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Annalena Baerbock’s China trip reveals her talents and limitations

IT is a An idyllic setting in Karuizawa, a mountain resort not far from Tokyo. Surrounded by snow-capped mountains and blooming cherry trees, a group of children played violins and played cheerful tunes for the foreign ministers of the three countries. G7 groups of industrialized countries that just left the EU Shinkansen, Japan’s famous high-speed train. Annalena Baerbock was all smiles as she held a bouquet of yellow flowers. Surrounded by Antony Blinken and the foreign ministers of other friendly countries, the German foreign minister seemed relieved. Behind her is the most difficult trip of her 16 months on the job: a visit to China.

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In Germany, Ms Bellbock is seen as a China hawk and has to strike a balance. She will stand up for her principles while defending the interests of German business and rebutting criticism from SPD conservatives of her so-called anti-China strategy (surge protector), her Green Party coalition partner. She has done her best to stick to her first instinct. Even as a candidate for prime minister last year, she advocated “dialogue and toughness” in relations with China. At her joint press conference with her Chinese counterpart, Qin Gang, on April 14, her tone certainly made her sound more hawkish. She warned that unilateral or violent changes to Taiwan’s status were “unacceptable,” insisted on respecting the rights of the Uyghurs, an oppressed Muslim minority, and called on the Chinese to use their influence with Russia to end the war in Ukraine.

Those annoyed by Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s penchant for talking like a robot (“Scholzomat”) and vacillating on foreign affairs admire her penchant for outspokenness. She scores high in the popularity rankings, though not as well as it did a few months ago, thanks to various minor gaffes and a general waning of enthusiasm among more peaceful Green voters as her party strongly supports Ukraine and its relatives ignore its core environmental agenda. Her most ardent admirers see her as Germany’s next chancellor. That will require her party to rebuild its strength and nominate her over Economy Minister Robert Habeck as its candidate for chancellor at the next election in 2025. Both are big assumptions.

There is no doubt that Ms Bellbook wants the top job, despite her dismal 2021 experience.Her campaign was dogged at the time by allegations of plagiarism in the book, which she glorified CV And she’s only belatedly reporting some extra income. She knows she’s still prone to gaffes. For example, she said on French television in January that she saw no problem with Poland sending German-made Leopard tanks to Ukraine: this was before Mr Schulz had given the green light, thus greatly angering the prime minister and his entourage.

Yet Ms Bellbox’s missteps are also one of the reasons many ordinary people feel they can relate to her. In stark contrast to Mr. Schultz, who shuts up when he sees a reporter, she likes to speak at high speed (sometimes messing up her own words) during informal chats with hordes of journalists. She easily connects with people from all walks of life. She tries to maintain a semblance of normalcy with her family, cycling around Potsdam, the historic town southwest of Berlin, with her two young daughters (plus bodyguards).Although she was born in Hannover, she sometimes fell into berlin stylea special slang term for the city.

During her tenure, even as a candidate for chancellor, she has been closer to German business than many expected from the idealistic Green. That should help her achieve her ambitions for the top prize. During her trip to China, she visited wind turbine maker Flender, auto parts supplier Vitesco and Volkswagen (public). She said it should give her a better sense of what it’s like to operate in a country that offers a slanted playing field for foreign investors.Despite legal risks, international tensions and continued Chinese government surveillance of their employees, German companies such as major carmakers publicDaimler and BMWalso BASFAs a chemical giant, the enthusiasm for investing in China remains undiminished. German direct investment there totaled a record 11.5 billion euros ($12.6 billion) last year. BASF 10 billion euros are being invested in building a new production base in southern China. public Wants to invest 2.4 billion euros in a self-driving car joint venture.

The second violin is the only one she knows how to play

Ms Bellbook’s biggest frustration is that she is not Chancellor of the Exchequer. Since the postwar days of Konrad Adenauer, the German chancellor has called the shots on the most important decisions in foreign policy. More recently, this has included the supply of tanks to Ukraine and the approval of Chinese investment in the Port of Hamburg. The tension between the German Chancellery and the Foreign Office is the main reason for the delay in reaching an agreement between Germany’s national security strategy and China’s strategy. In both cases, the Foreign Office is drafting papers, taking input from others involved; but the final decision rests with the Chancellor. The idea of ​​a US-style national security council has already been opposed amid disagreement over whether it should be the domain of Mr Schultz or Ms Bellbook.

Ms Bell Book, 42, has surprised many with her overall performance as foreign minister. “When I think about what keeps me optimistic in these times, it’s having a partner who has the perfect blend of principle and pragmatism,” Mr. Blinken wrote in a short profile about her recently. time, Us Weekly. Mr Schulz was part of the previous government of Angela Merkel, who had been cautious about China during her tenure as chancellor. These days, when it comes to China, he’s starting to sound a bit like Ms. Belbook. It made it easier for her to stick to her “talk and be tough” lessons. But ultimately the biggest decision on how Germany should deal with China will still rest with the Chancellery.

Read more from our European politics columnist Charlemagne:
How Europe is working to improve air quality (April 13)
Europe Unprepared for What May Come Next in the U.S. (March 30)
Cucumber Saudis: How the Dutch were too good at farming (March 23)

Plus: How the Charlemagne Column Got Its Name

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