Controversial visit to China for German Chancellor Olaf Scholz

“More” cooperation despite “different points of view”: German Chancellor Olaf Scholz spared Xi Jinping on Friday during a controversial visit to Beijing, in a context of Western defiance of the authoritarian regime Chinese. This trip of a few hours is the first of an EU and G7 leader in China since the start of the pandemic almost three years ago.

This visit, which comes just after the reappointment of President Xi as head of the Chinese Communist Party and the country, is seen with a critical eye in Germany, but also in France, Brussels and Washington.

“Economic cooperation”

Received shortly after his arrival in Beijing, Olaf Scholz told Xi Jinping that he wanted to “further develop” economic cooperation with China. “It is good that we can discuss all issues here, including those on which we have different points of view. That’s what the exchange is for,” Scholz told his interlocutor in the majestic grounds of the People’s Palace overlooking Tiananmen Square.

“We are meeting at a time of great tension caused in particular by Russia’s war in Ukraine”, underlined the Chancellor, while China claims its “neutrality” – seen by Westerners as tacit support for the Kremlin.

For his part, Xi Jinping felt that Scholz’s trip “strengthens practical cooperation” with Germany, according to comments reported by Chinese public television. The German Chancellor is to meet in the afternoon with Chinese Premier Li Keqiang.

Military guard and PCR

Upon getting off the plane, the German delegation, which numbers around sixty people, was greeted by military guards and health personnel in full suits to carry out screening tests for Covid-19. According to Berlin, Scholz performed his with a German doctor, but supervised by Chinese personnel. The strict zero Covid policy has led the world’s second largest economy to close its borders since 2020.

Reconnecting with the visits to China of his predecessor, the Christian Democrat Angela Merkel (12 trips in sixteen years in power), the Social Democrat Scholz is accompanied by a delegation of industrialists, including the bosses of Volkswagen and BASF. However, the dependence of the first economy of the EU on this autocracy, where German companies realize a significant part of their profits, is increasingly questioned.

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” Loss of trustworthy “

“With his trip to China, the Chancellor is pursuing a foreign policy which leads to a loss of confidence in Germany among our closest partners”, castigated an opposition deputy, Norbert Röttgen, deploring “a solitary approach” .

Even within the government coalition, warnings are in order: Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock urged to “no longer depend on a country that does not share our values”, at the risk of making themselves “politically vulnerable to blackmail “. A few days before the trip, however, the German Chancellor authorized a Chinese stake in the Hamburg port terminal (north).

“Difficult Subjects”

Trying to calm things down, Scholz promised “not to ignore controversies” during this visit. In a column published just before his departure, the Chancellor said he was aware that “China today is no longer the same as it was five or ten years ago”, citing in particular the recent congress of the Chinese Communist Party which cemented the power of President Xi Jinping.

“If China changes, our relations with China must change too,” admitted the German chancellor, outlining a cautious change of course. In the economic field, he does not envisage decoupling vis-à-vis China but a reduction in “unilateral dependencies” with “a sense of proportion and pragmatism”. He listed the “difficult topics” he intended to address during his interviews. Among them, human rights in Xinjiang (north-west) and the situation of Uyghur Muslims or Taiwan.

“It makes sense for Scholz and Xi to get to know each other better in person,” notes Mikko Huotari, director of the Mercator Institute for China Studies (Merics) in Berlin. But he believes that the German leader must clarify his message to explain “to his own government, to Europe and to China the direction of Germany’s China policy”.

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