China has expressed strong dissatisfaction with Germany after its foreign minister, Annalena Baerbock, referred to Chinese President Xi Jinping as a “dictator” during an interview with Fox News. The remarks were made in the context of discussing Russia’s war on Ukraine. In response to her comments, China summoned Germany’s ambassador to China, Patricia Flor, to protest. The Chinese Foreign Ministry called the remarks “extremely absurd” and a “political provocation.” Notably, the ministry’s official transcript omitted this exchange, a practice it often follows when it deems content-sensitive.
This is not the first time China has reacted strongly to foreign leaders’ descriptions of President Xi. In June, U.S. President Joe Biden also referred to Xi as a “dictator,” which led to a sharp rebuke from Beijing, citing violations of diplomatic etiquette. Xi’s predecessor, Jiang Zemin, similarly objected to being called a “dictator” during an interview with American journalist Mike Wallace in 2000, emphasizing that his leadership style did not align with that description.
Germany has a complex relationship with China, its largest trading partner, and Baerbock’s comments come amid increasing scrutiny of this relationship, particularly following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Germany has been criticized for its dependence on Russian gas, which parallels concerns about its ties with China. These concerns have been further exacerbated by Beijing’s refusal to condemn Russia’s actions in Ukraine, its growing partnership with Moscow, and its military activities in the South China Sea and toward Taiwan.
Germany has sought to recalibrate its relationship with China, as evidenced by a strategy paper released in July that labeled China as a “partner, competitor, and systemic rival.” It also outlined plans to reduce dependence on China in critical sectors such as medicine and electric car battery production.
Annalena Baerbock, a member of Germany’s Green Party and the current foreign minister, has advocated for a tougher stance on China, particularly on issues related to human rights and Taiwan. She has characterized China as a systemic rival and warned against attempts by China to control Taiwan.
Baerbock’s remarks reflect the shifting dynamics in Germany’s approach to China and the growing concerns among European capitals regarding China’s assertiveness and its implications for international relations.