Germany doubles down on China port deal despite new security concerns
Berlin is ‘sticking’ to an agreement allowing Chinese shipping giant Cosco to buy 24.99 percent of shares of a Hamburg port terminal.
BY HANS VON DER BURCHARD, MAY 10, 2023 9:13 PM CET
BERLIN — The German government said Wednesday it will proceed with a controversial plan to sell parts of a Hamburg port terminal to China’s state-owned Cosco despite fresh security concerns and protests from members of the ruling coalition.
Chancellor Olaf Scholz pushed through the deal last October allowing shipping giant Cosco to acquire 24.99 percent of shares in the Hamburg Tollerort terminal, even though several Cabinet members had raised objections. But the deal was thrown into doubt last month when it emerged that German security authorities had declared the facility as “critical infrastructure,” meaning the acquisition could have faced heightened restrictions.
Yet chief government spokesperson Steffen Hebestreit said Wednesday the government was “sticking” to its decision from October without making any amendments, even though the terminal “is now considered an operator of critical infrastructure.” He did not provide further details explaining the reasons behind the decision.
POLITICO reported late last month that Scholz, a Social Democrat and former Hamburg mayor, was strongly pushing for the 24.99 percent deal to remain valid. This drew renewed criticism from his coalition partners in the environmentalist Green and business-friendly Free Democrat parties, who had called for reassessing the deal as well as potentially reducing Cosco’s shares in the terminal.
The new green light comes just six weeks before a planned summit of German and Chinese government officials on June 20 in Berlin. Critics argue the partial port acquisition is part of a targeted investment strategy through which Beijing wants to bring infrastructure throughout Europe under its influence.
Hamburg’s port logistics company HHLA said it “welcomes” the approval, adding “all issues within the scope of the investment screening process were clarified jointly in intensive, constructive talks” and the deal’s transaction would be finalized “soon.”