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Decoupling from China is the wrong approach

China has developed into an increasingly strong systemic challenger for Germany, Europe and the entire West – differently to what was expected ten years ago. Furthermore, China is an economic and technological competitor – with occasionally irritating interpretations of the rules of multilateralism. Reasons as to why we should nevertheless still expand cooperation areas with Beijing is explained by Wolfgang Niedermark, member of the BDI Executive Board, in an interview.

Have the economy's expectations regarding the German-Chinese government consultations been fulfilled? 

Wolfgang Niedermark: The dialogue with China remains correct and important, especially in these current tense times. It is a good sign that we are meeting again. And it's good that our companies have a place at the table in many formats – next time, we would also appreciate them doing so with our European friends. However, we would have hoped to see more concrete results from the government consultation. For example, that the Chinese commitment to further market openings is finally implemented and put into practice. Dialogue is one thing – action is another. We want to and must maintain and expand areas of cooperation with China, especially in the fight against climate change or in the protection of biodiversity. Of course, this also applies to our diverse trade and investment relations. 

How should the German economy deal with China? 

Everyone considers a decoupling of the German economy from China to be the wrong approach. That would also be unrealistic. However, de-risking, meaning to reduce dependencies, would be the right path. We should not put all our eggs in one basket. Whether we like it or not, work processes are becoming more localised. Many companies – from large multinational corporations to small and medium-sized enterprises – are already actively diversifying their sales and procurement markets strategically and building new partnerships. However, companies cannot diversify overnight; it takes several years. Moreover, it is unfortunately not the most cost-effective option. We have to pay a de-risking bonus. 

From the industry's point of view, what should be included in the German government’s China strategy? 

We live in a new era of globalisation that, unfortunately, is no longer based on convergence. The principle of hope is no longer sufficient to remain globally competitive as an industrial location in these times. Both a new understanding and a pragmatic concept for economic security are required. A China strategy should address the complexity of systemic rivalry, competition and partnership between Beijing and Berlin. Stability by balancing all three dimensions must be the goal of Germany's China policy.