Germany's main opposition leader calls for European coalition on China ties
By Andreas Rinke
BERLIN, March 31 (Reuters) - Germany's main opposition leader on Friday called for Berlin to involve key allies in negotiations with China as part of a rethink of ties with Beijing that reflected a global "paradigm shift" in security and foreign policy.
Speaking in a Reuters interview, the head of the conservative CDU party, Friedrich Merz, said Germany could no longer rely on buying cheap gas from Russia and goods from around the world while relying on U.S. security.
Merz's comments reflect a growing rethink in German policy towards Beijing since Russia's invasion of Ukraine exposed Europe's heavy dependence on Russian energy.
It marks a departure from the era of former CDU Chancellor Angela Merkel, when China became Germany's biggest trade partner and a vital export market.
The 67-year-old arch conservative Merz became head of Merkel's Christian Democrats in 2022 promising a break from her centrist politics. According to a poll by the ZDF broadcaster this week, the CDU/CSU is polling nationally as Germany's biggest party bloc at 30%, gaining slightly while parties in the ruling coalition slipped, as Merz seeks to position himself to run for chancellor in 2025.
"We need very close coordination with our European partners, especially with France," he said about China ties. "We must demonstrate that Germany is not alone in this, but is acting in close coordination with its European partners."
NO 'DAY TRIPS'
Merz called for a key representative of the French government to be involved in future talks between Germany and China. He stressed that consultations with Beijing were important, but added:
"They just shouldn't be day trips with oversized delegations and small agendas, they have to be well prepared and they have to produce results."
He said Germany should reduce the presence of technology from China's Huawei as soon as possible, but without ripping out existing Huawei systems from German networks.
Asked whether he would travel to Taiwan, after a recent visit by a German minister infuriated Beijing, Merz said he would not want to do so at present, so as not to be provocative.
Merz was speaking ahead of French President Emmanuel Macron's trip to China with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen. The trip could see Beijing try to play divide and rule, said a non-Western diplomat who suggested China may try to insert a wedge into the Western camp and lure France away from the United States.
On European politics, Merz said his party would back von der Leyen for a second term as president in 2024. (Writing by Matthias Williams; Editing by Giles Elgood)