In late September, Germans will elect a new parliament and government.
Polls show a tight race between Annalena Baerbock's center-left Green Party and Chancellor Merkel's center-right CDU-CSU alliance. After nearly 16 years in power, Merkel is retiring and making way for Armin Laschet. Unfortunately, Laschet is likely to be even worse for U.S. interests than Merkel has been.
The German center-Right, unfortunately, is sliding toward an unabashed appeasement policy toward China. This policy significantly undermines U.S. efforts to hold China accountable for its aggressive foreign and trade policies and its grotesque human rights record. Contrary to her utterly undeserved reputation as the great archon for liberal values, Merkel has centered German foreign policy on near absolute deference to China. For example, her government responded to U.S. pressure to challenge China's seizure of the South China Sea by doing nothing. Britain and France (which share Germany's interests in Chinese investment) are deploying submarines and an aircraft carrier on South China Sea exercises. Germany, however, will send a warship through the Indian Ocean. Yes, you read that right — it doesn't take a geography wizard to observe that the Indian Ocean is not, in fact, the South China Sea. But Berlin doesn't want to risk upsetting Beijing.
In contrast, the Green Party's Baerbock has committed to challenging Russia over its Nord Stream II energy pipeline and China over its human rights record.
Laschet supports Nord Stream II and, in a recent interview with the Financial Times, he suggested that he wouldn't even publicly comment on China's human rights abuses. Instead, Laschet claims that "often you can reach more in the area of human rights by addressing issues in private conversations with leaders of other countries than by talking about it in press conferences." He has also offered up this boilerplate: "The 21st century is very different and the prism of how the world looked before 1989 offers limited advice. We have a multipolar world [now] with different actors."
It's a very wimpy answer, and a false one. Lascet's words belie the fact that China poses and intends to pose an even greater threat to the liberal international order than did the Soviet Union.
Laschet doesn't care. All he cares about is getting as much investment out of China as possible. Human rights? The struggle between global freedom and authoritarianism? Germany's alliance with the U.S.?
Irrelevances, if the price tag is Laschet's loss of access to Xi Jinping's trough.