think your comments must be spoofs, they become so unhinged, not to mention self-contradictory.”

I have never claimed to not be unhinged, or not be self contradictory – the thing I claim is I have seen much in the world that very few have, and so have a different idea of reality than most.

If you accept the truth as it is popularized you cannot believe me, as I think most which happens is conspiracy. The end days of Rome, and the couple empires where the Mamelukes had power and most others, the average ruler lasted no more than a couple years before a bloody death – yet rising up, climbing up a vast pile of bodies, and which he would become part of soon enough – were the ambitious who would give ALL for power – and there was never a lack. Never a problem of committing endless atrocities and betrayals in the ascent of power.

This is the reality of man – and it continues now as much as ever, the dirty power manipulating behind the scenes. Your ilk believe things are what they seem – I do not.

I think the covid response is to globally allow the new world order to ascend – you do not – so there it is – you believe what you know based on your life experience, which I guess does not involve seeing behind the scenes.

Lesley van Reenen
Lesley van Reenen
11 months ago
Reply to  Matt B

Not to mention buying up strategic real estate in countries the world over.

Matt B
Matt B
11 months ago

When China opened up under Deng there was indeed a lot of hope and goodwill, regardless of later events, regrets and retrospective wisdom. Many shared it, although today some are not old enough to remember.

Last edited 11 months ago by Matt B
Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
11 months ago
Reply to  Matt B

Most of us who had been paying attention had lost any goodwill after Mao committed the greatest atrocities ever seen, on his own people, for 40 years.

You may just think this is a phase the Communists went through – I think is is just Them being themselves.

Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
11 months ago

You would think Germany would understand the China sort of real-poltic, the way the Germans armed wile directly under the eye of all Europe, even against all treaties, in the 1930s.

They used the Spanish Civil War to train and refine its military aircraft – it manufactured its U-boats in Holland as ‘Export’ only weapons, it had vast numbers of ‘sport’ Glider clubs and shooting clubs to train its people to shoot and fly (the treaties limited the military size to small) – it had the passion for the volksmarch cross country marching and walking to fitten up, and it built vast illegal armaments under the slimmest of excuses – And Europe looked the other way – The Perfidious French had plundered Germany at the treaty of Versailles, then allowed it to arm so hugely it extracted its revenge 10 fold – all wile France, under Gamiln, drank wine in the sun and spread formage on their bread and lounged about….doing nothing but build the stupid Maginot line and conscript a bunch of soldiers they let be lazy, insubordinate, and useless.

Now Germany plays the role France did in 1930s, and France plays its self in the 1930s. EU has a death wish.

A Spetzari
A Spetzari
11 months ago

 It was only under pressure from President Trump in 2019 that the government agreed to raise its military spending to the 2% of GDP required by NATO

And once again this was barely reported because of Orange Man Bad syndrome. This is quite a landmark achievement given Germany’s reticence to pay it’s way for global security.
I was never a fan of Trump, but by god it is ridiculous how so many people tried and still try to denigrate him at all costs, in spite of any facts or achievements.

Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
11 months ago

I think it is Johnson and Johnson about bankrupted by some (likely spurious) Class Action law suites about Talc powder and some cancer… If this is from such a miniscule amount of cases, fantastically tenuioulsy linked this way – Well then think what proving Covid-19 did undergo gain of function, and then DID come from the Wuhan Virology lab!

Time to take the Wuhan Flu back to Wuhan in the courts. That will slow their military march over the world……

Fauchi, CDC, and the entire Western msm, social media, are obviously right in the pay of China on this, but still – wham it finally cannot be stopped and does come out -, then a wild time will come….

Drahcir Nevarc
Drahcir Nevarc
11 months ago
Reply to  Galeti Tavas

“I think it is Johnson and Johnson about bankrupted by some (likely spurious) Class Action law suites about Talc powder and some cancer… If this is from such a miniscule amount of cases, fantastically tenuioulsy linked this way – Well then think what proving Covid-19 did undergo gain of function, and then DID come from the Wuhan Virology lab!”
I don’t understand what this comment means.

Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
11 months ago
Reply to  Drahcir Nevarc

“The talcum powderclassaction MDL lawsuits against Johnson & Johnson (and other manufacturers) are currently still ongoing. So far, over 20,000 individual talcum powder lawsuits have been filed across the country and consolidated into the Talcum Powder MDL”

If this very doubtful liability of talcum powder is leading to the bankrupting of J&J (actually they are selling the division liable) Then just think of what 2 million deaths in a Class Action Law suit will mean to China. Trillions in awards! China could be bankrupted by such a law suite as it is clearly a direct liability – if they did gain of function, and it got out – they are liable for every one hurt, and all the money spent fighting it!!!!!!!!!!!!

Drahcir Nevarc
Drahcir Nevarc
11 months ago
Reply to  Galeti Tavas

Thanks for taking the trouble, that’s much clearer.

Bill W
Bill W
10 months ago
Reply to  Galeti Tavas

Well done explaining it.

Bill W
Bill W
10 months ago
Reply to  Drahcir Nevarc

I think I got the gist of it.

Franz Von Peppercorn
Franz Von Peppercorn
11 months ago
Reply to  Galeti Tavas

Honestly the people selling you snake oil about China and Wuhan lab are the people who sold you the Iraq war. There’s always an external enemy. For somebody who thinks the enemy is internal then maybe sit this one out.

Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
11 months ago

that guy standing over the body holding the smoking gun – ignore him, it just looks bad but is nothing really…..

Franz Von Peppercorn
Franz Von Peppercorn
11 months ago

When it comes to enemies China is the new Russia. Which was the new Syria. Although both were entwined for a while. Syria was the new Libya. Which was the new Iran. Oh hang on. Iran is also still number one. That’s confusing.

Libya was the new Iraq. That’s what I mean. Which was the new Nazi Germany. Before that Nasser was the new Hitler but that might be going back too far. Also islam as a whole was the biggest threat to western democracy before Russia and China. And let’s not forget the axis of evil – I’ve forgotten North Korea.

I’ve a few other enemies of democracy as well. It might seem like Cuba and Venezuela are regimes that are just following bad economic systems but they are major threats to the rules based system and particularly the US. And I’ve forgotten the biggest modern threat – white supremacism. In particular Hungary.

All of these are the major threats to the US led liberal order and I’m prepared to fight to the last American soldier to defend us from these threats.

Ron Bo
Ron Bo
11 months ago

Have a look at China Uncensored on You Tube.
You’ll be surprised .

Last edited 11 months ago by Ron Bo
Bill W
Bill W
10 months ago

None so blind who will not see.