German elections: What’s in store for China after Merkel?

Coalition math will determine whether Beijing will face a less friendly Berlin

JENS KASTNER, Contributing writerSeptember 17, 2021 16:37 JST

HAMBURG, Germany — After 16 years of relatively warm ties with China under Angela Merkel, Germany will vote later this month in an election that will determine who will take over as chancellor and set the course for relations with Beijing.

Voters will on Sept. 26 elect a new parliament, the Bundestag, which in turn will pick Germany’s next leader. Chinese officials will be watching keenly as Germany is its most important partner in the European Union, with a mutual trading value of 212.9 billion euros ($251.6 billion).

Depending on some complex coalition mathematics, the next chancellor is likely to take a less Beijing-friendly stance than Merkel.

Two candidates with realistic chances of winning: Armin Laschet, of Merkel’s conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU), and Olaf Scholz of the center-left Social Democratic Party (SPD).

The SPD came top of a compilation of polls published by German daily Der Spiegel on Tuesday with 26%, ahead of the CDU (22%), the Greens (16%), the pro-business Free Democratic Party (12%), the rightwing Alternative for Germany (11%) and the Left Party (6%). The next chancellor will, therefore, likely be crowned in a coalition arrangement, with either Scholz or Laschet being supported by both the Greens and the FDP.

The probable scenario of having the Greens and the FDP in government would likely strain Germany’s ties with China as both have been much more critical of Beijing than the Merkel administration. Since being blasted by Chinese officials for visiting Hong Kong before Beijing on a 2019 trip, FDP leader Christian Lindner has written several opinion pieces critical of Merkel’s China stance.

„Laschet and Scholz would not be very different in their China stances from Merkel, with Scholz having earned a long track record of pragmatically fruitful exchanges with China when he was the mayor of Germany’s largest port city Hamburg,“ said Ariane Reimers, a senior fellow at Merics, a China think tank in Germany.

„But, with the FDP’s Lindner striving to become either finance minister or economics minister, and the Green’s Baerbock possibly eyeing the foreign ministry, we will likely arrive at a configuration that pushes the chancellor to be significantly more critical of China,“ she added.


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