The German Government allows limited entry of Chinese capital into the port of Hamburg | International
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The German Government will allow the controversial sale operation to a Chinese company of part of the port of Hamburg, but limiting its scope. Instead of the 35% initially agreed, the chancellor, Olaf Scholz, and his coalition partners, green and liberal, have agreed this Wednesday that the shipping company Cosco, one of the largest maritime transport operators in the world, buy 24.9% of the container terminal in Hamburg. The agreement is a compromise between Scholz’s desire to authorize the operation as conceived last year and the refusal of six of his ministers to give the go-ahead to the entry of Chinese capital into this key infrastructure.
Scholz’s partners had warned that the sale would increase economic dependence on China and warned that Germany should not make the same mistakes as with Russia. The Social Democratic chancellor, the main supporter of the operation, has faced criticism from the opposition, from his associates and even from leading figures in his own party. The agreement with Cosco has also caused concern in Brussels, where a few days ago the Twenty-seven met in search of a common strategy regarding the Asian giant, which they define as “a competitor”.
The reduction in the percentage of Chinese participation is intended to limit Cosco’s power in decision-making at the port. The new agreement stipulates that the Chinese shipping company will not be able to “contractually receive veto rights in commercial, strategic or personnel decisions”, as well as “appoint members of the board of directors”, according to publication Der Spiegel from government sources.
The controversy over the entry of Chinese capital into the terminal has broken out just on the eve of Scholz’s trip to China on November 4. The visit has also caused misgivings in Berlin due to the moment in which it occurs, in the midst of a Russian war of aggression in Ukraine that has generated an energy crisis in Europe, and in the midst of a debate on the advisability of approving investments with non-allied countries and who do not share European values. The head of the opposition, the Christian Democrat Friedrich Merz, has criticized the decision in an interview with the Phoenix network. “The percentage is the least of it. We don’t have to think in economic terms, but political and security ones”, he has said.
Even the German president, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, has intervened in the controversy from kyiv, where he traveled on Tuesday by surprise. “The lesson we should learn is that unilateral dependencies must be reduced as far as possible,” he told public television, referring to what has happened with hydrocarbons in Russia and plans to do business with China. The enormous dependence on oil and, above all, on Russian gas has left Germany in a very vulnerable situation after the outbreak of the invasion of Ukraine. Berlin has had to look for alternative suppliers in record time, which has increased the costs of supply and has forced the marketers to be rescued with public money.
The port of Hamburg is the third largest in Europe, behind Rotterdam (Netherlands) and Antwerp (Belgium). China has spent years increasing its participation in ports around the world within the New Silk Road initiative, an ambitious project, launched in 2013 by President Xi Jinping, to create land and sea corridors along the main trade routes from and to China. Companies from the Asian giant already have shares in a dozen European ports, including Le Havre and Dunkirk in France; Antwerp and Bruges in Belgium. In Piraeus (Greece), Cosco is the majority shareholder.
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