Sep 21, 2021

Action Plan for China and Foreign Policy

What Germany Must Do to Hold Its Own in the Systemic Competition with China

China’s economic and political rise poses a challenge to Germany on many levels, from the competitiveness of its industry to the robustness of its democratic institutions. This systemic challenge is all the more difficult to address because Germany is highly dependent on China in economic terms.

This Action Plan is an edited and slightly updated translation of the German text that was originally published on September 20, 2021, as part of the DGAP Report Smarte Souveränität (“Smart Sovereignty”). It was written in the framework of the project “Ideenwerkstatt Deutsche Außenpolitik,” which is funded by Stiftung Mercator.

An English PDF of this text can be found as a chapter in the DGAP Report “Smart Sovereignty.” Download the full report here.


1. China Policy as a National Cross-Cutting Task
2. Germany’s China Policy in the Framework of the EU
3. Compass for a Principled China Policy


For far too long, Germany and the European Union (EU) failed to act because they were relying on a “change through trade” (Wandel durch Handel) approach. Yet these long-held hopes have not been fulfilled. On the contrary: China now threatens to reshape the international rules-based order and Western democracies. Germany’s belated awakening to this reality has left the country poorly positioned, as dependencies and the balance of power have shifted in China’s favor.

A clear stance in relation to China can now only be maintained in the framework of the EU, as Germany is the only EU member state that China still takes at all seriously. However, China is adopting an increasingly assertive approach toward Germany as well. Germany’s influence will decline unless the EU as a whole develops a greater capacity for action. Yet the EU member states are currently still divided.

That said, Germany is also one of the major causes of the lack of unity within the EU. Its national interests, primarily economic in nature, are not only keeping the EU from adopting a common position on China; they are also fueling doubts in the other EU member states about German solidarity. There is growing pressure on Germany to adjust its policy toward China. The costs of moving forward with the current policy would be incredibly high. The United States is also pressing for a radical change of policy toward China. The new federal government should completely overhaul Germany’s China policy.

What the Rise of China Means

Until a few years ago, Germany and Europe placed their hopes in “change through trade” in China. This was based on the assumption that economic cooperation would lead to three-fold liberalization in China: In the economic sphere, reforms were expected to pave the way for a free market economy; domestically, China’s economic opening would lead to prosperity, pluralism, and ultimately democratization; and internationally, integration in global markets would encourage China to become part of the rules-based international order. This paradigm has proved to be incorrect, particularly since Xi Jinping came to power. On the contrary, China’s authoritarian state capitalism has been strengthened and is becoming a beacon for other countries. There are four dimensions to this development: the strengthening of domestic authoritarianism, the resurgence of China’s state sector, a more aggressive foreign policy, and China’s democracy-eroding influence in Europe.

1.     The Strengthening of Domestic Authoritarianism    

Since coming to power in 2012 to 2013, President Xi Jinping has strengthened the Chinese Communist Party’s authoritarian rule. In particular, his government is using digital technologies to expand the apparatus of control and repression. Freedom of speech, already limited, is severely curtailed by close monitoring of social media; at the same time, the “real name” registration requirement for social media use makes it difficult to remain anonymous online. Internet platforms are increasingly resorting to self-censorship since being made liable for content published by their users. Finally, the high-profile punishment of prominent critics also acts as a deterrent.

At the same time, the Chinese government is increasingly cracking down on the Muslim population in Xinjiang province. China stands accused of committing crimes against humanity, including the detention of around 1.5 million Muslims; estimates differ in terms of the exact figure. In the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, the 2020 national security law violates the liberties codified in international law that had been enshrined in the Sino-British Joint Declaration on Hong Kong and in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Any criticism of Hong Kong’s government can be punished as subversion. Even protests using blank sheets of paper are treated as a criminal offense.

In short, trade with China has not stopped authoritarianism from growing stronger and, contrary to long-held hopes, has failed to encourage China to open up in political terms and move toward democracy.

2.     The Resurgent State Sector

In economic terms, too, the opposite of what Germany expected has come to pass: Since 2011, Xi has been strengthening the state sector. This is directly eroding the level playing field with Germany’s free market economy. In the 1980s and 1990s, German hopes that China would open up in economic terms seemed to be fulfilled. The planned economy from Mao Zedong’s era was replaced by the gradual introduction of free-market competition and a greater role for the private sector. Yet these economic reforms largely came to a halt under Xi’s predecessor, Hu Jintao. Since Xi took office in 2011, the government has doubled down on strengthening and centralizing China’s state-owned enterprises. This is clearly shown by the state-dominated banking sector’s lending: In 2011, state-owned enterprises received just 28 percent of the total credit volume due to their weaker economic performance. Under Xi Jinping, this share rose to 83 percent by 2016. In the absence of functioning capital markets, this redistribution of loans represents significant support for the state sector and an erosion of market-economy principles.

