Merkel with Xi. Photo: Popow/ullstein bild via Getty Images

While countries including the U.S. and U.K. grow increasingly willing to challenge China on everything from Hong Kong to Huawei, Germany has steered clear of confrontation with Beijing.

Why it matters: Despite German Chancellor Angela Merkel's reputation as a champion of democratic values, her critics contend that when it comes to China, any such concerns are trumped by the economy.

Driving the news: While the U.K. this week joined the U.S., Australia and others in labeling Huawei's links to the Chinese government as an unacceptable security risk, Merkel has leaned the other way (though she hasn't announced a final decision on the company's role in Germany's 5G networks).

  • She has also said little about the crackdown in Hong Kong or China's mass detentions in Xinjiang.

What they’re saying: German Economy Minister Peter Altmaier expressed a view of China this week that is only heard in Washington, D.C., these days when paired with a tone of derision — mocking the misguided claims of decades past.

“I have always been convinced and I still believe that change can be achieved through trade.”
— Altmaier, a close Merkel ally, to Politico

Between the lines: His logic — that economic ties provide Germany with leverage over China, which would be jeopardized by criticism over Hong Kong — is up for debate.

  • Germany’s deep economic ties to China are not. China's market is particularly vital to Germany's auto industry and other advanced manufacturing.

What to watch: Merkel’s refusal to criticize China “is increasingly out of step with the rest of Germany’s political establishment," the Economist reports.

  • Merkel’s defenders say there’s more to it than meets the eye: rather than engage in zero-sum competition across the board, she wants to compete where necessary, cooperate where possible and avoid a damaging decoupling.

With Merkel stepping down next year, her successor may see things differently.

Go deeper

Ben Geman, author of Generate
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