Worries over Germany’s China dependency overshadow Scholz trip

  • Scholz is the first G7 leader to visit China since the start of the pandemic
  • Germany is preparing a new, tougher strategy for China
  • The Hawks fear Scholz will continue to prioritize economic ties
  • A business delegation will accompany the chancellor to Beijing on November 4

BERLIN, Nov 2 (Reuters) – Chancellor Olaf Scholz on Friday made an inaugural visit to China that will be closely watched for clues about how serious Germany is about reducing its economic dependence on the rising Asian superpower and confronting its communist leadership. .

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 the first to meet with Chinese President Xi Jinping since he consolidated his power at the Communist Party Congress.

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

A recent survey by the Ifo think tank found that almost half of German industrial firms 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 main security ally, the United States — about China’s trade practices, human rights record and territorial ambitions.

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It also comes amid concerns at home about Germany’s dependence on another increasingly assertive, authoritarian state given the ongoing fallout from its overdependence on Russian energy.

“It is extremely important that we never again become so dependent on a country that does not share our values,” Foreign Minister Analena Baerbock told ARD television when asked about China.

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

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

“This trip is an exploratory trip to find out in a personal exchange where China stands, where China is going and what forms of cooperation are possible,” the official said.

Germany has already begun to take a slightly more hawkish stance toward China under former Chancellor Angela Merkel, for example by sending a warship into the disputed South China Sea for the first time in two decades last year.

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Now Scholz’s government is preparing its first strategy for China, based on a coalition agreement that has achieved a tougher stance on Beijing, citing sensitive issues such as Taiwan and Hong Kong and human rights abuses in Xinjiang.

The chancellor made his inaugural visit to Asia in Japan, not China, unlike his predecessor in a sign of changing times.

A MERCANTILE APPROACH?

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

Reuters graphics

Scholz will be accompanied by a delegation of business leaders, including the 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 agreements with companies are planned, said a representative of the German government.

However, “his decision to bring a business delegation shows that, for Germany, profits continue to trump human rights,” Dolkun Isa, president of the Munich group World Uyghur Congress, said on Wednesday, arguing that Scholz was ignoring the genocide. takes place in the Xinjiang region.

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Beijing denies any abuses there.

Last week, the German chancellor also made a government decision to allow China’s Cosco to invest in a terminal in the port of Hamburg despite rejection from its coalition partners.

Reuters graphics

Scholz’s junior coalition partners, the Greens and (FDP) Free Democrats, have long been more seasoned towards China than his Social Democrats (SPD) and Cosco’s decision sparked an outcry.

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

In addition, French and German government sources told Reuters French President Emmanuel Macron suggested to Scholz that they go together to Beijing to send a signal of EU unity to Beijing and counter what they say are Chinese attempts to play a country. over another.

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

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

Reporting by Sarah Marsh and Andreas Rinke; Additional reporting by Paul Carell; Editing by Alexandra Hudson

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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