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FRANKFURT: German Finance Minister Christian Lindner voiced concern Wednesday over his country’s heavy reliance on trade with China, saying Europe’s top economy needed to “diversify” its export destinations.

“My concern is that... we have a strong economic inter-connectedness with China,” Lindner said in an interview with Die Zeit weekly.

“We need to diversify international relations, including when it comes to our exports,” he said.

Tensions between China and the West are on the rise following Beijing’s refusal to condemn Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, whereas the European Union and the United States have imposed sweeping sanctions on Moscow.

Germany’s centre-left-led government came to power in December vowing “dialogue and toughness” in its dealings with China, with a focus on human rights after the commerce-driven pragmatism of previous administrations.

“Perhaps the time has come when we should preferentially do business with those who are not only trading partners, but also want to be partners in values,” Lindner said.

China was again Germany’s largest trading partner in 2021, with the countries exchanging goods worth 245 billion euros ($268 billion).

A survey by the Ifo economic institute published late last month found that 46 percent of German manufacturers source “key inputs” from China. Of those companies, “almost one in two” plans to reduce these imports in the future, it said.

Even before the Ukraine conflict, the EU’s relations with Beijing had been battered by a series of disagreements, including over China’s treatment of the Uyghur minority and trade coercion of EU member Lithuania over Taiwan.

Experts say, however, the bloc remains reluctant to go too far in pressuring Beijing a time when soaring energy prices and inflation are already causing major economic pain.

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