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Report: A top German official hid intel report on China’s influence

Angela Merkel, Chancellor of Germany. (Arno Mikkor/Flickr)
October 06, 2020

A high-ranking German official hid a critical 2018 German intelligence report detailing China’s growing influence over Germany, out of concern the report could harm business prospects in the country, Axios reported Tuesday.

Axios, which first reported on the suppressed intelligence report, did not identify the German official believed responsible for concealing the information, which was reportedly set to be circulated throughout the German government. One unnamed official told Axios that German Chancellor Angela Merkel saw the critical intelligence report on China but few others in the German government did.

“As a matter of principle, the German government does not comment on matters concerning intelligence findings or activities of the intelligence services,” a federal government spokesperson,” a German government spokesperson said in response to an Axios request for comment.

The Federal Intelligence Service, Germany’s foreign intelligence agency, also declined an Axios request for comment.

Axios reported the report may have been suppressed amid concerns a critical report on China could harm German business interests.

Axios reported business interests have shaped German policy towards China, even at the expense of ignoring Chinese human rights abuses and national security concerns. The publication noted the example of German auto manufacturer Volkswagen’s factory in Urumqi, the regional capital of China’s Xinjiang province, where China has faced scrutiny over indications it is holding as many as 1.8 million Uyghurs and other ethnic minorities in internment camps.

“Germany depends on exports to a high degree, and that gives business a large influence. Business representatives talk to the government and are used to being listened to,”  Volker Stanzel, a former German ambassador to China, told Axios.

Stanzel said, “The Chinese Communist Party succeeded in globalizing its economy because it was able to join itself to foreign business interests.”

Noah Barkin, an expert on Europe-China policy for the Rhodium Group business advisory firm, told Axios, “There has been a lot of self-censorship,” in Germany, with regards to concerns about China.

Barkin said, “Merkel’s approach has been to criticize China behind closed doors, rather than in public.”

“Germany has traditionally viewed China through an economic prism, not a security prism,” Barkin said. “That has really begun to change this year. Germans are coming to the realization that they need to establish red lines, that they need to push China more forcefully, and they need to emphasize human rights.”

According to Axios, Germany has been seen as a trend-setter for the diplomatic tones of other European Union nations. Changes in German government attitudes toward China could result in other EU member nations changing their tone as well.

Germany did join France and the United Kingdom in September in challenging Chinese territorial claims in the disputed South China Sea region.

In September, EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, of Germany also announced her desire for the EU to pass legislation matching the U.S. Magnitsky Act, which lays out a model for sanctions against governments and individuals involved in human rights abuses.