Chancellor Olaf Scholz is making his inaugural visit to China – and has received a lot of criticism for it. The lack of human rights activists, the West going it alone and the timing of the trip are being sharply addressed. FOCUS online gives an overview of what the press is writing about Scholz’ trip to China.

Olaf Scholz lands in Beijing early on Friday morning for his inaugural visit to China. The Chancellor will be accompanied by a business representative – and no human rights activists or other Western politicians. The trip is delicate and controversial, especially given the timing. Despite the constitution, Xi Jinping was only recently re-elected party leader. FOCUS online gives you an overview of what the press thinks about the German Chancellor’s inaugural visit.

“Germany has just given the green light for the Chinese state shipping company Cosco to enter the Port of Hamburg. The decision was made shortly before Chancellor Olaf Scholz traveled to Beijing. His coalition partners have clearly criticized human rights violations in China. Above all, however, they want to prevent Germany from surrendering itself to the decisions of an autocratic system, as was the case with Russia. Scholz has partially given in to this pressure and limited the Chinese stake to 24.9 percent of the capital instead of the planned 35 percent.

Under Angela Merkel, Berlin maintained close ties with China. Those were the years when the EU looked to China as a strategic partner. But the Russian invasion of Ukraine changed everything, and now China is viewed by Brussels as a “systemic rival”. Germany has in the past ignored warnings from two US administrations regarding Russia and the EU’s doubts. Trade relations cannot be ended suddenly, but it is not good news for Europe that Germany is making decisions without its European partners.”

“Olaf Scholz’s visit comes at a controversial time: just after the 20th party congress, which proclaimed Xi Jinping the undisputed autocrat, and in the midst of strained international relations. Numerous Western countries – above all the USA – are at odds with China over technology, human rights, Taiwan and Ukraine. Across Europe, including Germany, politicians are debating the need to reduce dependency on the Chinese economy.

Scholz’s visit weakens cooperation at the transatlantic and European level as well as within Germany. His coalition partners in Berlin, who are working on a new China strategy, were taken by surprise when he went it alone. At the European level, according to diplomatic sources, Scholz rejected a proposal by French President Emmanuel Macron for a joint visit and did not even want Macron to come in the same timeframe. Beijing benefits from so much disunity.”

“China’s trade war with the US is ongoing. It has tacitly supported Putin’s illegal war against Ukraine and is seeking control of Taiwan. In addition, the increasingly authoritarian regime has been accused of “crimes against humanity” against Uyghur Muslims in the Xinjiang region. And yet Germany’s economic dependence is far greater than that of Russia before its invasion.

In this context, Scholz’s decision to push through the purchase of a stake in a Hamburg container terminal by a Chinese shipping company against the advice of several ministries caused a stir. Still, there is something to his argument that hasty “decoupling” would be both impractical and unreasonable. Diagnosing a dependency problem is one thing. Solving it in the short or even medium term is quite another: Chinese raw materials are of crucial importance for Germany’s green transformation. The EU’s largest economy accounts for almost half of all European investment in China, and millions of jobs depend on economic ties.”

“Even for German analysts and commentators, it is difficult to understand Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s thoughts. Just eight months after he announced a turning point in foreign and security policy under the pressure of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, (…) Scholz drove to China as if nothing had happened. The policy of change through trade had already failed in relation to Russia. Nevertheless, it seems as if Scholz wants to continue with an even tougher regime. (…) The Chinese head of state and party leader Xi Jinping will undoubtedly make good use of the visit from Germany for propaganda purposes.”

“Scholz put himself under enormous pressure. He has announced in writing that he wants to address all sensitive issues with Xi: Chinese violations of human rights and freedoms, the oppression of the Uyghurs in Xinjiang Province, the threat to Taiwan, the controversial Chinese investments in Europe. When Scholz leaves Beijing again on Friday afternoon, you want to know what Xi said about all of this, even if it will be more of a visit to the pictures than to the words.”

“China, as seen by the United States, Japan, Australia, South Korea, the European Union, the Secret Service and even Scholz’s coalition partner, is not to be trusted. All of this is true, and yet it is right that Scholz travels to Beijing for economic and political reasons. No federal government can afford to simply sever economic ties with China. In 2021, goods worth 246.5 billion euros were traded between Germany and the People’s Republic of China. This enormous volume makes the two countries partners – in a mutual dependency, by the way.”

“Nevertheless, it is correct that Scholz flew to Beijing. German and European interests can be represented more effectively in direct discussions than in Berlin. Ignoring China has long since ceased to be an option. The grumbling in Paris about the Chancellor’s trip is therefore cheap. After all, when it comes to his own agenda, French President Emmanuel Macron has no scruples. How else can you explain that he shook hands with the Saudi crown prince and alleged murderer of journalists bin Salam months before Olaf Scholz because he wants his oil and hydrogen?”

“Germany and the other EU countries will need a while to develop the new strategy towards Beijing that is necessary and rightly demanded by many. The only thing that is clear so far is that change through trade can no longer work after Putin’s war in Ukraine and the recent announcements by Chinese President Xi Jinping. But what can and should the future balance between confrontation and cooperation look like? Climate protection will only succeed with China and not against Beijing. Xi also has influence over warlord Vladimir Putin. So anyone who wants to shorten the military conflict in Ukraine will have to talk to Xi. Even with the much-vaunted reciprocity, Europe will only be able to be successful if it negotiates with Beijing. The same applies to other controversial points such as the Chinese threats against Taiwan or the suppression of the Uyghurs in Xinjiang Province.”

“Economically, the Chinese have long been calling the shots in bilateral relations, dictating conditions to German companies or buying them outright. As in the case of Russia, the Federal Republic has run into a dangerous dependency. China is the world’s most important trading partner, and if this business were to collapse, mass unemployment would result. So if Olaf Scholz travels to Beijing in these turbulent times, there is a lot at stake.”

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