German contender wants tougher stance on China, Russia

Germany's Green party co-leader Annalena Baerbock gives a speech during a digital announcement event in Berlin, Germany, where the party presented her as top candidate for chancellor for the upcoming federal election later this year, Monday, April 19, 2021. (Annegret Hilse/Pool via AP)
Germany's Green party co-leader Annalena Baerbock gives a speech during a digital announcement event in Berlin, Germany, where the party presented her as top candidate for chancellor for the upcoming federal election later this year, Monday, April 19, 2021. (Annegret Hilse/Pool via AP) (REUTERS POOL)

BERLIN – A leading contender to succeed Angela Merkel as German chancellor this fall has called for “dialogue and toughness” toward China when it comes to defending democratic values and human rights.

Annalena Baerbock, the environmentalist Greens' candidate for chancellorship, told the weekly Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung that Europe should use its economic might to block Chinese goods made with forced labor and avoid communications technologies that endanger European security.

“We are currently in a competition between systems: authoritarian powers versus liberal democracies," she said in an interview published Sunday.

Baerbock cited China's investment in infrastructure and energy grids through Central Asia to Europe as “brutal power politics.”

“We Europeans mustn't kid ourselves,” she said, adding that the 27-nation European Union needs to act accordingly to defend its values, such as by using a recent investment accord between Brussels and Beijing to address more strongly the issue of China's putting its Uyghur minority into forced labor.

Baerbock, a graduate in international law, also took aim at Russia, in particular its support for rebel groups in Ukraine and the recent massing of Russian troops along Ukraine's border.

She backed Ukraine’s right to apply for membership in NATO and the EU, but said “the most important thing right now is to increase the pressure on Russia so that the Minsk accord is adhered to." That accord seeks to peacefully end the conflict in eastern Ukraine with Russia-backed rebels that has left at least 14,000 dead since 2014.

Against the backdrop of Moscow's aggressive behavior, Baerbock criticized the German government's support for an underwater pipeline bringing Russian natural gas to Germany.