CCP Support for Russia Harms Berlin–Beijing Relations, German Vice Chancellor Says

Robert Habeck is Europe’s first senior official to travel to China since Brussels hiked tariffs on electric vehicles imported from China.

The Chinese communist regime’s support for Russia amid the Ukraine war has already taken a toll on the economic relationship between Berlin and Beijing, German Vice Chancellor Robert Habeck said during an official visit to China.

Trade between China and Russia surged by more than 40 percent in 2023, and nearly half of the increase, according to Mr. Habeck, was because of goods with both civilian and military uses.

“Circumventions of the sanctions imposed on Russia are not acceptable,” Mr. Habeck, who is also Germany’s minister for economic affairs and climate, told reporters in Shanghai on June 22.

He is on a three-day visit to China. His trip comes as tension between China and the European Union has been escalating over issues including trade, human rights, and the war in Ukraine.

After arriving in Beijing on June 21, Mr. Habeck met with Chinese Commerce Minister Wang Wentao and Industrial Minister Jin Zhuanglong. He also sat down with Zheng Shanjie, the head of the National Development and Reform Commission, China’s top economic planner, before heading to the financial hub on June 22.

Mr. Habeck said Beijing’s support for Moscow has been “damaging” its relationship with the 27-nation European bloc.

“Now, we try to diversify our supply chains because we cannot risk that we are in a strong dependency for raw materials, technical goods of any kinds that can be used against our own interests,” he said.

China has been Germany’s biggest single trading partner for years, with export and import volumes totaling 254.5 billion euros (about $273 billion) in 2023 according to Germany’s official data.

But Germany has been trying to avoid overreliance on trade with an increasingly assertive China and to diversify its supply of key goods in an approach it calls “de-risking,” which was outlined in its first-ever strategy on China, issued in July 2023.

In the first quarter of this year, the United States overtook China to become Germany’s top trading partner, with 63 billion euros of goods and services exchanged between the two sides. That figure for China was less than 60 billion euros, according to Germany’s statistics office.

Mr. Habeck’s trip to China is occurring two months after a similar visit by German Chancellor Olaf Scholz. During a meeting with the Chinese Communist Party leader Xi Jinping, Mr. Scholz urged him to encourage Russian President Vladimir Putin to “abandon his insane military campaign,” according to a readout issued by his office at the time.

Electric cars for export stacked at the international container terminal of Taicang Port in Suzhou, in China's eastern Jiangsu Province, on April 16, 2024. (STR/AFP via Getty Images)
Electric cars for export stacked at the international container terminal of Taicang Port in Suzhou, in China’s eastern Jiangsu Province, on April 16, 2024. (STR/AFP via Getty Images)

Mr. Habeck is the first senior European official to travel to China since Brussels unveiled earlier this month additional tariffs of up to 38.1 percent on electric vehicles (EVs) imported from China. The European Union’s executive commission concluded after a months-long investigation that China’s EV makers benefit from unfair state subsidies, which harmed its homegrown auto business.

In response, China’s commerce ministry initiated an anti-dumping investigation into pork imported from the EU. Just hours before the German vice chancellor landed in Beijing, the ministry issued a statement accusing Brussels of escalating trade frictions that it said could spark a trade war.

Mr. Habeck defended the EU’s proposed tariffs during the meetings with the Chinese officials.

“These tariffs are not punitive tariffs,” he told reporters in Shanghai, noting that the European Union was open to dialogue with China.

“There is a possibility to argue or discuss them, and that is what I suggested to my Chinese partners today that the doors are open for discussions.

“And I hope that this message was heard.”

The preliminary duties could be applied to China-made EVs next month.

EU and China trade chiefs have agreed to start talks on duty plans. In a statement issued later on June 22, China’s commerce ministry said Mr. Wang had a video call with Valdis Dombrovskis, the European Commission’s trade commissioner.

“The two sides agreed to start consultations on the EU’s anti-subsidy investigation into China’s electric vehicles,” it stated.

Brussels said it will engage with Beijing on the basis of “facts and in full respect of WTO rules.”

“The EU side emphasized that any negotiated outcome to its investigation must be effective in addressing the injurious subsidization,” the European Commission’s trade spokesperson, Olof Gill, said in a statement.

“The two sides will continue to engage at all levels in the coming weeks.”

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report. 


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