German Reunification @30: The Indo-Pacific Strategy

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COVID has advanced Germany’s plans to promote an ‘alliance of democracies globally and launch its Indo-Pacific Strategy. Dieter Lamlé, Consul General to Hong Kong and Macau explains what the new strategy is – and is not.

This is Part IV of a four-part series from an interview with Dieter Lamlé, the Consul General of the Federal Republic of Germany to Hong Kong and Macau, on the occasion of the 30th Anniversary of German Reunification.

Part I: German Reunification @30: “Never stop believing in the impossible” here.

Part II: German Reunification @30: Work In Progress here.

Part III: German Reunification @30: Refugees and Asylum here.

Germany’s role in the world has evolved as the largest economy working within the EU framework. With Britain exiting, it will take up an even more prominent leadership role. This means it has considerable heft in determining how the EU – the world’s largest economy – conducts its affairs with other global partners. That includes Asia.

One day after the Chinese Minister of Foreign Affairs, Wang Yi, finished a tour of European capitals, Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government announced a realignment of Germany’s approach to the Indo-Asia-Pacific (pick your descriptor) region. While it did not specify any issues with China, it broadens Germany’s approach to strengthening ties with, it seems, everyone but.

Dieter Lamlé, the Consul General of the Federal Republic of Germany to Hong Kong and Macau aims to explain the new strategy. While COVID may have sped up adoption of the strategy or made some of the conditions requiring it more evident, the groundwork was laid down up to two years ago by a guiding philosophy of the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Heiko Maas.

COVID pushed everyone

“In principle, it is one result of COVID-19, that we were dependent too much on some countries, or some supply chains, and it was impossible that we not get our medicine in Europe because… the supply chain is not working or because of certain countries saying ‘you don’t get it now’ or the prices are increased or whatever. So we said, ‘We aim to be more independent and to diversify.’”

“I think this is the main issue: diversification.”

“And reducing of dependencies on certain countries and supply chains.”

It was impossible that we not get our medicine in Europe … because of certain countries saying ‘you don’t get it now’

dieter lamlé

Neither ‘China plus’ nor ‘China minus’

China may name itself the ‘Middle Kingdom/Country’ or ‘Central Kingdom/Country’, but the concept of an Indo-Pacific, adopted by a range of countries including France and the US in recent years, suggests a wider integrated region, from Japan to Indonesia and India. 

Herr Lamlé lays out some of the thinking from his ‘boss’. “India is one of the biggest players in the region. And ASEAN, with Indonesia, is the second biggest player. And to increase our multilateral relations to this region, in our opinion, is very important.”

“This does not mean decoupling from China. So we have a different approach than other countries have. So it’s not ‘China plus’ and it’s not ‘China minus’. This is our approach; very clear.”

“Of course, we do not cooperate only in business. We are planning probably to make free trade agreements with some of these countries. Human rights, South China Sea – it’s a platform to use and to live multilateralism.”

“For us, it’s very clear: a rules-based multilateralism is the world of the present and of the future. Probably some rules might be changed if you look at the WTO or wherever. Everybody is flexible; [we] change where needed. But it really needs to be rule-based behaviour by countries.” 

Heiko Maas by Dominik Butzmann / re:publica / CC BY-SA

Supply chains – who do you want to do business with?

“But of course, if you want to be more independent, you need different supply chains, shorter supply chains, product based supply chains. Really a big package of diversification.

“Mr Heiko Maas – he is my boss – he had the idea two years ago of a re-alliance of democracies.”

“So we said, “OK, we make an alliance of democracies, like-minded and to cover this hole that is existing.’ This fits perfectly well into his view and his vision of this alliance of democracies and an alliance of multilateralists can cope with the biggest problems we are facing in the world.” 

This does not mean decoupling from China…It’s not ‘China plus’ and it’s not ‘China minus.’

dieter lamlé

Everyone get together

Enumerating major global challenges, he says, “I would really say climate change is one of the most important things. The conflict between China and the US. You can only combat and confront these problems with such strategies, working together. On human rights, on rule of law.”

Strengthening relationships across the region is a crucial part of the strategy. 

“Of course, if you look at India, they have always felt a little bit neglected. Ja? OK, I don’t have to explain the reasons. To get them on board – and ASEAN the same – to get them on board with Germany and Europe is a very important step.”

The strategy has been outlined in a 70-page document with a wide range of strategic directions for many ministries. However, with Chancellor Angela Merkel leaving the political stage at the end of 2020. It remains to be seen if Mr Maas will see his alliance of democracies remain at the forefront of German policy into the next decade.

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