In a speech to an Australian think tank, Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock said Beijing was “more and more of a competitor and a systemic rival”.
She said Germany wants to bypass China by importing lithium – used in batteries, including for electric vehicles – directly from Australia.
Her remarks came as government advisers said Berlin’s climate forecasts were overconfident and that emissions would not fall as much as hoped.
Ms Baerbock was speaking to Australia’s Lowy Institute by video link after her trip to the Indo-Pacific was cancelled due to a plane malfunction in Abu Dhabi.
Germany wants to “gain partners” in the region who “choose to work with us more closely because both of us will gain from it”, Ms Baerbock said.
“We see how numerous countries are pivoting more towards China,” she said. “Often this is due to a lack of alternatives. We would like to change this.”
Ministers in Berlin recently signed off a new China strategy under the mantra of “de-risking, not decoupling”.
Ms Baerbock said China remained a partner on issues such as climate change and a competitor in trade and investment.
But “increasingly, China is a rival when it comes to the very fundamentals of how we live together in this world”, she said.
She told the Australian audience that “your security matters to our security” as she called for diplomats to finalise an EU-Australia trade deal.
Security is “more than protection from military conflict and violence” and includes “not being subject to coercion or blackmail”, she said, referring to Chinese economic pressure on Australia over a series of disputes.
Germany “also wants to strengthen our partnerships on natural resources that are key to the green energy transition”, Ms Baerbock said.
Australia exports most of its lithium to China, which dominates processing of the metal and sells it on to Europe.
The EU buys more than 90 per cent of its processed lithium from China, “so the key question is: How can we diminish this risky detour?” Ms Baerbock said.
Germany this week opened an embassy in Fiji, its first in the Pacific islands, in a show of solidarity with island states who are especially vulnerable to climate change.
Fighting the effects of global warming will be the “key focus” of diplomats in Fiji as they deal with “climate impacts that can no longer be reversed”, said Ms Baerbock, a former leader of the Green party.
Vulnerable states are looking to rich countries such as Germany to pay for what is known as “loss and damage”.
A deal on a loss and damage fund was agreed in principle at Cop27 in Egypt last year, and Berlin “wants to see substantial decisions made on this at Cop28 in Dubai”, Ms Baerbock said.
Ministers were handed a rebuke on Tuesday when experts said Germany’s climate plans “fall short of the legal requirement” to slash emissions by 2030.
An expert climate council said it was “sceptical” about Germany’s forecasts based on a “deviation between reality and the assumptions of the federal government”.
Economy Minister Robert Habeck said the planned measures would cover 80 per cent of the “climate action gap that the previous government left behind”.