Armin Laschet, forerunner to become Germany’s next chancellor, warned of the dangers of a new cold war against China, and agreed with Angela Merkel that Beijing was as much a partner as a systemic rival.
Laschet spoke 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 has made it clear that he wants work with allies to combat China’s ambitions.
In an extensive interview, Laschet, leader of the Christian Democratic Union Center in Germany, suggests that many in Europe are skeptical about Biden’s hawkish attitude towards China.
“The question is: will it lead to a new conflict if we talk about ‘the restraint’ of China? Do we need a new adversary? he said. “And there was the European response cautiously, because yes, China is a competitor and a systemic competitor, it has a different model of society, but it is also a partner, especially in things like combating climate change.”
Laschet also called for Russia to be brought out of the cold, saying the West should try to establish a meaningful relationship with Moscow. “Ignoring Russia did not serve us or the US’s interests,” he praised, praising Biden’s decision to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin last week in Geneva.
With three months to go before an election in which Merkel will step down as chancellor, polls indicate that Laschet’s CDU is on the verge of winning, although it faces a strong challenge from the green opposition. One possible outcome is a CDU-Green coalition, the first in Germany’s history, with Laschet as chancellor.
During the interview, Laschet made an effort to indicate continuity with Merkel’s policies. The two had very different personal biographies, but ‘on the fundamental issues we always agreed on’.
An area of agreement appears to be China. Merkel is often 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 ‘critical issues’. “But I’m not sure that the fact that I’re always talking loudly and aggressively in public about the human rights situation in a country really leads to improvements on the ground, ‘he added.
“Often you can achieve more in the area of human rights by addressing issues in private conversations with leaders from other countries than by discussing them at press conferences.”
This soft-soft approach could cause a potential clash with the Greens, which is far more eager to challenge China in public over its human rights record, as well as tensions with the Biden government.
Biden’s difficult stance on China was testimony during his European journey. The G7 summit has criticized Beijing over human rights, trade and a lack of transparency regarding the origins of the coronavirus pandemic.
Asked if he thinks Biden is trying to lure Europe into a new cold war, Laschet disputed that he was “right” to see China as “one of the biggest challenges for us, for example with regard to new technologies ‘and’ want to strengthen cooperation between democracies ”.
But he also said the West must resist going out into a cold war mentality when it comes to the geopolitical game with China. “The 21st century is very different and the prism of what the world looked like before 1989 offers limited advice,” he said. ‘We have a multipolar world [now] with different actors. ”
However, Laschet insisted that he would not be in soft contact with China. “I will try to promote our partnership where possible, and at the same time make clear what we expect from China: that it accepts reciprocity, accepts multilateralism and respects human rights.
On 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 addressed, for example, the infamous characterization of Russia as a ‘regional power’ of Barack Obama, saying it was one of the causes of growing tensions between Moscow and the West over the past decade.
“This is the largest country in the world, a nuclear power,” he said, adding that Biden’s approach – to restore ambassadors, described Russia as a “great power” and “take Russia a conversation partner seriously” ‘- sent a’ very important signal ‘. ”.
Laschet defends the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, the Gazprom project that brings natural gas directly from Russia across the Baltic Sea to Germany, saying that Germany needs more gas as it phases out nuclear energy and coal power.
But he also had a warning for Moscow: the pipeline “may not become a geopolitical instrument against Ukraine”. “Ukraine’s interests must be protected,” he said. “And if the Russians do not stick to it, the basis of the NS2 agreement will cease to exist.”