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Xi urges Scholz to stay pragmatic with China

December 21, 2021

In a call with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, Chinese President Xi Jinping stressed the need for continuity and pragmatism in bilateral relations. Scholz faces pressure to confront China over alleged human rights abuses.

Olaf Scholz, who was then Hamburg's mayor, welcoming Xi Jinping to the G7 summit there in 2017
Olaf Scholz, who was then Hamburg's mayor, welcoming Xi Jinping to the G7 summit there in 2017Image: Carsten Rehder/dpa/picture alliance

Chinese President Xi Jinping told German Chancellor Olaf Scholz he was hopeful that the two countries could maintain continuity and "stay on course" in the development of relations, according to Chinese state media.

Scholz faces something of a balancing act in dealing with China. China is Germany's biggest trading partner and the single most important customer for the country's important auto industry. However, differences regularly arise over democracy and human rights issues.

What did the Chinese president say?

Xi said German companies were welcome to seize the opportunities brought by China's opening up, according to a readout of the conversation published by Chinese state broadcaster CCTV. He said he hoped, in turn, that Germany would provide a fair business environment for Chinese investors.

The president also said China — the world's second-largest economy — and Germany — the fourth — should see the development of the other as an opportunity.

The countries should also "preserve the excellent tradition of a high-rank leadership style," state media quoted Xi as saying.

It's thought that the comments about leadership style suggest Xi is hoping Scholz will determine Germany's policy on China   rather than Foreign Minister Anna Baerbock, who has spoken of dialogue but also of "toughness" with China.

In a statement, the German government confirmed that Scholz and Xi had discussed deepening bilateral ties. The two also discussed German-Chinese economic relations, developments in relations between China and the European Union, and other international themes, the government said.

Delicate balancing act

During her time in office, former-Chancellor Angela Merkel faced accusations of not criticizing Beijing's handling of human rights clearly enough.

Earlier this month, Xi welcomed then-Finance Minister Scholz's elevation to chancellor and advocated "raising bilateral relations to a new level." He said the two countries had "sought common ground" in the past, despite differences.

Beijing is accused of massive repression of the Uyghur Muslim community in the western province of Xinjiang, as well as an erosion of civil rights and democracy in Hong Kong.

Europe also accuses Beijing of unfair trade practices and flexing its military might in territorial disputes with neighbors such as Taiwan.

In May, the EU Parliament put a long-planned investment agreement between China and the EU on ice.

That move was triggered by the extensive counter-sanctions imposed by China in March that followed European punitive actions against officials deemed responsible for violations in Xinjiang.

rc/sms (AFP, Reuters)