Scholz’s controversial trip wins Germany more business deals with China

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz paid a controversial 11-hour visit on Friday to China, where he urged Chinese President Xí Jìnpíng 习近平 to give his most direct criticism of Russia’s war on Ukraine to date. The visit was Scholz’s first face-to-face talks with Xi since becoming chancellor last December.

At a meeting in the Great Hall of the People, Xi and Scholz stated (readout from Berlin, Beijing) that “nuclear weapons cannot be used, a nuclear war cannot be waged, in order to prevent a nuclear crisis,” while urging Russia and Ukraine to resume talks “as quickly as possible” to resolve the conflict.

  • Though Scholz condemned Putin’s nuclear threats as “extremely dangerous,” the language was notably omitted from the Chinese Foreign Ministry statement.
  • Scholz also alluded to areas of disagreement, such as China’s “one China” policy on Taiwan and reports of human rights abuses in Xinjiang.

China also agreed to approve Mainz-based BioNTech’s COVID-19 vaccines (jointly produced with American pharmaceutical firm Pfizer) for German expats residing in the country, Scholz said, in what would mark the first mRNA shot approved for use under its COVID-zero policy.

  • General approval of this vaccine in China was “also conceivable,” though would “require closer collaboration” between regulatory authorities, Scholz noted, amid speculation that Beijing may be shifting on its long-held pandemic policy.
  • Plans to domestically distribute the BioNTech vaccine were abruptly halted by Chinese regulators last year, without explanation. Moderna, which makes a similar shot, refused China’s request last month to reveal the technology behind the development of its vaccine, bringing an end to a potential deal.

As the first Western leader to pay a visit to China since the Party congress, Scholz’s visit highlights Germany’s deep economic ties with China, its largest trading partner, particularly in the auto and manufacturing sectors.

  • In a separate meeting with Scholz, outgoing premier Lǐ Kèqiáng 李克强 also agreed to “strengthen cooperation” and “increase contact and exchanges” between the two nations.
  • A delegation of 12 top German business leaders — including the chiefs of BASF, BioNTech, Volkswagen, Deutsche Bank, and Siemens — accompanied Scholz to Beijing, a sign to some that business comes first.
  • Germany “[does] not want to decouple from China,” Scholz said in an op-ed in Politico the day before his trip: “As China changes, the way that we deal with China must change, too.”

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Scholz has been criticized both in Germany and among members of the European Union (EU) for being too conciliatory toward China, at a time where many of his peers have advocated for a tougher stance on things like energy dependency or sensitive technology.

  • Germany’s politicians are divided over how to deal with China: For details, see this analysis on The China Project by Duncan Bartlett.
  • Chinese state tabloid the Global Times lauded Scholz’s trip as one that defied the EU’s “extreme confrontational direction” and a “return to rational thinking” on relations with China.
  • Late last month, Scholz had reportedly pushed through a deal to sell a (smaller) stake in Germany’s biggest port to Chinese shipping giant Cosco, sparking an uproar in Berlin.

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