Will the United States tolerate economic integration between Berlin and Beijing much longer?

The header covers the entire front page The world : “Germany is dependent on China”. On the occasion of Olaf Scholz’s (short) visit to Beijing this Friday, the evening daily does not hesitate to criticize Germany’s strategy against China, stressing that “German industry is surprised” As international tensions rise between the Middle Kingdom and the United States. The German chancellor’s visit comes a week after he approved the sale of 25% of the port of Hamburg to state-owned Chinese giant Cosco and twelve days after Xi Jinping was renewed for a third term. As the head of the Chinese Communist Party.

Olaf Scholz is accompanied to Beijing by a delegation of senior executives, including the heads of BASF, Volkswagen and Siemens. China is crucial for German industry in terms of both supply and export. China has been Germany’s largest trading partner for six years. In 2021, it became the first supplier and the second export market. A million jobs across the Rhine depend on this connection. We do not hide our disappointment in Paris: The Elysée has in recent weeks considered a joint visit by Scholz-Macron to China to show European unity in the face of Chinese power.

In fact, as I mentioned last week, Germany played its own solo score internationally for two decades without any European coordination. The Covid-19 health crisis and subsequent war in Ukraine have sparked debate across the Rhine about the strategy the German government has been pursuing for two decades.

A strategy based on a triple alliance: security with the US, economic with China and energy with Russia. The latter began to end with the outbreak of war in Ukraine. Attacks on the Nord Stream gas pipelines have prompted Berlin to scuttle this energy alliance with Moscow. Thus, Germany was particularly silent on the origin of these spectacular attacks in the middle of the Baltic Sea. But if Berlin gives up on Moscow, admittedly pressed and coerced, it continues to bet on Beijing: Has Germany decided to throw itself into the mouth of the wolf? Will his American defender be able to withstand him for a long time? But has the idea of ​​”strategic autonomy” of the EU, so dear to Emmanuel Macron, been definitively abandoned?

New Silk Roads

First, in 2013, with the grand opening of the “new silk roads”, China set out to conquer Europe. On a continent in crisis, it then attacked to gain partial or full control of dozens of ports (Rotterdam, Marseille, Le Havre, Valence, Zeebrugge, etc.), i.e. more than 10% of European port capacity. The great Greek port of Piraeus was taken over by the Chinese after the financial crisis, and it became a major stop on these silk routes on the Old Continent. As the trade deficit between Europe and China continues to widen, the European Commission has started calling the latter China. “systemic challenger “, and the European Union tightens the tone against it. Although always a “A negotiating partner with whom the EU must strike a balance of interests “, China is now presented by Brussels as one “economic competitor”. But while the Commission is opposed to these famous silk roads, several Member States had negotiated directly with China long before Germany: notably Greece, Italy, the Czech Republic and Portugal. After a tantalizing phase, the Middle Kingdom becomes increasingly arrogant towards its “partners”: “We treat our friends with good wine, but we have weapons for our enemies”China’s ambassador to Sweden announced to the local press on December 2, 2019.

The issue of port control is not only about world trade and maritime transport. Because ports are multiple connection points (technically speaking, landing points) for the installation of underwater cables that make up the architecture of the Internet. However, the US and China are racing against time to supply the entire world with these fiber optic cables. Whoever controls these pipes will control the Internet of the future. Europe has already largely lost this battle. China currently provides 9% of investments in this field, and participates in 20% of cable construction. Huawei Marine is one of the largest cable layers in the world. These digital “silk roads” aim to connect the continents of Europe and Africa with China. Quite naturally, the first Chinese fiber optic connection between France and Asia is the connection in Marseille, called Europe connecting Pakistan and East Africa (PEACE). In turn, American GAFAMs are deploying their own cables, such as Google’s Dunant, which are about two hundred times stronger than the fibers laid two decades ago, linking Virginia Beach to Saint-Hilaire-de-Riez in the Vendée.

Separating Europe from China?

Faced with this Chinese onslaught in Europe, Americans are pushing Europeans to separate their economies from the Middle Kingdom, as Joe Biden’s national security adviser Jack Sullivan suggested in a recent speech: “We try to make all efforts with neighboring countries coherent within a grand strategy, based on the idea that we are stronger when we mobilize the capabilities of our friends and allies for a common goal. (…) Last year, I noted the enormity of the task before us, that is, redefining the ground on which technological competition should be conducted. Because we are facing a competitor who is ready to spend almost unlimited resources to undermine the technological leadership of the United States..

In the sights of America and Europe: China’s state capitalism, which allows Beijing to subsidize its national champions without limit and has led to many “Distortions of competition”. this is the case in the sector great technologybut also in a more “traditional” industry, the steel industry, as France 24 journalist Ali Laidi cleverly reminds us in his new book World history of protectionism (Éditions Passés Composites, 24 euros), as well as strategic raw materials, especially popular “metals and rare earths”products resulting from new technologies or necessary for the production of products necessary for the ecological transition or the arms industry, of which China has one-third of the reserves and currently 95% of the world’s production: “Beijing understands that it has an economic weapon and does not hesitate to use it”, comments Laïdi. However, according to the OECD, world metal consumption could increase from 7 billion tons to 19 billion tons by 2060. We can see it, and even if Emmanuel Macron says he wants to. “accelerating our supply of strategic raw materials”The time for separation between China and Europe is still a long way off… USA can’t be offended.