At the same time, the private sector has been brought under the direct political control of the Communist Party to a growing extent. One example is the systematic introduction of party cells in private companies. Another is the crackdown on leading private-sector groups in the digital sector, such as Alibaba, Ant, Tencent, and Didi. In particular, the Communist Party is using antitrust powers to attack companies that it believes have grown too powerful. Alibaba founder Jack Ma disappeared from the public eye for weeks after a private video in which he made critical comments became public.


3.     China’s Aggressive Foreign Policy

The fact that China bounced back from the 2008 global financial crisis more quickly than Western countries gave China’s leaders hope that they have the superior system. However, this feeling of strength is coupled with concern that China’s one-party system is vulnerable. Government, corporate, and household debt is soaring and has reached at least 270 percent of gross domestic product. The actual loan loss ratio is far higher than the official figures. Inefficient credit allocation also means that China could remain caught in the middle income trap; in other words, it might not be managing to catch up to the world’s wealthy countries. The well-educated younger generation is increasingly frustrated by the lack of career opportunities. Further problems are arising from the growing mobility challenges in the megacities, the need for greater environmental and climate action, endemic corruption, and growing nationalism in society.

On the one hand, the Chinese population expects the Communist Party to use its power to assert Chinese interests around the world. On the other hand, it is demanding a policy that enhances China’s international recognition, status, and reputation. This mix of strength and vulnerability is resulting in China’s increasingly aggressive and nationalist foreign policy. In the South China Sea, China has abandoned all restraint and built military bases on artificial islands. Beijing disputes the jurisdiction of the international tribunal that ruled in favor of the Philippines in 2016. Regarding Taiwan, China feels strong enough to think out loud about using military means to bring about reunification.

The export controls and punitive tariffs imposed by other countries have made clear to China’s leaders how vulnerable China has become as a result of its economic integration into global markets. By adopting a new “dual circulation” strategy, they are therefore trying to become more independent of global value chains and to foster domestic innovation. At the same time, China is boosting its influence by investing in infrastructure in third countries as part of the Belt and Road Initiative. Contrary to the hopes harbored in Germany, China has not become part of the rules-based order.

4.     China’s Democracy-Eroding Influence in Europe

In Europe, China is increasingly proving to be a player that undermines democratic rights, freedoms, and institutions. China’s activities revolve around its desire to be able to control the discourse in all political and public debates relating to China. One example is China’s disinformation campaign about the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In spring 2021, China responded to moderate EU sanctions by introducing drastic countermeasures against EU parliamentarians and European academics, including the Mercator Institute for China Studies (MERICS) in Berlin. China also undermines artistic freedom, the freedom of the press, and academic freedom by threatening institutions and individuals in Europe for comments they have made. In Switzerland, a professor stepped down from supervising a dissertation after China took umbrage at tweets made by her doctoral student.

These events raise the question of how forcefully China will react when its economic interests are affected, not just its ideological interests. The German parliament must prepare itself for Chinese reactions to the implementation of the supply chain law, for example. The Swedish fashion manufacturer H&M recently faced calls for a boycott after it announced that it no longer intended to use cotton from China’s Xinjiang province.

These examples show the accuracy of the increasingly widespread view in the EU that China’s rise is going hand in hand with an erosion of the liberal order in the West and in Europe.

The Costs of Business as Usual

China is a systemic challenge because the country’s fundamental structural differences pose a threat to the political and economic order preferred by Germany and the EU (democracy versus autocracy, free market economics versus state capitalism). Not only do these differences shape Germany’s relations with China; they also influence its options for action across a wide range of policy fields. Consequently, the debate should not focus solely on how Germany can ensure that democracy, free trade, and globalization can remain the guiding paradigms of European foreign policy; it should also cover the question of how they can be actively defended. In this context, the federal government’s reticence is astounding, as the costs of inaction or business as usual are immense. The potential loss of prosperity, competitiveness, and international influence, including in relation to the EU and other allies, is unacceptably high.

If Germany does not start now to actively limit its economic and technological dependence on China, its international capacity to act will be reduced.

