Worries over Germany’s China dependency overshadow Scholz trip

  • Scholz is the first G7 leader to visit China since the pandemic began
  • Germany is drafting a new, stronger strategy for China
  • The Hawks fear Scholz will continue to prioritize economic ties
  • The Business delegation that will accompany the chancellor to Beijing on 4 Nov

BERLIN, Nov 2 (Reuters) – Chancellor Olaf Scholz made a first visit to China on Friday that will come under scrutiny for how serious Germany is about reducing its economic reliance on the Asian superpower and confronting its Communist leaders.

His one-day visit on November 4, will make Scholz the first G7 leader to visit China since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic and was the first to meet Chinese President Xi Jinping since he consolidated his hold on power at the Communist Party Congress. .

Deep trade ties bind Asia and Europe’s biggest economies, with China’s rapid expansion and demand for German cars and machinery fueling its growth over the past two decades. China became Germany’s largest trading partner in 2016.

A recent survey by the Ifo think-tank found that almost half of German industries now rely on significant inputs from China.

But Scholz’s trip comes at a time of growing concern in the West – particularly in Germany’s top security partner, the United States – about China’s trade practices, human rights record and regional ambitions.

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It comes amid concern at home about Germany’s growing dependence on another country, which has been given a steady decline in its reliance on Russian power.

“It is very important that we never again make ourselves dependent on a country that does not share our values,” foreign minister Annalena Baerbock told broadcaster ARD when asked about China.

Scholz, who will meet Chinese Premier Li Keqiang and Xi, will press China to open its markets, raise human rights concerns and discuss ways of “decentralization”, a German government spokesman said last week.

He also hopes that China can help persuade Russia to end the war in Ukraine, a government official said on Wednesday.

“This trip is an exploratory trip to find out through person-to-person exchange where China stands, where China is going and what cooperation opportunities are possible,” the official said.

Germany had begun to take a more hawkish approach to China under former Chancellor Angela Merkel, for example by sending a warship to the disputed South China Sea for the first time in two decades last year.

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Now the Scholz government is writing its first China strategy, based on the federal agreement that was reached in Beijing, citing critical issues such as Taiwan and Hong Kong and the violation of human rights in Xianjiang.

The chancellor is making his first Asian visit to Japan, not China, unlike his predecessor in a sign of changing times.

MERCANTILE WAY?

Yet other coalition members, European officials and rights activists are worried that there are early signs that Scholz, who has warned against breaking away, will not mark a definitive break with what they see as Merkel’s approach to China.

Reuters graphics

Scholz will be accompanied by a delegation of business leaders including CEOs of Volkswagen (VOWG_p.DE) , BASF (BASFn.DE), Siemens (SIEGn.DE), Deutsche Bank (DBKGn.DE), BMW (BMWG.DE) , Merck (MRCG .DE) and BioNTech, according to sources familiar with the matter.

No corporate deals are planned, a German government official said.

However, “his decision to bring a business delegation shows that, in Germany, profits continue to force human rights,” said Dolkun Isa, president of the Munich-based group World Uyghhur Congress, on Wednesday, arguing that Scholz intended to kill people. which occurred in the Xinjiang region.

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Beijing denies exploitation there.

Last week, the German chancellor pushed ahead with the cabinet’s decision to allow China’s Cosco to invest in a terminal in the port of Hamburg without pushing ahead with its alliance partners.

Reuters graphics

Scholz’s junior partners, the Greens and (FDP) Free Democrats, have been more engaged in China than the Social Democrats (SPD) and the Cosco decision caused an outcry.

FDP Secretary General Bijan Djir-Sarai called the decision “absurd” and criticized the timing of Scholz’s trip to China as “deeply unfortunate”.

Furthermore, French and German government sources told Reuters that French President Emmanuel Macron suggested that Scholz travel together to Beijing to send a signal of EU solidarity to Beijing and oppose what they see as China’s efforts to play one country against another.

But the German chancellor rejected Macron’s offer, the sources said.

EU countries should adopt a more unified approach, the European Union’s business chief told Reuters on Monday.

Reporting by Sarah Marsh and Andreas Rinke; Additional reporting by Paul Carrel; Edited by Alexandra Hudson

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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