June 23. 2024. 2:16

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German Social Democrats split over Macron’s China remarks

The controversy caused by French President Emmanuel Macron’s recent remarks on China relations has shed light on differences of opinion and stance within Germany’s ruling Social Democrats.

On a flight from Beijing to Guangzhou last week, Macron told reporters that the EU should avoid becoming a “vassal” of the United States on China, especially urging distance concerning any potential military aid to Taiwan.

In reaction to Macron’s comments, Rolf Mützenich, chief whip of the Social Democrats in the German Bundestag, on Wednesday (12 April), expressed his support for the French president’s call.

“Europe must try to formulate an independent role as much as possible and not appear as an appendage of the USA in the region,” he said. Thus, the SPD politician added, “Macron is right” in expressing a similar position.

Mützenich pointed at several border conflicts in the region where potential belligerents may be willing to apply military force, although he did not get explicit. A more “nuanced view”, Mützenich added, would be better than “just saying to which party you attach yourself.”

Additionally, he deemed Germany’s importance in the region to be rather limited.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, with his visit to Beijing last November – being the first European leader to visit the country since it opened up after the COVID-19 pandemic – has faced criticism of making exactly the same mistakes of over-reliance on China as Berlin previously made with Russia.

Scholz pushed back against the accusations his trip was driven by domestic priorities.

“In the run-up to my visit, we have therefore liaised closely with our European partners, including President Macron, and also with our transatlantic friends,” he added.

Mützenich’s comments now indicate a split in the Social Democrats.

They also come as German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock (Greens), who in the past has been vocal on human rights issues in places like China’s Xinjiang region, where a predominantly Muslim minority has been deterred and subject to inhumane treatment, is expected to visit Beijing later this week.

Mützenich said he expects “she will also be received in Beijing with a certain scepticism”, which should not be directed at Germany but only “as far as the person Baerbock is concerned”.

“She has indeed become involved in this situation in a very – at least from China’s point of view – undifferentiated way,” Mützenich said.

To fight for democracy and human rights, “this is not so easy either, because we suddenly have new partners in Europe: Azerbaijan, Qatar, they don’t have a clean slate in terms of human rights either,” he added.

“That’s why we shouldn’t always be so absolute – I don’t think that goes down so well in Asia in particular,” he added.