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Ex-VW boss Herbert Diess on China at "Markus Lanz"

Contrary to the current trend, the former VW CEO Herbert Diess made few critical comments on the economic integration with China on ZDF. The country makes "a major contribution to our prosperity".

At the latest since it became known that the Chinese state shipping company Cosco may take over 24.9 percent of a container terminal in the Port of Hamburg, the influence of the Asian giant on the German economy has been the subject of heated debate. Chancellor Olaf Scholz had campaigned strongly for the deal in the city where he was once Interior Senator and First Mayor. The SPD politician was also criticized for not being critical enough of the regime there during his recent trip to China. Since then, the Federal Cabinet has prohibited two Chinese companies from entering German companies (November 9, 2022). According to Federal Minister of Economics Robert Habeck, one of the issues at stake is the sale of chip production by the Dortmund company Elmos to the Swedish company Silex, a subsidiary of the Chinese manufacturer Sai Microelectronics. According to several media reports, the second case is said to be about the Bavarian semiconductor company ERS Electronic.

Above all these debates, there is a fear that has become even greater since Russia invaded Ukraine: is Germany making itself too dependent on China, first economically and then also politically? Herbert Diess, who hasn't been CEO of the Volkswagen Group since the beginning of September , sees no great danger in this regard: Dependencies are "not bad per se, because they force you to talk to each other," he said in the ZDF program "Lanz".

"Not just a negative dependency"

With this statement, Diess was primarily referring to the technology for wind turbines, which was invented and industrialized in Germany. "And then, due to clumsy politics, we failed to keep it going here and lost it to China," said the Austrian. China is now the world's largest manufacturer of wind power and solar technology, but Germany can change its unsustainable, dramatic, technological dependency at any time. "We can either subsidize industry in Germany or protect it from imports, and then it will be rebuilt quickly."

Diess continues: "Not only do we have a negative dependency, but China also makes a major contribution to our prosperity." And not only in Germany, but also in the USA, for example. Here he refers above all to the car industry, which he knows very well. "Half of the global market is China," says Diess. For his ex-employer VW, China is by far the most important market.

Xinjiang? "Better to stay there"

Volkswagen also finds itself in a special situation: The group operates numerous car plants in China, one of which is in the Xinjiang region, where the Chinese government oppresses the Uyghur minority living there – which has since been documented several times by human rights activists . Although the plant was founded before his time at VW, he always took the position that it was better to stay and maintain that location than to close it. "The presence of an international company in such a region always leads to openness," said Diess.

The former car manager, who was on the BMW board before joining VW and moved to Wolfsburg shortly before the diesel scandal broke in September 2015, also found critical words about the Chinese government in "Lanz". He said of President Xi Jinping, "I find him very unhappy in politics, which is very strongly Leninist, which is Marxist, which pushes back the private sector." This is leading China into a phase of lower growth and ultimately will not work for the country.

Note: The photo show shows Herbert Diess at a meeting with Tesla boss Elon Musk in September 2020.


Under the chairmanship of Herbert Diess, the Volkswagen Group had expanded its business relations with China - and thus made itself more dependent on this country. In this respect, it would have been surprising if the Austrian had found more critical words in relation to what is currently the world's largest economic power. In doing so, he would have called his own work at VW into question.


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