Are there morals between China and the US

German Companies in China: The Moral Price Tag

Business representatives from Germany put a good face on a bad game in Beijing. And continue to earn splendidly.

Auto show in Shanghai: Anyone who wants to do business in China should be silent on human rights Photo: Aly Song / Reuters

BEIJINGtaz | In a night-and-fog action, the Chinese then organized an analogous conference: the “State Commission for Development and Reform” invited business representatives from Germany and China to the Beijing Guobin Hotel, just a stone's throw from Tiananmenplatz to talk about “economic and technological cooperation” on the sidelines of the virtual government consultations.

The event was entirely in keeping with the taste of the Chinese government, which is increasingly setting the tone in the relationship between the two countries: In the dignified Grand Ballroom, suit wearers swung meaningful speeches between golden chandeliers and feather-soft carpets, which were increasingly empty of content.

Questions from journalists were not planned, only after massive pressure from the German embassy some correspondents were allowed to watch in the second row. But maybe this reflects the German-Chinese relations: As long as the euros and renminbi are rolling, values ​​have to be neglected.

Conventions against forced labor not yet signed

Chinese growth has long been an “anchor” for the German economy, says Gabriel Felbermayr, head of the Kiel Institute for the World Economy. “The development of the goods trade between China and Germany alone is a spectacular success story. There is no other way to describe it. ”In fact, the dimension of the movement of goods alone is phenomenal. German companies sold 5.4 million cars to China and exported 116,000 tons of pork to the People's Republic.

But the list of conflicts is also growing: next month, for example, the human rights committee in the Bundestag will debate whether the mass internment of the Muslim minority in Xinjiang should be classified as genocide. In addition, more and more MPs insist that the investment agreement drawn up between the European Union and China not be ratified until further notice.

Marco Wanderwitz, State Secretary in the Federal Ministry of Economics, warned at the Beijing Economic Forum that China's government should first "quickly and completely" sign the international conventions against forced labor.

Calls for a boycott by the Chinese state recently hit the fashion manufacturers Adidas and H & M, because they no longer wanted to purchase cotton from Xinjiang due to human rights violations.

“All of this should of course cause concern for all companies that operate internationally. So far, however, there are no signs that we will also be hit, ”says Stephan Wöllenstein, who heads Volkswagen’s China business and also runs a factory in Xinjiang.

For German companies, practical questions count

Doing business in China is always given a moral price tag. So far, however, German company representatives have been practicing the ostrich tactic: The problems are ignored until there is no other way. This was most recently demonstrated at the auto show in Shanghai, at which the company boards of Volkswagen, Daimler and BMW were singing outright hymns of praise for the Chinese government.

For German companies, practical questions are currently in the foreground. According to a survey by the Chamber of Commerce in Beijing, a clear majority hope that the government consultations will ease travel restrictions. Due to de facto closed borders and hotel quarantine, passenger traffic has reached an all-time low. This means that investments are not made, positions are not filled and machines are not maintained.

However, the much bigger problem for domestic companies will not go away even after the corona pandemic. China's economic planners are currently undergoing a paradigm shift in which foreign companies are to become increasingly unimportant: The focus is clearly on the domestic domestic market and on technological self-sufficiency, foreign trade and foreign trade investments are subordinated to it. The gold rush mood could soon be followed by a sobering hangover.