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Germany’s Far-Right Pivot to China

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Germany’s Far-Right Pivot to China

As the AfD surges in the polls, its China-friendly foreign policy has come under closer scrutiny.

Germany’s Far-Right Pivot to China

Elections posters for Hesse state elections of right wing party AfD, top, reading “realists vote for AfD” and of the left party reading “red card against racism” are fixed on a lamp pole in Frankfurt, Germany, Oct. 2, 2023.

Credit: AP Photo/Michael Probst

On the first day of October, the German news portal “t-online” published an investigative report  titled “China-gate of the AfD’s Prime Contender.” The report unraveled a web of intricate connections between Maximilian Krah, the prime contender for the upcoming European elections of the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party, and the corridors of power in Beijing. The investigation detailed the party’s potential financial backing from Beijing, and its nurturing of relations with institutions closely aligned with the AfD, all the while cultivating a China-friendly network nestled in Saxony, Krah’s domain.

As the AfD gains ground in German polls, in which it is currently positioned second behind only the center-right Christian Democratic party (CDU), there is a pressing need to examine Krah’s and the AfD’s China policy.

Since his rise to prominence within the AfD in 2022, Krah has propelled the party toward a distinctly China-friendly stance. Krah’s close affiliation with fellow AfD luminary Björn Höcke, a pivotal figure in the now-dissolved right-wing extremist faction known as “Der Flügel,” is a stark reminder of the party’s shift toward the far right, even after the faction’s disbandment in 2020. Der Flügel was disbanded after the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution called it “an endeavor against the free democratic basic order” of Germany. However, the enduring influence of this group on the AfD’s political evolution remains an open secret in Germany politics, as Krah’s ascent to the upper echelons of the AfD shows.

In concert with his like-minded comrades within the AfD, Krah steadfastly repudiates the feminist and values-based foreign policy championed by the present center-left federal government, particularly by Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock of the environmentalist and social liberal Green Party. Krah ardently promotes an alternate foreign and economic policy paradigm, one that diminishes the significance of issues such as human rights transgressions or military assertiveness vis-à-vis other nations. Instead, Krah espouses a vision in which Germany forges a robust alliance with Russia, underwritten by Chinese investment, as a counterbalance to the influence of the United States.

The AfD’s distinctiveness in the German political landscape lies in its steadfast opposition to mainstream politics. Rooted in anti-Americanism and characterized by a pro-Russian stance, the party has recently extended its critical perspective to China. A notable incident transpired last year, when a delegation from the AfD embarked on a trailblazing journey to China, challenging the prevailing European and German geopolitical status quo. In this context Peter Felser, deputy chair of the German Chinese parliamentary group and a member of the AfD’s delegation, championed impartiality in the Sino-American rivalry, advocating against strategies like “de-risking” and “decoupling.”

Tino Chrupalla, co-chairman of the AfD, echoed these sentiments, urging restraint in the Taiwan conflict in early 2023. He underscored the importance of Germany and Europe maintaining a balanced approach due to China’s crucial role as a trade partner and a source of vital raw materials for Germany industry.

Krah’s China-friendly stance and his entanglement with Beijing reflect a broader trend within the AfD, with a pro-China posture poised to become a hallmark of the party’s foreign policy platform. As the AfD garners increasing support – it is currently polling at a formidable 20 percent – questions naturally arise regarding the potential impact on Germany’s future China policy and its relationship with the United States.

In Germany’s multi-party landscape, coalition politics are the linchpin of federal government participation. Presently, none of the major German parties is willing to entertain the idea of forming a coalition government with the AfD. Even the CDU, who could potentially form a right-wing coalition government with the AfD following the examples of Austria or Finland, has staunchly opposed any such cooperation, erecting what is now colloquially termed a “firewall.” However, voices within the CDU have recently emerged, advocating for at least considering the support of a minority government with AfD backing.

Historically, the CDU, as the party of former Chancellor Angela Merkel, has taken a moderate stance on China, much in line with mainstream German politics. The CDU is traditionally a staunch advocate of the transatlantic alliance; trying to align with the AfD, despite its positions on foreign policy matters concerning Russia and China, would represent a significant departure from the CDU’s established positions.

Nevertheless, the integration of political outliers with unconventional stances is not an unknown phenomenon in German politics. Take, for instance, the far-left party known as “Die Linke” (the left), which emerged from the Socialist Unity Party that governed East Germany for four decades. Despite holding divergent policy positions, including advocating for a German NATO withdrawal/disbandment, “Die Linke” has frequently found itself assimilated into center-left coalitions at the subnational level.

It is also essential to acknowledge that all major German political parties maintain robust ties with China, exemplified by the CDU’s official party dialogue with the Chinese Communist Party. Notably, prominent ex-ministers, including some who currently hold parliamentary positions, are actively advocating for Beijing’s interests within Germany. This intricate network of affiliations underscores the extensive influence China wields within the corridors of German politics.

Conversely, in recent years, German security authorities have sometimes erred on the side of caution. They have publicly raised suspicions of Chinese espionage, even in cases where the evidence did not substantiate their claims. This cautious approach reflects the growing paranoia regarding Chinese influence in Germany.

The revelations surrounding Maximilian Krah’s ties to China and the AfD’s evolving foreign policy stance have set the stage for a trend-setting decision. As the AfD continues to gain strength, questions about the future of Germany’s China policy and its broader alignment with the United States will inevitably arise.

The AfD seems to envision a more nationalistic and isolationist Germany. While history offers a sobering reminder of the consequences of such ideologies, the modern global balance of power provides a starkly different context to previous episodes of German nationalism. The rise of the far-right in Germany may very well be aligned with Beijing’s interests. In this light, the CDU’s ongoing deliberations regarding potential cooperation with the AfD signal a potential paradigm shift in German politics, one that may have profound ramifications for Germany’s position in the global arena.