German engine makers are supplying technology for Chinese warships – despite US warnings. This is the result of research by Welt am Sonntag and international partners. Now foreign policy experts from the Green Party are also harshly criticizing these sales.
German companies have recently supplied technology for Chinese warships – despite increasingly aggressive behavior by the Chinese military, for example in seizing disputed island groups in the South China Sea. According to an investigation by Welt am Sonntag and “Politico”, the US has been urging the German government to limit these deliveries for years. However, German export laws still allow the sale of large marine engines, such as those from Friedrichshafen-based manufacturer MTU, to the Chinese military.
Now leading Green party foreign policy experts are also calling for an end to these exports. “We should not supply material to the Chinese military if China violates the rulings of the Permanent Court of Arbitration,” Jürgen Trittin, foreign policy spokesman for the Green parliamentary group in the Bundestag, told Welt am Sonntag. He was referring to the fact that under current regulations, German companies can export and sell certain types of large marine diesel engines to the Chinese navy without a license. “I advise solving the problem under the new arms export law,” Trittin said.
Green MEP and China expert Reinhard Bütikofer was even more frank. “I did not know for a long time that German-made ship engines could be delivered to the navy of the People’s Liberation Army of China,” Bütikofer told this newspaper. “Such support for China’s rapid rearmament is against German interests,” the MP added: “I also ask those in charge if such a practice is indeed compatible with the new NATO strategy.”
Those in charge – the foreign ministry led by Annalena Baerbock (Greens) and the ministry of economy minister Robert Habeck (Greens) – have so far rejected changes here, as has the Grand Coalition in the past. A spokesman for the Federal Ministry of Economy explained that current export practice follows “international guidelines”.
US expresses concern over German exports
According to the investigation, the US government has been urging the German government for years to take a more restrictive approach to deliveries to the Chinese military. In 2017, under pressure from partner countries, Berlin had already made it difficult to export submarine engines that the Chinese had previously bought from the manufacturer MTU. However, the grand coalition refrained from imposing further restrictions.
“The Germans shouldn’t be selling this engine technology to China,” says Brent Sadler, a former Navy officer who worked on China policy at the Pentagon and now works for the Heritage Foundation think tank in Washington. This has been “the position of the US government” under both Democratic and Republican presidents.
The supply of engines to the Chinese navy continues to worry Americans, especially in the face of China’s more aggressive policy, a senior US administration official under Joe Biden, who deals with arms exports but did not want to be identified, confirmed. Just as the EU and the US have now agreed on a single export policy towards Russia, this is also required for a country like China. In a diplomatic tone, the US State Department has now put it similarly in response to an editorial question. They are working with the German government to “coordinate regulatory practices”.
Support for reforming export regulations regarding the Chinese military is also provided by German China expert Thorsten Benner. He recalls the complaints of the Ukrainian government after the discovery of Bosch engine technology in Russian military vehicles in Ukraine: “Does Germany want to live with similar images out of convenience or export interest in the event of a military confrontation between China and the US?” asks Benner, who heads the Berlin-based think tank Global Public Policy Institute (GPPI).
“In Germany there is no awareness that China is not only an economic competitor, but also the toughest military opponent of the US and our closest allies in Asia,” Boehner adds: “The political question is: Do we want to supply China with capabilities that the country might use against the US, Japan or Australia at some point, for example in a conflict in Taiwan?”