Germany finds compromise on Chinese terminal deal in Hamburg

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BERLIN (AP) — The German government on Wednesday agreed to a compromise that will allow a Chinese shipping group to take a reduced stake in the operator of a container terminal at the port of Hamburg, fearing the deal could pose a national security risk.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s cabinet has agreed to allow COSCO Shipping to acquire only a less than 25% stake – instead of the previously planned 35% – in the Tollerort terminal of Hamburg port logistics company HHLA, the economy ministry said in a statement.

The ministry said the decision was made to prevent a “strategic investment” by COSCO in the terminal and “reduces the acquisition to a purely financial investment”.

“The reason for the partial ban is the existence of a threat to public order and security,” the ministry said.

The 25% threshold – above which an investor in a company can block decisions in Germany – cannot be exceeded in the future without a new investment review process, the German ministry said. He added that COSCO was prohibited from contractually granting itself veto power over strategic business or personnel decisions.

The question of whether Chinese participation in the port should be allowed has caused a political dispute as Germany grapples with the consequences of its reliance, until recently, on Russian natural gas.

Lawmakers from the Green Party and Free Democrats, who formed a coalition government last year with Scholz’s Social Democrats, openly criticized the initial proposal last week.. Six German government ministries initially rejected it on the grounds that COSCO, already a major customer, might get too much leverage.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin reacted to the latest developments at a regular press conference.

“Cooperation should be mutually beneficial,” Wang said in Beijing. “We hope the relevant side will see practical cooperation between China and Germany rationally and stop making undue hype on the issue.”

Scholz, who is due to visit China early next month with a delegation of German business representatives, favored COSCO’s participation in an HHLA deal, German media reported.

On Wednesday, Scholz’s spokeswoman told reporters that “the Chancellor believes that participation as now approved is not a strategic dependency.”

Scholz “made it clear that this was not a sale of parts of the port of Hamburg, but only a stake in a single terminal”, added Christiane Hoffmann.

Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock had argued that Berlin should avoid repeating with China the mistakes it had made with Russia. German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier has also warned against too much reliance on China.

“We have to learn lessons and learning lessons means we have to reduce one-sided dependencies wherever possible, and that applies in particular to China,” Steinmeier told public broadcaster ARD during a visit on Tuesday. in Ukraine.

German intelligence agencies said earlier this month that China’s financial might could become a risk for Germany, especially given the strong economic and scientific ties between the two countries.

During a hearing with lawmakers, the head of Germany’s domestic intelligence agency, Thomas Haldenwang, drew a comparison to the current geopolitical turmoil of the war in Ukraine, saying “Russia is the storm, China is climate change“.

COSCO also has stakes in several other European ports, including the main Greek port of Piraeus.

Hamburg port logistics company HHLA said it wanted to discuss “in a timely manner” with COSCO about adjusting agreements on the Chinese company’s entry into the HHLA terminal, German news agency dpa reported. .

“We welcome the fact that a solution has been found in factual and constructive talks with the German government,” CEO Angela Titzrath said, adding they had time until the end of the year. to discuss, negotiate and close the deal with COSCO.

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