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Germany wakes up to Beijing’s forays in Europe, Chinese stake in Hamburg port to get diluted 

China is seeking to increase access to European ports

Germany is rethinking plans to sell stake to China in parts of the Hamburg port after the country’s security department classified the port as “critical infrastructure”. Germany was all set to give a 24.9 per cent stake in the Tollerort terminal at the Hamburg port to Chinese State firm Cosco.

The South China Morning Post (SCMP) says that the Federal Office of Information Security (BSI) in Germany reclassified the Hamburg port as critical infrastructure at the beginning of 2023, which has forced Berlin to rethink its plans.

“Since the conditions have changed, we are examining what impact this will have on the situation”, a spokeswoman for Germany’s economy ministry said at a press conference.

The controversial decision was taken in October 2022 and had immediately flared up into a political hot potato. Despite resistance from his ministerial colleagues as well as coalition partners, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz pushed for stake to be sold to Cosco. Initially, the State-owned Chinese company wanted a 35 per cent stake which was reduced to 24.9 per cent.

Last year German political parties had stressed that the country needed to take lessons regarding its relations with Russia after the war in Ukraine. Therefore, a need was felt to maintain distance from Chinese State-owned enterprises.

It is well known that China has been procuring a stake in European ports to facilitate the entry of China-made goods into Europe. Acquisition of ports is part of the ambitious Chinese strategy under the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) to create a network of transport corridors across the world.

The Chinese firm already has a stake in Europe’s two largest ports at Rotterdam and Antwerp and also controls the port of Piraeus in Athens, says Politico.

To a large extent, Germany has followed global sentiment in reducing Chinese influence and stake in vital sectors of its economy. Berlin has also been critical of China’s strong-arm tactics with its tiny neighbour Taiwan.

On Wednesday, German Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Andrea Sasse criticised China for holding military exercises too close to Taiwan as these increased chances of accidental clashes. German broadcaster DW reported Sasse as saying: “We are very concerned about the situation in the Taiwan Strait. We naturally expect all parties in the region to contribute to stability and peace. That applies equally to the People’s Republic of China”.