The increase in China’s power is mainly the result of its economic strength and growing innovativeness, especially in the field of digital technology. If Germany does not start now to actively limit its economic and technological dependence on China, it will cease to be an innovator and instead become a market for next-generation Chinese technologies. Not only would this significantly diminish Germany’s competitiveness and prosperity (see the Action Plan for Technology and Foreign Policy); but it would also curtail Germany’s ability to take autonomous decisions on the international stage. In the EU context, the former Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker described this as the risk of losing what he called “weltpolitikfähigkeit,” the capacity to play a role in shaping global affairs. Capabilities in the field of digital technology are a key power resource in the 21st century. Various factors, including Germany’s limited control over data and the weakening of its position in international value chains, mean that Germany risks becoming a battleground in the great-power conflict between the United States and China. The controversy over whether to allow the Chinese network equipment provider Huawei to be involved in the development of the 5G network is just the first example of this.

Unless it changes course, Germany risks becoming less important in the eyes of a key ally, the United States. What matters to the United States is the great-power conflict in the Asia-Pacific region. Although Germany published an Indo-Pacific strategy for the first time in 2020, this can only be the first step in gaining capacity for action, together with the EU, in the Asia-Pacific region. Only if Germany and the EU contribute their own resources and develop a clear stance on the main great-power conflict of the 21st century will they stay relevant in this context and remain important to the United States as more than just a source of legitimacy.

The Divided EU and the Responsibility of the Member States

In view of the systemic challenge that China represents, there is growing recognition that the EU is the appropriate framework for action, not the individual member states. That said, EU foreign policy is a matter for the European Council, where all EU member states have a veto, and beyond recognizing that China is a key issue for EU foreign policy, the member states remain divided. This persistent lack of unity and the EU’s resulting inability to act are not only a reflection of a stronger pro-China stance by Central, Eastern, and South-Eastern European countries, especially Hungary; they are also the result of Germany’s prioritization of its national economic interests. Given the sizeable proportion of Germany’s foreign trade that is accounted for by China (see graphic), smaller EU member states do not have confidence that Europe will take united action if they come under pressure from China.


Despite this lack of unity, a realignment of the EU’s China policy is under way.

The European External Action Service (EEAS) sought to encourage this process in 2019 with a new “strategic outlook.” This document – approved by the heads of state and government – describes China for the first time not just as a partner and competitor, but also as a systemic rival. The European Commission is also emphasizing the EU’s international ambitions. It is striving for an “open strategic autonomy” that aims to reduce Europe’s dependencies both by developing its own capacities and by diversifying suppliers. Tellingly, this concept is increasingly being discussed from the perspective of reducing Europe’s dependence on China. Finally, the European Parliament has also reached a clear and critical stance on China in a series of resolutions in recent years.

The new German government should seize the initiative and once again become a driving force for a new EU-China policy.

Given, however, that the member states are responsible for foreign policy, a consensus is needed to achieve any significant increase in Europe’s capacity for action in relation to China. Yet Germany, in particular, has so far failed to push for this. Observers explain this by citing either Germany’s close economic ties with and dependence on China, or Chancellor Angela Merkel’s stance. Chancellor Merkel is said to have a great fascination with China, coupled with a conviction that China’s rise is unstoppable.

This was not always the case, however. When, around five years ago, Germany’s federal government joined forces with France and Italy to call for a screening mechanism for foreign direct investment, this sparked a debate about a new EU policy toward China. The background was the Chinese Midea Group’s acquisition of a majority stake in the Augsburg robotics company Kuka, which led to concerns that German expertise could fall into China’s hands, undermining Germany’s competitiveness. Once the screening mechanism for direct investment was adopted, however, many in Berlin believed they had solved the problem.

Today, the pressure to take action in relation to China is far greater than it was five years ago. The new federal government should seize the initiative and return to being a driving force in this context. Germany has a key role to play in the EU framework because it is the only EU member state that is still taken seriously by China, due to its innovativeness and the two countries’ mutual economic dependence.

Opportunities for a New German Policy Toward China

There is growing recognition in Germany and Europe that China represents a key challenge. This has created four windows of opportunity that should enable the new federal government to fundamentally realign Germany’s China policy:

1.     Growing Political Consensus in Germany:

In the run-up to the Bundestag election, there were already hints of a consensus between the parties of the Christian Democrats (CDU/CSU), the Social Democrats (SPD), the Greens, and the neo-liberal Free Democrats (FDP) that a political realignment is needed in relation to China. The manifestos of the Greens and the FDP, in particular, struck a critical tone on China. The CDU/CSU and SPD manifestos were more circumspect in their wording; that said, leading politicians from these parties are also taking a more distant tone in their statements. This trend could gain pace when the federal government is no longer headed by Angela Merkel.

