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Armin Laschet, the frontrunner to become Germany’s next chancellor, spoke out against US-led efforts to curb Beijing’s ambitions to become the dominant global power. President Joe Biden made clear he wants western allies to crack down on China on his first trip to Europe since winning control of the White House. But Mr Laschet, leader of Germany’s Christian Democratic Union, was sceptical when commenting on Mr Biden’s attitude to Beijing.
The German told the FT: “The question is – if we’re talking about ‘restraining’ China, will that lead to a new conflict?
“Do we need a new adversary?
“And there the Europe response was cautious, because, yes, China is a competitor and a systematic rival, it has a different model of society, but it’s also a partner, particularly in things like fighting climate change.”
Mr Laschet also called for western states to cool tensions with Russia, insisting they must “establish a sensible relationship” with Moscow.
“Ignoring Russia has served neither our nor the US’ interests,” he added, praising Mr Biden’s decision to meet with Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin last week.
In the build-up to September’s German elections, Mr Laschet is set to take a soft stance on China, much like current German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
Mrs Merkel has traditionally adopted a tepid stance to Beijing because of the pair’s inter reliance across their manufacturing industries.
Mr Laschet insisted he would not shy away from challenging the “critical issues”.
“But I’m not sure that always speaking out, loudly and aggressively, in public about a country’s human rights situation really leads to improvements on the ground,” he added.
“Often you reach more in the area of human rights by addressing issues in private conversations with leaders of other countries than by talking about it in press conferences.”
His lukewarm attitude over criticising China could put him on a collision course with Mr Biden in the White House.
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The US President presented his hardline stance on Beijing across a number of diplomatic meetings at G7 and Nato summits.
The G7, hosted by Britain in Cornwall, issued a communique slamming China over human rights, trade and a lack of transparency regarding the origin of the coronavirus pandemic.
Asked if Mr Biden was trying to drag Europe into a new cold war, Ms Laschet said he was “right” to view China as “one of the biggest challenges for us, for instance on new technologies”.
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But he also urged the West against slipping into a new cold war mentality with China.
“The 21st century is very different and the prism of how the world looked before 1989 offered limited advice,” he said.
“We have a multipolar world now with different actors.”
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