Scholz’s trip to China raised more doubts than congratulations – DW – 05/11/2022
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz visited China on Friday, despite national and international skepticism about his trip. As the first leader from the G7 group of countries to visit China since the pandemic, Scholz said he had “frank exchanges” with Chinese President Xi Jinping on a wide range of issues, including the war in Ukraine, the human rights and the use of nuclear weapons. .
That included the two leaders agreeing that threatening to use nuclear weapons was “irresponsible and dangerous”, Scholz told a news conference after meeting Chinese Premier Li Keqiang. Chinese leaders agreed, but did not mention Russia by name. The Russian government has hinted at the use of nuclear weapons during its invasion of Ukraine.
Scholz also said the two leaders met “at a time of great tension,” echoing Xi’s call for China and Germany to increase cooperation in “times of change and trouble”.
Despite the diplomatic rhetoric, Scholz’s 11-hour trip to China remains controversial – not least because Germany’s current coalition government had previously promised to change its approach to China, including reducing its reliance on China. against the Asian giant. Experts say Scholz’s trip shows that Germany hasn’t really changed its policy toward China.
Priority to German economic interests
Arriving in Beijing with a delegation of senior executives from several influential German companies, Scholz stressed the need to maintain economic cooperation with China.
Despite warnings about Germany’s overreliance on China from German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock ahead of the trip, Scholz said he wanted to “talk about how we can develop further our economic cooperation on other subjects: climate change, food security, indebted countries”.
“This trip sends the message that while Berlin should seriously rethink its relationship with China, they are returning to the status quo,” said Zsuzsa Anna Ferenczy, an assistant professor at National Taiwan’s Dong Hwa University and a former political adviser to parliament. European.
“While I believe Europe needs to find a way to speak constructively with China from a position of strength, what Berlin is doing is undermining that position by pursuing its own interests at the expense of emerging, but fragile, European unity. we have seen since the war in Ukraine,” she added.
Reinhard Bütikofer, a German politician and member of the Greens party in the European Parliament, told DW that Scholz’s trip contradicted the agreement of the German coalition government and would also have a negative impact on the European Union. “He sent a message that continued trade and investment will be a political priority [for him,]”said Butikofer.
“Germany’s China policy cannot be developed solely on the basis of the Chancellor, who has ignored competent advice on China at least three times. When we founded the new German government, we agreed that future policy Germany’s China should be strongly integrated at the European level, and this should be coordinated in the transatlantic relationship. The two did not happen,” Bütikofer added.
Ahead of the trip, Scholz defended a controversial deal that allowed China’s state-owned shipping company Costco to buy a 24.9% minority stake in one of Hamburg’s port terminals, ignoring objections from several cabinet members, including Baerbock. Originally, Costco was supposed to take a 35% share, but that was reduced.
China’s human rights record
In addition to discussing business ties, Scholz told reporters he also expressed concerns about China’s human rights record to Chinese leaders. This included Beijing’s crackdown on the Uyghur ethnic minority and other Turkic minorities in Xinjiang. He stressed that human rights are universally recognized and urged Beijing to respect them. “It’s not interference in internal affairs,” Scholz said.
Scholz also said China has now agreed to let foreigners in China receive the BioNTech vaccination against COVID-19. Previously, Beijing had not approved the use of the vaccine in China. Scholz said the two countries would strengthen their cooperation in areas such as climate change and disease prevention.
Despite Scholz’s efforts to shine a light on sensitive issues, former European Parliament political adviser Ferenczy thinks Scholz is just “ticking the boxes” by telling the media he brought up human rights issues. man in China with Chinese leaders.
“When he announced the trip to China, it could have been handled in a different way by giving tough political issues a bigger role,” she told DW. “The issue of human rights has never really been on the agenda.”
Scholz’s statement about raising the issue is not “an effective way” to address China’s dire human rights record, which is highly sensitive inside the country.
“Germans often prefer quiet diplomacy on human rights issues,” she continued. “For a European member state that has the potential to leverage China, it is a significant failure not to seize the opportunity to truly re-engage China.”
Disunity in the EU
German MEP Bütikofer thinks the trip will have a negative impact on the European Union and others agree it will spark tougher conversations in Brussels and possibly even protests from Central European countries and oriental. The Baltic states stressed last month the importance of the EU speaking to China with one voice.
“This visit is a manifestation of the fragmentation, not only within the EU, but also within the German political scene,” said Marcin Jerzewski, head of the Taiwan office of the European Values Center, a think tank Czech. “There is clearly a divergence on how to approach China, between the liberals and the Greens on one side, and the social democrats on the other.”
Sari Arho Havren, a China researcher and assistant professor at the George C. Marshall European Center for Security Studies, told DW that Scholz’s trip gives Beijing a strong signal that Germany will “cause the EU to revisit Beijing in a more pragmatic and supportive light. “
“Beijing sees his trip as the chancellor setting an example to encourage the rest of EU leaders to follow his lead in once again establishing a more pragmatic approach to relations with China,” Havren said. “That would mean normalizing Beijing’s behavior, [something] which is widely seen as the problem in the EU.”
There is also a significant divergence in how the two leaders view the world, Havren noted.
“Scholz pointed to the grave consequences of the Ukrainian war, but for Xi there is much more than that…Beijing sees the world through the lens of the United States trying to contain China,” she said. at DW.
In this light, which also includes a possible reunification of China and Taiwan, a continued partnership with Russia is important for China, as is a Europe that is not united on these issues.
“With deepening ties to China through its powerful corporations, Germany would potentially make a common European response against China less likely, should it need to choose sides between Beijing and Washington.” , concluded Haven.