Meanwhile, the federal ministries have already gone a step further. One example of this is the Indo-Pacific strategy produced by the Federal Foreign Office. There has also been a marked shift in how China is viewed in other federal ministries, particularly the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy.

2.     Growing Support from Business for a Realignment:

A realignment is made easier by the fact that European and German associations of trade and industry, which for decades emphasized China’s enormous growth potential, are increasingly drawing attention to the risks caused by the lack of a level playing field. The Federation of German Industries (BDI) was already referring to a systemic rivalry before the EEAS published its strategic outlook. Businesses, particularly in the automotive industry, will continue to press for a moderate policy toward China. But German and European businesses are no longer united in calling for a cooperative China policy that ignores the systemic challenges.

3.     Recognition of the Importance of EU Unity:

The analysis is already further advanced in the EU institutions than it is in Germany. The member states, too, have come to recognize that a common approach is the only viable option for the future. One example of this is the development of the “5G Toolbox,” a list of criteria drawn up jointly by several EU institutions for dealing with security risks in the development of a new cell phone network. This includes the role of Chinese network equipment suppliers, such as Huawei. Although the member states are still divided, a German initiative for a common EU policy toward China is unlikely to be rejected out of hand.

4.     American Pressure:

The United States now views China as the biggest international threat, with Russia a distant second. US President Joe Biden regards alliances with democracies as the most important resource in the confrontation with authoritarian China. The United States had already begun to call on the NATO states to take a harder line on China than under his predecessor, Donald Trump. To date, however, the EU has played a largely passive role as a source of legitimacy for US policy: The EU’s consent is intended to show that the United States is not simply acting to advance its national power-political interests. However, if the EU contributed its own resources and adopted a united position, it would be in America’s interest to coordinate with Europe and encourage it to play a more active role. Biden’s presidency offers new opportunities for the EU to shape policy if it can agree on a joint new course.


Following the Bundestag election, Germany should substantially change its policy toward China; a minor course correction is not enough. One constructive first step is the new Indo-Pacific strategy. It should be fleshed out in line with the EU’s central strategies and translated into political practice. However, the realignment of China policy not only requires a transformation in policies at the federal level; it is a task for society as a whole – for the public sector, business, and civil society. Germany should implement its new China policy in the EU context. The new federal government should adopt a principled approach that provides a clear compass in trade-offs between different interests and values. Germany’s new China policy must be reshaped in conceptual, institutional, and material terms within a short space of time.

1.     China Policy as a National Cross-Cutting Task

Conceptual Dimension

China’s rise is a megatrend. As in the case of other such trends – such as digitalization and decarbonization, which have a China dimension in their own right – national efforts are needed to ensure that not only the federal government but also German states, municipalities, the business community, and civil society are well placed to deal appropriately with the new realities. It is essential to recognize that China policy is not solely a matter of foreign policy. How China develops has an influence on German competitiveness, is vital in the context of action on climate change, and is important for the future of democratic freedoms and institutions. This means that Germany’s approach can no longer be guided by “change through trade”; instead, the focus must be on defending interests and values at home.

If Germany recognizes that China poses a systemic challenge, then the new federal government should provide a systemic response

Conversely, Germany’s approach to China is more than just a matter of domestic policy. The global future of democracy, the rule of law, universal human rights, free market economics, and free trade will depend primarily on whether the countries that represent and implement these values prove to be successful, competitive, capable of defending themselves, and resilient. If Germany recognizes that China poses a systemic challenge, then the new federal government should provide a systemic response.


Institutional Dimension

Two institutional changes should help to bring about this transformation:

  • China policy in the Federal Security Council: China policy should become a key issue for high-level coordination within the federal government. It makes sense for this to take place in the framework of a reformed Federal Security Council (see also the Action Plan for German Foreign Policy Structures and the Action Plan for Security and Defense Policy). The relevant directorates-general of the federal ministries should confer with one another ahead of each meeting of the Federal Security Council. In addition, a “China Staff” should be set up, composed of representatives of the academic and business communities and civil society; it should convene before each meeting of the Federal Security Council and advise it on Germany’s approach to China.
  • Decentralized China information offices: To take account of the fact that China is more than “just” a federal policy challenge, the new federal government should develop and fund decentralized China information offices in close coordination with Germany’s states and municipalities. These information offices should be created on a decentralized basis across the whole of Germany, in close consultation with the states and municipalities, and should develop targeted information, advisory, and educational services for various groups in society. This includes companies and municipal administrations facing offers of Chinese investment, as well as public and private research institutions considering the possibility of cooperation with Chinese partners. The same applies to schools, where China is not just a subject covered in lessons; their students use Chinese software and apps, such as TikTok, on a daily basis. The decentralized information offices should provide targeted, practical information and continuing education programs.

