Daily briefing

Merkel and Li, happy as can be

5. deutsch-chinesische Regierungskonsultationen
Source: DPA

Chancellor Angela Merkel is visiting Tempelhof field today, site of the historic Berlin Airlift of  1948-49, where at one point an American or British plane was touching down on the landing strip every 30 seconds. These days, the field is Berlin’s favorite place for kite-landboarding. But it is also a good venue to play with self-driving cars, which is why Ms. Merkel is stopping by.

She will be accompanied by Li Keqiang, the prime minister of China. Yesterday, the two were already beaming like a happy couple watching the kids, as they presided over German and Chinese bosses signing huge commercial contracts. The Chinese will make batteries for electric cars at a plant in Germany, and BMW will buy them; Siemens and Alibaba will jointly explore the Internet of Things; BASF will build a chemicals plant in Guangdong; and so forth.

Merkel’s new enthusiasm about Sino-German ties, of course, has much to do with The Donald, who is now approaching Europe for a NATO summit that Ms. Merkel is dreading. Both Germany and China are in Trump’s sights for their trade surpluses vis-a-vis America, as he fires salvo after salvo in what could become a full-blown trade war.

That’s why authoritarian and mercantilist China is now posing as a defender of free trade, and hoping to make common cause with Germany. As Nixon once went to China to find balance against the Soviet Union, China is now coming to Europe to seek balance against America.

But Merkel should be careful about rushing too headlong into China’s embrace. Unlike Germany, China has a long-term geopolitical strategy to wield ever more power in the world. The flagship project in that vision is the so-called Belt and Road Initiative, with which China is using infrastructure investments in Asia, Africa and Europe to become an economic superpower. Europe may one day wake up to find itself living in a world of Chinese “values” — and regret it.

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Another item on the long list of disagreements between Trump and Merkel is Iran. The US pulled out of the nuclear deal with Iran, whereas the Europeans want to keep trying to make the deal work. That situation is starting to create bizarre twists. For instance, American sanctions threaten to cut Iranians off from the international financial systems that would let them use credit cards abroad or get cash from ATMs.

That’s why Iran will fly some €300 million in cash from a bank in Hamburg to Tehran: so that Iranians can keep travelling and paying abroad, the regime says. But the Americans, and also the Germans, worry that the cash could in fact end up somewhere else. With Hezbollah, for example, the Iranian-backed terrorist group in the Levant. But how can Germany stop Iran from withdrawing its own money? They’ll probably be boarding any moment now — with twelve suitcases full of €200 notes.

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Lots to talk about in Hamburg these days, including a dynastic intrigue in one of the city’s vaunted Mittelstand firms. Albert Darboven owns a coffee empire. He also likes to breed horses and is quite the man about town. But he is estranged from his son Arthur, whom he wants to prevent from running the family firm. Arthur in turn is accusing his dad of betraying the values of the firm and family.

Now Darboven senior is taking a drastic step. The firm’s articles of association stipulate that only a family member may run the business. So Darboven is getting himself another son. He will formally adopt Andreas Jacobs, aged 54. Jacobs is also a connoisseur of horses. And he is the scion of another coffee empire. This is a feud on caffeine.

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