Is Germany becoming a dependency of China? Europe’s most powerful nation is ever more reliant on Beijing

President of China Xi Jinping (R) welcomes German Chancellor Olaf Scholz (L) in the East Hall of the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China, 04 November 2022. EPA-EFE/KAY NIETFELD


With a GDP of over $4 trillion, Germany boasts one of the biggest economies globally. It is, without question, the most powerful country in Europe. Which makes its dependency on China so disconcerting.

According to the most recent China Index, an initiative launched by Doublethink Lab, a non-governmental organization (NGO) dedicated to researching the negative impacts of authoritarianism, China has a vice-like grip on Germany.

In fact, of all the European countries analysed, Germany is the most heavily influenced by Beijing.

Comprehensive in the extreme, the index’s rankings are calculated by adding up standardized responses to 99 Indicators, each of which examines a distinct occurrence of China’s influence. These Indicators  are evenly distributed across nine Domains: Media, Academia, Economy, Society, Military, Technology, Law Enforcement, Local Politics, and Foreign Policy.

Of the 82 countries featured in the report, Germany sits in 6th position in the Ideology cluster, which includes academia, media, and society. This, as the report suggests, indicates a deliberate effort by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) to exert influence over important segments of German society.

Although Germany’s education minister has spoken about the need to curb China’s influence, there are still 19 Confucius Institutes operating across the European nation.

For the uninitiated, although these institutes are marketed as hubs of cultural exchange, they are staffed by the CCP, and essentially operate as Trojan horses for the Chinese government, allowing it to exert a nefarious form of soft power.

Moreover, as the researcher and writer David Missal has highlighted, German research institutions’ collaboration with their Chinese counterparts lacks any sort of transparency. When requested to disclose information about their connections with Chinese institutions, only three out of 55 German research institutes and universities obliged. The main reason behind this lack of transparency, noted Missal, is the absence of legal obligations for universities and research institutes to disclose information about their cooperation with entities from authoritarian countries.

In terms of regulations, Germany does not have specific laws governing academic cooperation with entities in China or other authoritarian states.

“So what,” some will say, “who cares about a bunch of researchers collaborating and publishing a few papers together?”

This is a naive way of viewing the intimate relationship between German and Chinese academics.

As Missal emphasized in his piece, German research institutions have engaged in collaborations with numerous Chinese entities identified as high or very high risk by the ASPI China Defense University Tracker. Shockingly, out of the 784 research links analysed, 90 were with Chinese institutions labeled as high-risk, while 127 were labeled as very high-risk.

Additionally, 40 links were established with universities belonging to the “Seven Sons of National Defense”, a collection of public universities associated with the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology of China. The “Seven Sons” maintain strong scientific links with the People’s Liberation Army (PLA).

Furthermore, warned Missal, in recent times, there have been at least 141 instances where German institutions have collaborated with CCP-aligned entities involved in economic espionage or misconduct. Areas of collaboration are evidently focused on strategically important fields, including computer sciences, economics, aerodynamics, medicine, fluid mechanics, chemistry, physics, mathematics, mechanical engineering, and materials sciences.

In the aforementioned China Index, Germany is ranked 6th (out of 82 countries) in the Academia Domain, reflecting the significant connections between German universities and Chinese research institutions in critical technological and military fields.

The CCP is also using German media to weave a very particular web. This has been the case for years. DW, Germany’s equivalent of the World Service, has discussed the rise in Beijing-sponsored media content being shared by German news sources. China appears to be using German media to advance its own agenda. More specifically, to promote a favorable image of the CCP and Chinese influence.

Rather hilariously, in September of last year, Global Times, a known mouthpiece for the CCP, helped organise the China-Germany Media Forum. In Beijing, media representatives from both countries engaged in discussions on various topics including the need to combat disinformation. Remember, this is the same outlet that suggested Covid appeared in the United States before it appeared in Wuhan. Global Times, according to US State Department analysis, excels at creating and disseminating disinformation.

Sadly, though, like an addict hooked on a powerful drug, Germany appears to be reliant – too reliant – on China for support. Currently, Germany is working hard to decouple itself from another controversial player, Russia. It won’t be able to do the same with China, however – not without ample amounts of pain, anyway.

In January of this year, the Deutsche Bundesbank, the central bank of Germany and the largest central bank in Europe, published a sobering report demonstrating this very fact. Germany is deeply invested in China, and vice versa. Beijing essentially controls Germany’s most important port, situated in Hamburg.

Furthermore, decoupling from the world’s second-largest economy would rock sectors such as the automotive industry, mechanical engineering, electronics, and electrical engineering, as all four heavily rely on Chinese demand.

Furthermore, a larger group of German companies depend directly or indirectly on critical intermediate inputs from China. These includes batteries, energy storage devices, and certain raw materials like rare earths, for example.

If the supply of these inputs were to be disrupted, according to the report, Germany could face substantial production losses. Incredibly, roughly half of the manufacturing sector firms in Germany directly or indirectly source critical intermediate inputs from China.

In other words, cutting ties with China would likely bring Germany to its knees. This fact is not lost on the German Chancellor. As I write this, Olaf Scholz is preparing a three-day visit to Beijing. His aim is simple: to further solidify an already almighty bond with China.