Ten years ago, in June 2011, U.S. President Barack Obama rolled out the red carpet for German Chancellor Angela Merkel. At a White House state dinner, he anointed Merkel as the European standard-bearer for freedom, presenting her with the Presidential Medal of Freedom and praising her as an “eloquent voice for human rights and dignity around the world.” A moved chancellor committed herself to standing up for freedom, intonating that “living in freedom and defending freedom are two sides of one and the same coin, for the precious gift of freedom doesn’t come naturally but has to be fought for, nurtured, and defended time and time again.”
This Thursday, Merkel comes to Washington in a very different role: as nemesis of President Joe Biden’s China policy. That the free world is in a decisive struggle against an authoritarian China is one of the few things Democrats and Republicans can agree on. Merkel has chosen not to abide by this bipartisan consensus. During the last year of her term, Merkel has invested all her energy into deepening Germany’s and Europe’s economic ties with China, pushing through an investment agreement with China late last year. This was the chancellor’s welcome present for the Biden administration, signaling her opposition to a united trans-Atlantic front against Beijing. Even more tellingly, Merkel chose to remain silent in March when Beijing, in an unprecedented move, slapped sanctions on German and European parliamentarians and researchers.