The possible entry of Chinese capital into the port of Hamburg unleashes a political storm in Germany | International
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The possible entry of Chinese capital into the port of Hamburg has unleashed a political storm in Germany and has caused discomfort among the partners of the European Union, who precisely this Friday met in Brussels in search of a common strategy towards China. While the Twenty-seven express concern about economic dependence on the Asian giant, Berlin seems to be on its own. Not only is it studying an agreement to allow a Chinese state company to acquire 35% of a terminal in the third European port, but it is also maintaining its forecast of making a trip to the country with a clear economic content at the beginning of November. A large representation of German businessmen will fly on Scholz’s plane.
Although Scholz dismissed the criticism, assuring that he had not noticed discomfort with Germany in the recent European Council, detractors in Brussels have also joined the internal voices that warn about repeating the same mistakes that with Russia. While EU diplomacy points out that Beijing must be considered as a “competitor” and a “global rival” that promotes “an alternative vision of the world order”, Berlin distances itself from the facts of the European debate by following a policy that seems to prioritize business with Beijing.
At home, Scholz is showered with criticism from all sides, including the parties that make up the government coalition of Social Democrats, Greens and Liberals. At the origin of the dispute is a 2021 agreement between the port logistics company HHLA, in public hands, and the Chinese operator Cosco Shipping Ports according to which the latter would acquire 35% of the HHLA container terminal in Tollerort , one of the three that make up the Hamburg port complex.
According to an investigation by NDR and WDR television, the Foreign Ministry is pressing for the agreement to be signed, despite the fact that the six ministers involved in evaluating the large investments have refused to give it the go-ahead. Among the ministries that refuse to approve the sale are those of Foreign Affairs and Economy, led by the greens; that of Finance, in the hands of the liberals, but also those of the Interior and Defense, directed by social democratic policies.
Scholz was mayor of Hamburg between 2011 and 2018. The current mayor, Peter Tschentscher, also a Social Democrat, defends the agreement because it represents an economic injection for the port and improves its position compared to its competitors. He further argues that the Chinese group would not have access to critical infrastructure and that the property would remain in the public domain. “We are not talking about selling the port, as has happened in other cases,” Scholz stressed on Friday. “We talked about the possible sale of a terminal and there are other similar situations in other West German ports,” he added.
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The controversy over the entry of Chinese capital into the terminal has broken out just on the eve of a trip to China in the coming weeks, probably around November 3 or 4, according to government sources. The visit has also caused misgivings in Berlin at the time it occurs, in the midst of a Russian war of aggression that has caused an energy crisis in Europe and in the midst of a debate about the risk of some investments in a tense international environment. The message from the opposition and Scholz’s government partners can be summed up in that we must not make the same dependency errors, that is, that many eggs cannot be put in the same basket.
“[El viaje] it is part of the good politics of the Federal Republic of Germany, because there are many issues that we have to talk about with each other,” Scholz said in Brussels. “There is no relevant voice in Europe advocating deglobalization and decoupling,” he added. “No one is saying that we have to leave China, that we cannot export, that we should not invest or import more from China. What everyone says, and so do I, is that we live in an increasingly multipolar world and that strong countries should not concentrate on just a few countries.”
As if the political atmosphere was not heated enough, the economic daily Handelsblatt has revealed that the European Commission warned Berlin about the sale of the port to the Chinese company months ago. The information shows that the infrastructure is not only of civil importance, but also of military importance, so any change in ownership should be analyzed with special caution.
For China, the largest trading power, participation in ports around the world is one of its main strategies within the New Silk Road initiative. This ambitious project, launched in 2013 by President Xi Jinping, aspires not only to create trade corridors by land, but also by sea with a presence in major ports along the main trade routes to and from 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 or Piraeus in Greece (where Cosco is the majority shareholder).
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