The Chinese president, Xi Jinping, has touted the need for greater cooperation between China and Germany amid “times of change and turmoil” in his first meeting with chancellor Olaf Scholz.
Scholz’s inaugural visit on Friday is the first by a leader of a G7 nation to China in three years, and will test the waters of relations between Beijing and the west after years of mounting tensions, analysts say.
Scholz defended his decision to travel to China with a group of industrial representatives, which has been viewed with controversy at home, telling journalists: “It is good and right that I am in Beijing today.” He said in time of crisis, such as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, bilateral meetings were all the more important.
In a meeting with China’s premier, Li Keqiang, Scholz said he had urged President Xi to use China’s influence as a permanent member of the UN security council on Russia to bring an end to the invasion of Ukraine. “I told president Xi that it is important for China to exercise its influence on Russia,” he said.
During their first face-to-face meeting since Scholz took office, held in the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, Xi said that as large nations with influence, China and Germany should work together all the more during “times of change and turmoil” for the sake of world peace, according to the state broadcaster CCTV.
“As long as the principles of mutual respect, seeking common ground while reserving differences, exchanges and mutual learning, and win-win cooperation are upheld, the general direction of bilateral relations will not be deviated, and the pace of progress will be stable,” Xi was quoted as saying by CCTV.
“At present, the international situation is complex and changeable. As influential powers, China and Germany should work together in times of change and chaos to make more contributions to world peace and development.”
Scholz told Xi it was important both leaders were meeting in person during tense times, with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine creating problems for the rules-based global order, according to a Reuters reporter accompanying Scholz’s delegation.
Ahead of the meeting, the chancellor said the two would discuss Europe-China relations, climate change and global hunger, and how to develop China-Germany economic ties, as well as topics where both countries’ perspective is different.
According to German media who accompanied him, Scholz indirectly admonished China over its failures to protect minorities in China. He told Xi that human rights were universal, especially the rights of minorities and pledged to “want to remain in discussion” with China about the situation in the province of Xinjiang, which is allegedly home to hundreds of interment camps in which more than 1 million Uyghurs are believed to be held.
China’s strict zero-Covid policy and growing tensions with the west have made it unfeasible for leaders of major western powers to visit China. Xi himself has only just resumed foreign trips.
Scholz’s visit is probably a welcome development for China’s leadership, which will be looking to shore up relations with the outside world after the conclusion of the 20th party congress, where Xi consolidated his status as the core of the ruling Communist party.
Amid historic inflation and a looming recession in Germany, Scholz will be looking to emphasise the need for continued cooperation with China.
Scholz and Li reportedly discussed controversial issues such as human rights, Taiwan and the difficulties German companies face accessing the Chinese market, according to government sources. Li nominally has responsibility over China’s economy.
In the run-up to the visit, there had been criticism from within the EU and the German government coalition, mainly from the Green party and the Liberals.
These tensions were brought to the fore by a deal last week whereby the Chinese shipping company Cosco received the green light from Berlin to obtain a stake in a Hamburg port terminal despite opposition from coalition partners.
Germany’s foreign minister, Annalena Baerbock, expressed her concerns ahead of the visit that Europe’s biggest economy was taking too soft an approach to China, in contrast to what had been agreed upon in the coalition agreement between her Greens party, Scholz’s Social Democrats and the pro-business FDP.
She called for a more assertive “new China strategy”, while on a trip to Uzbekistan earlier this week. She called China “our partner on global issues, that we cannot decouple in a globalised world”, as well as being “a competitor and increasingly a systemic rival”. The comments, referred to as “rude” towards China on Friday by a leading SPD member, have exposed tension in the coalition over its foreign policy goals.
China’s crucial role in key industries from shipbuilding to electric vehicles, along with the unprecedented economic headwinds facing Germany, meant Scholz needs cooperation with China more than his predecessor Angela Merkel ever did, said Wang Yiwei, Jean Monnet chair professor and director of the Centre for European studies at Renmin University.
“Merkel was also quite ideological [towards China] in the beginning but then she changed her tune. Scholz has changed his tune even faster, but he does not have as solid a domestic political standing as Merkel,” said Wang.
With Reuters and Associated Press