“Between Ostpolitik and Zeitenwende—Germany’s Dual Dependence on China and Russia”, Anniki Mikelsaar (ICDS, Estonia)

In the spirit of Chancellor Willy Brandt’s Ostpolitik, Germany prioritised commercial ties with Russia and China over the geopolitical risks they carried. Eventually—it hoped—the autocratic economic partners would liberalise and ‘change through trade.’ Now, winds of change have been blowing in Berlin for almost a year.

A firm redirection from the business-first mantra of Ostpolitik towards a tougher foreign policy has taken place in Germany vis-à-vis Russia in 2022. Former Chancellor Angela Merkel and her predecessor Gerhard Schröder increased Germany’s reliance on cheap Russian energy and encouraged the establishment of an intricate web of co-dependence with China. Current Chancellor Olaf Scholz made his Zeitenwende (‘turning point’) speech at the Bundestag only three days after Russia had launched an all-out invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.

Much of the current government coalition now feels an increasing sense of urgency to revisit the country’s approach towards China and go as far as adopting a tougher EU-China policy. Nevertheless, in November 2022, Chancellor Scholz still praised the partnership during his trip to Beijing, proclaiming that “China is and remains an important partner.”

A new China Strategy—a separate element of the new National Security Strategy—is anticipated to come out next year and mark the direction of Sino-German economic and diplomatic interaction for the years to come. Germany’s China policy, in turn, is likely to determine the course of EU-China relations moving forward.

This analysis looks deeper into Berlin’s dependence on both China and Russia and how the two are intertwined. Looking forward into a more secure and sustainable future, it explores how Germany could diversify should it choose to fundamentally and genuinely change its approach to dealing with authoritarian powers in trade and international relations.

Read more here.