Worries over Germany’s China dependency overshadow Scholz trip

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

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

His one-day visit on November 4. Scholz will be the first G7 leader to visit China since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic and the first to meet Chinese President Xi Jinping after he consolidated power at a Communist Party congress. .

Deep trade ties link Asia’s biggest economies with Europe’s largest, while China’s rapid expansion and demand for German cars and machinery have fueled 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 showed that almost half of German industrial companies now count on a significant contribution from China.

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

It also comes amid anxieties at home about Germany’s dependence on another increasingly assertive, authoritarian state, given the ongoing consequences of its overreliance on Russian energy.

“It is very important that we never again make ourselves so dependent on a country that does not recognize 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 “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 educational trip to find out through personal exchanges where China is, where China is going and what forms of cooperation are possible,” the official said.

Germany had already taken a somewhat hawkish stance on 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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Scholz’s government is currently preparing its first China strategy, based on a coalition agreement that took 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 changed times.

A MERCANTILE APPROACH?

But some coalition members, European officials and rights activists worry that there are early signs that Scholz’s warning of disengagement will not mark a decisive break with what they see as Merkel’s mercantilist approach to China.

Reuters graphic

Scholz will be accompanied by a delegation of business leaders, including executives from 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.

A German government official said no deals were planned for the company.

But “his decision to bring together a business delegation shows that profit continues to trump human rights for Germany,” Dolkun Isa, president of the Munich-based World Uyghur Congress, said on Wednesday, arguing that Scholz had overlooked the genocide. taking place in the Xinjiang region.

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Beijing denies any abuse.

Last week, the German chancellor also pushed through a cabinet decision to allow China’s Cosco to invest in a terminal at the port of Hamburg, despite opposition from his coalition partners.

Reuters graphic

Scholz’s junior coalition partners, the Greens and (FDP) Free Democrats, have long viewed China more favorably than his Social Democrats (SPD), and Cosco’s decision sparked outrage.

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

Also, French and German government sources told Reuters that French President Emmanuel Macron had offered Scholz a trip to Beijing together to send Beijing a sign of EU unity and counter what they see as China’s attempts to play one country against the other.

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

EU countries should take 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 Carrel; Edited by Alexandra Hudson

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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