German companies recently supplied technology for Chinese warships – despite an increasingly aggressive behavior by the local military, for example in the occupation of disputed island groups in the South China Sea. According to research by WELT AM SONNTAG and “Politico”, the USA has been urging the federal government to restrict such deliveries for years. Nevertheless, German export law still allows, for example, the sale of large ship engines, such as those made by the Friedrichshafen manufacturer MTU, to the Chinese military.
Leading foreign politicians from the Greens are now calling for these exports to be stopped. “We shouldn’t deliver any material for the Chinese military if China violates the decisions of the Permanent Court of Arbitration,” said the foreign policy spokesman for the Greens parliamentary group in the Bundestag, Jürgen Trittin, WELT AM SONNTAG. He was referring to the fact that under current regulations, German companies can export some types of large marine diesel engines without a license and sell them to the Chinese Navy. “I advise solving the problem within the framework of the new arms export law,” said Trittin.
The Green MEP and China expert Reinhard Bütikofer was even clearer. “I was not aware for a long time that ship engines made in Germany could be supplied to the Navy of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army,” Bütikofer told the newspaper. “Such support for China’s rapid armament is contrary to German interests,” added the MP: “I also ask those responsible whether such a practice is actually compatible with the new NATO strategy.”
Those responsible – the foreign office led by Annalena Baerbock (Greens) and the department of Economics Minister Robert Habeck (Greens) – have so far rejected changes here, similar to the grand coalition before them. A spokesman for the Federal Ministry of Economics explained that the current export practice follows “international guidelines”.
According to research, the US government has been urging the federal government to be more restrictive on supplies to the Chinese military for years. In 2017, under pressure from partner countries, Berlin had already made it difficult to export submarine engines that the Chinese had previously purchased from the manufacturer MTU. However, the grand coalition refrained from further restrictions.
“The Germans shouldn’t sell this engine technology to China,” says Brent Sadler, a former naval officer who worked on China policy at the Pentagon and now works for the Heritage Foundation think tank in Washington. That was “the position of the US government” under both Democratic and Republican presidents.
The deliveries of engines for the Chinese Navy continue to cause concern for the Americans, especially in view of the more aggressive Chinese policy, confirmed a senior official in the US administration under Joe Biden, who deals with arms export issues but does not wish to be named. Just as the EU and the USA have now agreed on a uniform export policy towards Russia, a country like China also needs this. In a diplomatic tone, the US State Department now formulated it similarly at the request of the editor. They are working with the federal government on “coordinating regulatory practices”.
The German China expert Thorsten Benner also supports a reform of the export rules with a view to the Chinese military. He recalled the Ukrainian government’s complaints after Bosch motor technology was discovered in Russian military vehicles in Ukraine: “Does Germany want to live with similar images out of convenience or out of export interests in the event of a military confrontation between China and the USA?” , asks Benner, who heads the Berlin think tank Global Public Policy Institute (GPPI).
“There is a lack of awareness in Germany that China is not only an economic competitor, but also the toughest military opponent of the USA and our closest allies in Asia,” adds Benner: “The political question is: Do you want to supply China with capacities that the country at some point in a Taiwan conflict against the USA, Japan or Australia?”
The research was carried out as part of Axel Springer Investigations, a cooperation between WELT and various media from the Axel Springer publishing house worldwide.