(Bloomberg) — Chinese President Xi Jinping welcomed his German counterpart Olaf Scholz to China for a one-day trip set to cover trade ties and human rights issues that have strained Beijing’s relations with Brussels.
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The two leaders met in Beijing on Friday morning ahead of their first in-person talks since Scholz took office, the official Xinhua News Agency reported. Xi told the German leader his visit would increase mutual trust, adding that the two sides should work together to make contributions to world peace and development in “times of change and chaos,” according to state broadcaster China Central Television.
Scholz is the first major European leader to visit China in more than two years, and his trip comes as Xi looks more powerful than ever at home, having secured a precedent-defying third term in office. But the German’s arrival also comes as China rebounds this week from a record market rout sparked by policies Xi laid out at last month’s leadership reshuffle.
The German chancellor is also expected to sit down with Premier Li Keqiang later Friday, before departing from China in the evening.
Scholz was joined by a powerhouse delegation expected to include top executives from BASF SE, Volkswagen AG, Deutsche Bank AG and BioNTech SE. China will be looking to reassure foreign business leaders that it’s open for investment and trade, despite a strict Covid Zero policy that’s weighed on the economy and effectively closed the nation’s borders for nearly three years.
Jens Hildebrandt, executive director of the German Chamber of Commerce in North China, told Bloomberg TV that clarity on Xi’s Covid Zero policy was the “biggest concern” of the European nation’s businesses. “We need predictability and stability,” he said.
The Chinese leader’s efforts to solidify ties with Germany are part of a broader push to prevent relations with the European Union from further deteriorating, as Beijing faces an increasingly hostile environment in Washington. Ties between China and the West have been strained by Xi’s crackdown on Hong Kong, treatment of Muslims in Xinjiang and refusal to condemn Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Berlin is working to hone a new national strategy on China that aims to weaken reliance, diversify supply chains and enhance security, while reinforcing business ties. That leaves Scholz walking a fine line between pushing trade ties in Beijing, while voicing concerns on sensitive allegations of human rights violations by China.
Rebecca Choong Wilkins on Scholtz Trip (Audio)
Last year, the EU halted an investment agreement with China after both sides traded sanctions over Xinjiang. A panel of UN experts in 2019 said an estimated 1 million people had been sent to counter-terrorism internment facilities in the far west region, part of a set of policies the US has said amount to genocide. Beijing denies such allegations.
Scholz wrote in a guest article for German publication Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung on Wednesday that Berlin was seeking cooperation with China. “China remains an important economic and trading partner for Germany and Europe, even under changed circumstances,” he said. “We do not want decoupling.”
Xi has hosted a flurry of top foreign leaders from Vietnam, Pakistan and Tanzania this week, as he returns to in-person diplomacy after recently breaking a long spell of Covid isolation. Those meetings come ahead of the Chinese leader’s expected attendance of major summits in Indonesia and Thailand later in the month, where he could sit down with President Joe Biden.
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