Material Dimension

The funding required for the China information offices is fairly limited and should be provided by the federal level. The whole-of-society dimension of the systemic competition with China represents a much bigger financial challenge. Germany will have to strengthen its innovativeness and competitiveness, particularly with regard to digital technology (see also the Action Plan for Technology and Foreign Policy).


Agreement on the new Federal Security Council and the associated China Staff should ideally have been reached in the coalition negotiations, and they should take up their work as soon as possible after the new federal government is sworn in. The decentralized China information offices should be set up by the end of 2023 during a two-year pilot phase. They should subsequently be fully developed and evaluated at least every five years.

2.     Germany’s China Policy in the Framework of the EU

Conceptual Dimension

The European countries will only be able to regain their capacity for action in relation to China in the EU framework. With this in mind, the new federal government should become a driving force in the discussion in the EU. The strategic outlook published by the EEAS offers a suitable starting point. At present, it describes China simultaneously as a partner, competitor, and systemic rival. But the question of exactly how this triad should be defined remains contentious. One obvious option is to define China’s role based on the policy field in question. For example, China would be a partner in the context of tackling climate change, a competitor in the struggle for global market share, and a systemic rival when it comes to universal human rights.

European countries will only be able to regain their capacity for action in relation to China in the EU framework.

The federal government should, however, categorically reject any such approach in which China’s classification depends on the policy field in question. Instead, it should make concrete proposals as to how the systemic rivalry should affect partnership and competition with China. Equally, Europe must determine what the need for cooperation with China means for the systemic rivalry. This should not be defined in the abstract, but rather on the basis of concrete policy fields. One example is action to counter climate change, which should not be regarded as a policy field based purely on partnership. China is the biggest emitter of greenhouse gases and thus an essential partner when it comes to climate action. At the same time, China and Germany are competing with each other in relation to climate-neutral technologies, and this competition is not taking place on a level playing field.

Institutional Dimension

The new federal government should also press for institutional reforms to strengthen the EU’s capacity for action in relation to China:

  • Introduction of qualified majority voting: Given the lack of unity among the EU member states, the unanimity principle in European foreign and security policy is largely resulting in deadlock. Even though the prospects of success are low, the new federal government should make a push to abolish the unanimity principle in full or in part.
  • Establishment of an EU pioneer group on China: In parallel to this, it should invite the other EU member states to establish an “open pioneer group on China.” The members of this pioneer group should develop common positions on China, take coordinated action, and introduce the principle of qualified majority voting internally in line with the EU’s rules. It is true that this amounts to a surrender of sovereign rights, but the group must recognize that capacity for action in relation to China cannot be achieved nationally or within the framework of the EU as a whole until the unanimity principle is abolished.

    However, the pioneer group should operate on the basis of a narrow definition of China policy – one that is limited to foreign policy issues and to direct interference by China in the internal affairs of the countries in the pioneer group. A broad, systemic definition of China policy, as advocated in much of this action plan, would only result in the failure of the pioneer group. The principle of EU primacy should apply, meaning that the pioneer group would only act if the EU institutions, especially the European Council, are unable to reach agreement. The pioneer group on China should be open to all EU partners and consult closely with all EU member states and key partners such as the United Kingdom.
  • Coordination with like-minded partners: Germany should propose the creation of new dialogue formats between the EU and like-minded partners, and the deepening of existing dialogue formats. The transatlantic dialogue in the framework of the new EU-US Trade and Technology Council should be supplemented by cooperation with the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, Japan, or India. These dialogue formats not only offer the opportunity to coordinate with like-minded partners, but also force the EU to coordinate its positions internally, especially regarding the definition, design, and implementation of the “open strategic autonomy” being pursued by the European Commission.


Material Dimension

The costs of re-anchoring China policy in the EU are limited. The new federal government should, however, signal its willingness to provide financial resources for the pioneer group should this be necessary. From a financial perspective, the more significant issue will be Germany’s involvement in funding EU initiatives to strengthen the EU’s open strategic autonomy, not least in the field of new technologies.


