By special correspondent May Tam from Berlin
Within a year, another Hongkonger-initiated petition was discussed in the German Bundestag yesterday (25 Jan). The appeal went from last year's call to stop humanitarian crisis in Hong Kong, to this year's sanctioning Chinese Communist Party (CCP) for human rights violation.
The National Security Law (NSL) made effective at the zero hour of the 24th year of Chinese Communist Party's administration of Hong Kong is the triggering point of the latest petition (in German / English ). It was co-initiated by Glacier Kwong and David Missal who appeared in German Bundestag to testify in the live-streamed hearing yesterday. The petition contains nine appeals and is backed by 52,000 signatories. It called upon the German government to impose sanctions on Chinese government or "some 700 German companies and 4,000 German nationals in Hong Kong will no longer be safe if they voice criticism of the CCP anywhere around the globe". The proposed sanctions are a plus-size Global Magnitsky Act, to include travel warnings, export restriction on dual-use goods to Hong Kong. On international level, the petitioners urge Germany to bring China to International Court of Justice and to convene Arria Formula meeting in UN Security Council to defend universal values.
One of the nine appeals is to demand Germany to cancel the EU-China Summit. A conference was however duly albeit virtually held on 14 September 2020. Few months later, just before Germany vacated the Chair of EU presidency to Portugal, the EU-China investment agreement, namely, the Comprehensive Agreement on Investment (CAI) was signed on 30 December 2020 – after seven year's dialoging.
In Monday's hearing, with the exception of the far-right party, Alternative für Deutschland (AfD), the Members of the German Bundestag (MdBs) in the Petition Committee expressly showed support for Hongkongers and criticized Germany's lead to close the EU-China deal. Margarete Bause of the Greens (die Grünen) slammed the move as "fatal signal".
It is a signal that EU, or at least Germany still hangs on to the change-through-trade (Wandel durch Handel) status quo despite the protracted under-performance on the trade partner's side. In responding to questions by the committee members, Petra Sigmund of Foreign Office representing the German government reiterated throughout the hearing that human rights issue has been always on the agenda in the EU-China dialogs and whether sanctions would be imposed is subject to the collective decision in EU.
Sigmund's line-to-take leaves an impression that Germans are very patient with talking the talk. "Germany was taken care of for a long time by the United States. Democracy and human rights were given to it after WWII," writes Didi Kirsten Tatlow, Senior Fellow of Asia Program at the German Council on Foreign Relations, in the email interview following the Monday hearing. "German politics and society lack a sense of threat perception about how democracies, and their democratic life specifically, can be weakened by authoritarian governments, if they do not stand up for values." And that the CAI only reaffirms that "Germany still mostly only has an international business policy instead of a strategic foreign policy", Tatlow continues. "A further point is that this business policy is driven by very large conglomerates such as VW, BASF, Siemens and Daimler, which have profited and continue to profit majorly from globalization. They make a kind of Germany, Inc. Germany, Inc., does not see globalization as a challenge for the national interest, unlike, increasingly, in the U.S."
When the Economy Minister Peter Altmaier (CDU) called 2021 "the year of recovery", would that mean that the pandemic-plagued Germany would be more ready to kowtow to its trade partner? Tatlow does not see that a causality can be that easily and directly mapped out. For illustration, she points us to reference the Daimler-Geely cooperation announced on the 21st. Daimler plans to work with Geely to move its motor production to China. The move is expected to complete by 2024. The co-production posed itself as the poster boy for the freshly sealed CAI: the sought-after e-autos and the reduced environmental impact the technology brings, all under the guarantee of level-playing field.
The decision, however, left the labor union "speechless" whose leader was surprised that the union was not consulted at all, as reported by Reuters. It shows, that top-down mode of operation à la CCP will be met with resistance. Germany, after all, is a democracy. Hence, when Huber of AfD questioned Glacier Kwong why Germany should care about Hong Kong's affairs, the answer is simple: what happens in Hong Kong is a breach of international law. As a person living in Germany, she takes up the duty to remind the country of its duty owed to the world as a defender of human right.
Note: Didi Kirsten Tatlow, Senior Fellow, Asia Program, German Council on Foreign Relations (DGAP) is also a Senior Non-Resident Fellow at Project Sinopsis in Prague. Tatlow co-edited China’s Quest for Foreign Technology: Beyond Espionage, a book on China and technology transfer, which was published in October 2020.