German Chancellor Olaf Scholz has met Chinese President Xi Jinping during the first visit in three years by a leader of the Group of Seven (G7) countries to China.
Scholz’s arrival in Beijing on Friday marked the first G7 leader — Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom and the United States — to visit since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2019.
As the leader of a high-level business delegation to China, the German leader’s focus on strengthening economic ties with Beijing has sparked criticism over his apparent desire to make deals with a nation becoming more authoritarian under President Xi.
Germany’s heavy reliance on China was also re-examined, especially in the wake of Berlin’s over-reliance on Russian energy imports, which left the country in deep trouble when Moscow cut supplies in retaliation for sanctions imposed after the invasion of Ukraine.
Speaking in person with Scholz on Friday, Xi said China and Germany as great nations of influence must work together in “times of change and turmoil” for the sake of world peace, state broadcaster CCTV said.
Scholz told Xi it was good that both leaders met in person during tense times, with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine causing problems for the rules-based international order, according to a Reuters reporter accompanying Scholz’s delegation.
Before the visit, German opposition politician Norbert Roettgen told the Rheinische Post newspaper that Scholz’s approach to Beijing seemed to be supported by the idea that “we want to continue doing business with China, no matter what that means for our economy’s dependence, and for our ability to act”.
“The chancellor is pursuing a foreign policy that will lead to a loss of confidence in Germany among our closest partners,” said Roettgen of the conservative CDU party, which accused Scholz of “going it alone” in his approach to China.
Berlin says consultations were held with key partners in the US and Europe prior to the visit, and Scholz also promised a “candid exchange” with Chinese leaders on sensitive topics.
China’s ‘domestic affairs’
The German and Chinese economies are closely intertwined. China is a crucial market for German goods, from machines to vehicles from the likes of Volkswagen, BMW and Mercedes-Benz.
Chinese state media has praised the visit.
Chinese President Xi Jinping will soon meet German Chancellor Olaf Scholz on Friday at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing. pic.twitter.com/zjs4DqNV5f
— Global Times (@globaltimesnews) Nov 4, 2022
Patrick Fok, reporting from Beijing for Al Jazeera, said state media in China had described the visit in terms of “straining the EU’s extremely confrontational stance towards China”, and that the visit will likely be interpreted as an endorsement of Xi’s new government.
Xi was reelected to a third five-year term at the Chinese Communist Party Congress in Beijing last month, an endorsement that has given Xi the status of the most powerful leader in China since Mao Zedong.
“Olaf Scholz’s visit has come under extreme scrutiny and many in Europe are saying it is a sign of a lack of unity within the bloc on how to deal with Beijing, and that Germany is making the same mistakes as Russia,” he said. breeding. .
“That may be why this is such a fleeting visit,” he added, noting that the German chancellor will only be in China for about 24 hours.
Scholz said in a newspaper interview that “we will not ignore controversies” and mentioned several sensitive topics that would come up in conversations with his Chinese counterpart. They include respect for civil liberties in China, human rights in the Xinjiang region, where the United Nations has said treatment of the Uyghur Muslim minority could amount to crimes against humanity, and the status of Taiwan.
In Beijing, Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said on Thursday that China is looking forward to a “successful” visit and that “cooperation far exceeds competition” between China and Germany.
“China and Germany are partners, not rivals,” the spokesman said.
“Both countries have benefited from each other’s growth and practical bilateral cooperation. A good relationship between China and Germany is not only good for the two countries, but also for the ties between China and the EU and the world,” he said.
The spokesman also warned that China will not tolerate criticism on matters that are “internal affairs”.
“For example, in Xinjiang, China’s position is consistent and clear. These are China’s internal affairs, which will not tolerate foreign interference. On the so-called ‘human rights’ issues, China respects and protects human rights,” he said.
“China opposes the use of human rights discussions as a pretext to interfere in China’s internal affairs or to slander and discredit China,” he added.
Prior to the visit, Chinese dissidents and the Uyghur World Congress had called on Scholz to cancel his trip.