The federal government should provide its conceptual input by the end of 2022. The Federal Security Council’s “China Staff” (see part one of the recommendations) should submit concrete proposals to the federal government by the summer of 2022 and be available to provide advice. The push to introduce qualified majority decision-making and the initiative to establish the open pioneer group should take place over the same period. The same applies to initiatives for coordination with like-minded partners.

3.     Compass for a Principled China Policy

Conceptual Dimension

The aim should be to communicate ‘red lines’ to China and reach agreement within the EU on joint responses in the event that they are crossed.

Foreign policy decisions are often trade-offs. This is especially true of the multidimensional relationship with the People’s Republic of China. The new federal government should work together with the EU partners in the pioneer group to develop a compass for a principled China policy. Three dimensions are important in this context: (a) the EU’s core interests, (b) the EU’s potential influence, and (c) the scale of China’s infringements of values. Regarding the first and third dimensions, it is necessary to define the core interests and values on which the EU can reach agreement; regarding the second dimension, the key question is what means the EU is willing to use to regain influence in relation to China. To this end, it would make sense to begin by drawing up a matrix to clarify convergences and divergences within the EU/the pioneer group. The aim should be to communicate red lines to China and to reach agreement within the EU/the pioneer group on joint responses in the event that these lines are crossed. China’s growing presence and democracy-eroding influence within the EU should be a particular priority.

Institutional Dimension

The development of a policy that takes a more principled approach should be supported by two further coordination mechanisms:

  • Coordinated protection against threats: A key aspect of protecting fundamental values and the political system is strengthening intelligence cooperation within the EU. In addition, it is important to not only systematically uncover disinformation campaigns, as the EU institutions are doing – albeit with inadequate resources – but also to publicly expose these campaigns in a high-profile manner that attracts media attention.
  • Services for Chinese citizens in Europe: As overseas Chinese citizens are the focus of Chinese activities in Europe, Germany and the EU should also invest in an information service for them. This should offer daily news in Chinese about developments in Europe, and impart information in Chinese about the fundamental values, freedoms, and functioning of European democracies. This service should be aimed at Chinese people living temporarily or permanently in the EU, such as students. Currently, they receive their information almost exclusively from the propaganda issued by the Chinese embassies. In addition, Chinese-language assistance services and contact points must be created that offer overseas Chinese citizens confidential and effective protection in situations in which they are threatened.
  • Strengthening multilateralism: During Donald Trump’s presidency, China benefited from the withdrawal of the United States from several international organizations. Where China is integrating into existing institutions, this should be welcomed by Germany and the EU. However, Germany should work with like-minded partners inside and outside the EU to counter those Chinese initiatives that are developing outside of these institutions, particularly the Belt and Road Initiative. In close coordination with the EU member states and like-minded partners, especially the United States, the United Kingdom, Japan, Australia, and India, Germany should actively participate in creating an alternative to Chinese infrastructure assistance. The EU’s Global Gateway, the Blue Dot Network, and the “Build Back Better” initiative are suitable starting points. The key advantage for partner countries should be the transparency and dependability of the Western initiatives.

Material Dimension

Decentralized information services and contact points for overseas Chinese citizens in Germany should be financed by the federal level, potentially in the framework of the China information offices. Germany’s financial contribution will be very important when it comes to developing an alternative to the Belt and Road Initiative. Germany should keep its financial contributions to multilateral institutions stable.


The new federal government should provide its conceptual input to the EU by the end of 2022. The development of decentralized information and protection services for overseas Chinese citizens across Germany should take place gradually over the course of the electoral term. Measures to strengthen multilateralism are a long-term priority. That said, it is important for the European infrastructure initiative, as an alternative to China’s Belt and Road Initiative, to take concrete shape and finance its first projects in the course of 2022.

Bibliographic data

Rühlig, Tim. “Action Plan for China and Foreign Policy.” German Council on Foreign Relations. September 2021.

This Action Plan is an edited and slightly updated translation of the German text that was originally published on September 20, 2021, as part of DGAP Report No. 17 Smarte Souveränität (“Smart Sovereignty”). It was written in the framework of the project “Ideenwerkstatt Deutsche Außenpolitik” about which you can find more information here.


An English PDF of this text, including the infographics, can be found as a chapter in the DGAP Report “Smart Sovereignty.” Download the full report here.

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