Angela Merkel's successor to 'push Joe Biden away from EU' in China row

After a turbulent last couple of years in Berlin, German Chancellor Angela Merkel has been replaced as CDU leader as she prepares to step away from politics. She has been replaced by Armin Laschet, a figure who shares her centrist vision and has even been described as “mini-Merkel” given his loyalty to the Chancellor. Mr Laschet beat Mrs Merkel’s critic Friedrich Merz narrowly by 521 votes to 466, and also saw off outsider Norbert Rottgen. Mr Laschet said he stands for “a level-headed approach and avoiding extremes,” a political stance that “turns towards people and does not turn its back on them”.

But plenty of eyes will be on his foreign policy stance if he does become German Chancellor, as he could be poised to clash US President-elect Joe Biden.

Mrs Merkel’s efforts to build strong ties with Beijing culminated in the EU-China investment deal, signed this month.

Mr Laschet will likely look to follow in these steps, while Mr Biden looks to challenge China on the international stage.

Mareike Ohlberg, a senior China expert at the German Marshall Fund think tank in Berlin, said that Germany’s car industry relies on China too much for Mr Laschet to take a different approach with Beijing.

She told the Wall Street Journal: “Our China policy would be very different if we didn’t have the car industry.

“I don’t think that Merz or Laschet would make policy against the interests of Germany’s biggest industries.”

In 2019, Germany exported nearly €100billion (£89billion) worth of goods to China, accounting for more than half of the value of all EU exports to the country.

Germany bought even more from China than it exported there, making the country its biggest overall trading partner.

Ulrich Speck, a foreign-policy analyst in Berlin, warned Germany’s policy on China could see Berlin “push against” Mr Biden.

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He said: “We are squeezed between China and America because we don’t have our own positions: not on technology, not on military issues, not on Taiwan.

“We’re not able to deal with China strategically: It’s either human rights or business, without a clear stand. Will we remain neutral? Will we push against Biden like we did against [incumbent US President] Donald Trump?”

Given Mr Laschet’s previous support for strong ties between Germany and China, as well as the Nord Stream 2 pipeline connecting Germany and Russia – Berlin and Washington could be at odds when it comes to foreign policy.

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Felix Schoenherr of the Werte Union – a group within Ms Merkel’s CDU critical of the Chancellor – told last year that her mistakes in recent years could cost the party power.

He said: “Look at the results. In Hamburg we had 47 percent 15 years ago, now it is just 11 percent.

“You just have to compare the results from before Merkel stepped in and now. I think there is some responsibility there of course.

“There has also been a decline of party members – in any football club, if you have a coach with results like that you throw them out.

“We are in a deep crisis for the party which has to be resolved quickly.”