For all the virtues of Western-style democracy, the complexities of its workings can be unsettling for foreign partners. Beijing faces such uncertainty after German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s favoured successor, Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, decided to resign as head of the country’s main governing party. Her announcement following an election scandal after just 14 months as leader of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) has caused political shock waves. But there is also need for China, the European Union and others to be anxious about the future direction of the continent’s most important power. Merkel does not intend to stand for re-election next year and Kramp-Karrenbauer, also the German defence minister, was being groomed to replace her. But a number of gaffes raised doubts about whether she was right for the job and the undermining of her authority by the party’s local politicians in a recent state election confirmed her inability to garner respect. They disobeyed CDU policy and joined forces with the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) to elect a little-known liberal candidate as regional premier. For mainstream centrist parties to have dealings with the AfD is taboo; its anti-immigrant stance has won increasing support among voters, but its populist policies also aim to erode free speech and the media, drawing comparisons with the rise of Nazism. Merkel’s condemnation was understandable, as was Kramp-Karrenbauer’s decision. A leadership race is likely in the summer, although there is no stand-out replacement. The incident highlights increasing fragmentation of German politics and discord within the CDU and is likely to further strain relations with the party’s federal coalition partner, the Social Democrats. Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer was Merkel’s ‘heir’ as chancellor. Now she’s quit Germany is the EU’s foremost champion and economic powerhouse, although its growth has slumped of late due to falling demand for its vehicles, machinery and tools by its biggest trading partner, China. Merkel is a staunch supporter of the Chinese relationship, having visited China 13 times in the past 14 years. But the CDU is divided on ties, some lawmakers raising concerns about Hong Kong, human rights and whether Beijing can be trusted to honour promises on further opening its market. Debate has been heated on whether Huawei should be involved in developing the country’s 5G network amid pressure from the United States that the firm is a front for Chinese espionage, a claim never proven. Firm ties between China and Germany could be threatened by political instability. Germany also has a vital role in helping the EU face its challenges, shoring up multilateralism and fighting climate change. The CDU has to overcome its problems and find a leader with Merkel’s standing.