Hamburg: government compromise in the controversial port deal in sight

A compromise is emerging in the dispute within the federal government about Chinese involvement in a container terminal in the port of Hamburg.

Hamburg: government compromise in the controversial port deal in sight

A compromise is emerging in the dispute within the federal government about Chinese involvement in a container terminal in the port of Hamburg. Accordingly, the Chinese Cosco group should be allowed to participate in the terminal - but only with a smaller share. Cosco should not be able to take over 35 percent of the Tollerort terminal as planned, but only 24.9 percent.

According to information from the German Press Agency, the departmental vote on this compromise was still ongoing on Tuesday. According to information from government circles, the federal government departments involved see a limit to 24.9 percent as an "emergency solution" to prevent worse things from happening - namely that Cosco, as originally planned, takes a 35 percent stake in the operator of the Tollerort terminal as well as a managing director and would get objection rights. A complete ban is still considered the right way, the departments have made it clear.

It is becoming apparent, however, that a decision on a complete ban on participation in the cabinet cannot be reached because the Chancellery has not put it on the agenda, it said. If the cabinet does not decide this week, the sale will automatically be approved as agreed by Cosco and the Hamburg logistics group HHLA. It is important to prevent this.

It is unclear how the Chinese group will react to the new situation. According to dpa information, the solution should be coordinated with the Chinese side. At the Hamburg port logistics company HHLA, it is assumed that the Chinese will support the compromise solution with a participation reduced to 24.9 percent, according to company circles. During the talks with the federal government there has always been feedback with the Chinese company Cosco in the past few days.

The Chinese side is likely to support a compromise

According to dpa information, the compromise should have been agreed with the Chinese side. At the Hamburg port logistics company HHLA, it is assumed that the Chinese will support the compromise solution with a stake reduced to 24.9 percent, according to company circles on Tuesday. During the talks with the federal government there has always been feedback with the Chinese company Cosco in the past few days.

According to information from the "Süddeutsche Zeitung" on Monday evening, the six ministries that had previously rejected the deal had agreed on a compromise. Accordingly, the federal government will decide on a so-called partial refusal. With a stake of 24.9 percent, Cosco, as a minority shareholder, could not formally exert any influence on the management.

Under the impression of recent experiences with Russia and the dependence on its gas supplies, a political dispute broke out over the question of whether Chinese participation should be allowed. Economics Minister Robert Habeck (Greens) warned of new dependencies, as did FDP politicians.

Scholz: Many questions need clarification

Chancellor Olaf Scholz (SPD) recently emphasized that nothing had been decided yet and that many questions still had to be clarified. He also pointed out that it was not about selling the port. It is about a stake in a terminal, as is the case in some western European ports.

It was actually the line of the Ministry of Economic Affairs and other ministers to prohibit the business with reference to security risks. However, according to media reports, the Chancellery was pushing for the entry to take place.

The FDP politician Marie-Agnes Strack-Zimmermann described the possible compromise as a mistake. "As little as there is a little bit pregnant in nature, there is just as little a bit Chinese in the port deal in Hamburg. Either you get involved in the deal or you leave it," said the chairwoman of the defense committee on Tuesday of the Germans press agency. And: "The "compromise" with less Chinese participation is another serious mistake in times of great uncertainty. The flexible back belongs in the Hamburg Ballet, not in the Port of Hamburg."

criticism of the Greens

The Green foreign politician Anton Hofreiter also rejected a Chinese participation of 24.9 percent. China would have "significantly less influence" than with a share of 35 percent. "But it would still be critical, because we would still have a dictatorial regime that buys infrastructure from us with the help of state-owned companies," Hofreiter said on Tuesday in the ARD morning magazine.

In September 2021, the Hamburg port logistics company HHLA and the Chinese terminal operator Cosco Shipping Ports Limited agreed on a 35 percent Chinese stake in the HHLA terminal in Tollerort (CTT) in the Hanseatic city. The Cosco Group also operates the world's fourth-largest shipping company, whose container ships have been handled by HHLA at the CTT for 40 years. In return for the stake, Cosco wants to make the CTT a preferred transhipment point in Europe.

The China Institute Merics warned of risks. Analyst Jacob Gunter told the German Press Agency in Berlin: "Cosco and its investment in the port of Hamburg pose various risks to Germany's security and economic interests." Cosco is not just another multinational company simply looking for a return - it is a tool used by the Chinese government to advance its strategic goals. The more dependent Germany becomes on investments and deals with Cosco, the more influence Cosco and party officials can have on German China policy.

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