- Schultz is the first G7 leader to visit China since the beginning of the epidemic
- Germany is formulating a new and tougher strategy for China
- Hawks fear Scholes will continue to prioritize economic ties
- A business delegation will accompany the chancellor to Beijing on November 4
BERLIN (Reuters) – Chancellor Olaf Schulz will pay an inaugural visit to China on Friday that will be watched closely for evidence of how serious Germany is in reducing its economic dependence on Asia’s rising superpower and confronting its communist leadership.
His one-day visit on November 4 will make Schulz the first G7 leader to visit China since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic and the first meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping since he consolidated his grip on power at the Communist Party Congress. .
Deep trade ties connect the largest economies of Asia and Europe, with rapid Chinese 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 Ifo Research Center found that nearly half of German industrial firms now rely on significant inputs from China.
But Schulz’s trip comes at a time of growing concern in the West – particularly in Germany’s largest security ally, the United States – about China’s trade practices, human rights record and regional ambitions.
It also comes amid concern at home about Germany’s dependence on another authoritarian state that is increasingly assertive given the continuing fallout from its over-reliance on Russian energy.
“It is very important that we never again make ourselves dependent on a country that does not share our values,” Foreign Minister Annalena Barbock told ARD when asked about China.
A German government spokesman said last week that Schulz, who will meet with both Chinese Premier Li Keqiang and Xi, will pressure China to open its markets, raise human rights concerns and discuss “authoritarian” trends.
On Wednesday, a government official said he also hoped China could help persuade Russia to end the war in Ukraine.
“This trip is an expedition to know China’s position in personal exchange, where China is heading and what forms of cooperation are possible,” the official said.
Germany has already begun to take a slightly tougher 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.
Now the Schulz government is formulating its first-ever strategy with China, based on a coalition agreement that has taken a tougher stance on Beijing, citing sensitive issues such as Taiwan, Hong Kong and human rights abuses in Xinjiang.
The chancellor made his inaugural visit to Asia to Japan, not China, unlike his predecessor in a sign of changing times.
However, some coalition members, European officials and human rights activists worry that there are early signs that Schultz, who has warned of secession, will not mark a decisive break with what they see as Merkel’s trade approach to China.
Schulz 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) and Merck (MRCG.DE) and BioNTech, according to informed sources.
A German government official said no deals were planned with companies.
However, on Wednesday, Dolkun Isa, head of the Munich-based World Uyghur Congress group, said his “decision to bring in a business delegation shows that profits, for Germany, still trump human rights,” arguing that Schulz was ignoring genocide. taking place in the Xinjiang region.
Beijing denies any violations there.
Last week, the German chancellor also pushed through a ministerial decision to allow China’s Cosco to invest in a terminal in the port of Hamburg despite opposition from its coalition partners.
Schulz’s smaller coalition partners, the Greens and the Free Democrats (FDP), have long been more hawkish on China than the SPD and Cusco’s decision sparked outrage.
FDP Secretary-General Bijan Girsaray called the decision “naive” and criticized the timing of Schulz’s visit to China as “extremely unfortunate”.
Moreover, French and German government sources told Reuters that French President Emmanuel Macron suggested that Schultz go together to Beijing to send a signal of EU unity to Beijing and counter what it sees as Chinese attempts to manipulate one country over another.
But the sources said that the German chancellor rejected Macron’s offer.
The head of the European Union’s industry told Reuters on Monday that the countries of the European Union should adopt a more united approach.
(Reporting by Sarah Marsh and Andreas Reinke); Additional reporting by Paul Carell. Editing by Alexandra Hudson
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