The Chancellor travels to Beijing with a business delegation. Can economic arguments convince Xi Jingping to ditch Putin?

Scholz and Xi in front of the German and Chinese flags

During the Chancellor's last visit in November 2022, Xi had clear words about Russia's nuclear weapons threats. And this time? Photo: dpa

SEDAN taz | The metropolis of Chongqing, with 33 million inhabitants, located at the confluence of the Jialing and Yangtze in central China, is considered the largest city in the world. It is the first stop on Chancellor Olaf Scholz's three-day trip to China, which he will embark on over the weekend. The plan is for Scholz and his entourage to sail a few nautical miles across the “Long River,” as the Yangtze is called in China. “It is unlikely that images of an exuberant party will emerge,” says the Foreign Ministry.

No, the Chancellor's second trip to the People's Republic should not convey too much normality and carelessness. Although at first glance everything seems as if we are returning to normal, like before the Russian war of aggression and the coronavirus pandemic.

When Scholz travels to Germany's most important trading partner (goods worth more than a quarter of a trillion euros were traded in 2023), he, like his predecessor Angela Merkel, is accompanied by a large business delegation. According to Reuters, the heads of Siemens, Bayer, Mercedes-Benz, BMW, Merck, DHL, Thyssenkrupp and the Swabian plant manufacturer Voith will be there, among others. So it works.

And one thing is clear: global challenges like climate change can only be overcome with China and not against it. In 2023, Germany and China began a climate dialogue and Federal Environment Minister Steffi Lemke, like her colleagues Volker Wissing (transport) and Cem Özdemir (agriculture), will also travel to Beijing, albeit on a regular flight . So it's going pretty well too.

Partner or enemy of the West?

On the other hand, despite claiming to be neutral, China sided with Russia in the Russian war of aggression. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, who traveled to China ahead of Scholz earlier in the week, announced there that he viewed China as a partner against the West. So not everything is going well.

Last year, Germany adopted a new strategy for dealing with the People's Republic. From now on they want to treat China as a partner, competitor and rival. This rather dissonant triad implies an attempt to break the strong economic dependence on the authoritarian country. Scholz sends reassuring signals to Beijing before leaving. “Even if we diversify supply chains further, Germany and China will have extensive economic exchange,” the chancellor said in an interview with Taz.

But when it comes to Chinese support for Putin, China is clearly a systemic rival. Without China, Russia would not be able to wage the war of aggression against Ukraine as it is waging it, according to people close to the Chancellor. It is worrying that China is diligently supplying Russia with dual-use goods, that is, products that can be used both civilly and militarily.

China should influence Putin

When Scholz meets with Chinese President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Qiang in Beijing on Tuesday, he also wants to talk to them about the war in Ukraine and how it can be ended. Scholz announced in the taz: “Of course, this will be an important part of my conversations. The point is that China does not support Russia in its brutal war against its neighbor Ukraine. Peace in Europe and the inviolability of borders are fundamental European interests.”

Scholz will probably try a mix of requests and threats. Those close to it say it is not trivial for China to clearly side with a state as aggressive as Russia. This also damages China's reputation.

On the other hand, those around Scholz hope to convince China to become more involved than before as a mediator to end the war in Ukraine. In any case, China is increasingly converting its economic size into greater foreign policy influence. A year ago, thanks to the mediation of China, Saudi Arabia and Iran reached a historic rapprochement. In any case, the Foreign Ministry says: “There is no intention to restrict China or keep it small in the development of its foreign policy.”

If Scholz were to obtain from President Xi the intention for China to participate in the peace conference on Ukraine planned by Switzerland in June, it would undoubtedly be a success.

Arguments that could convince Xi

According to Max Zenglein of the Mercator Institute of Chinese Studies (Merics), Scholz definitely has some trump cards. “Germany plays an exceptionally special role for China in the development of its economy and also in foreign economic relations. As countries like the US and Japan are positioning themselves much more towards China, Germany has an important role when it comes to access to technology and capital.” Germany is in a position of strength.

Although German companies continue to invest heavily in China, they are suspicious of the extent to which the Chinese state is coddling the national economy with billions in subsidies and preparing to flood the European market with cheap steel and cheap electric cars. The Foreign Ministry says that these difficulties are very clear. Therefore, they want to use the trip to drive fair mutual market access and address concerns about overcapacity in many areas.

Therefore, there are many concerns that could cause concerns about the lack of respect for human rights in China to be put aside, especially since human rights activists are not on the plane. The International Campaign for Tibet (ICT) calls on Chancellor Olaf Scholz to urgently raise with the Chinese government the human rights situation in Tibet, East Turkestan, Hong Kong, southern Mongolia and China itself.

Scholz should demand human rights

“Olaf Scholz must not make the same mistake as the Prime Minister of Bavaria, Markus Söder, and put aside human rights and democratic values ​​in a spirit of supposed realpolitik and for economic interests,” reads a letter that the ICT sent Scholz on Monday.

That is why David Missal, deputy director general of the German Tibet Initiative, demands: “When Olaf Scholz goes to China, the people of China and Tibet expect him to publicly and clearly address the crimes against human rights committed by the Communist Party.” . of Tibetans are still in forced boarding schools in China. Children whose Tibetan identity should be taken away from an early age. At the same time, the Communist Party is imprisoning peaceful protesters. Scholz must find clear words for these crimes in China.

In an interview with Taz, Scholz promises to also address the Chinese threat to Taiwan and the situation of minorities. “In any case, I will not apologize before addressing these issues,” Scholz said.

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