Scholz meets Xi: Ukraine, Taiwan and human rights on agenda

German Chancellor’s Beijing visit could be pivotal in determining China’s relationship with the EU

When Olaf Scholz meets Xi Jinping in Beijing’s Great Hall of the People on Friday morning, he will be the first leader of a major western power to visit China in three years. The German chancellor will spend only a few hours in the country, but his visit could be pivotal in determining the future of China’s relationship with the European Union.

Scholz will be accompanied by a group of chief executives from German industry and the chancellor’s critics have portrayed his trip as a crude manifestation of the mercantilist character of his country’s foreign policy. But he is expected to deliver a sharp message to Xi reflecting European concerns about China’s stance on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, sabre-rattling over Taiwan and human rights abuses in Xinjiang.

“China’s relationship with Europe and China’s relationship with the United States are very different. The biggest difference is that we do not have national security disputes with the European countries,” said Fan Jishe, deputy director and a professor of international strategy at the Party School of the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party.

Europe’s relationship with China has become more turbulent in recent years, with the mutual imposition of sanctions over the treatment of the Uyghur minority in Xinjiang last year leading to the European Parliament’s refusal to ratify a Comprehensive Agreement on Investment (CAI). When Lithuania allowed Taiwan to open a representative office in its capital, Beijing responded with economic measures which the EU characterised as a trade boycott.


Fan blames Washington for the deterioration in relations with Europe because president Joe Biden has sought to build an alliance behind measures that isolate China from global supply chains.

Many European companies believe they can benefit from China’s economic development and they want to join that process. American companies have a similar view, but their government wants to decouple from China and wants to cut China out of the supply chain.

“It seems that the Biden administration want to decouple from China, they want to exclude China from supply chains and want to rebuild supply chains in an exclusive way. That’s the American approach,” he said.

“Since President Biden took office, he has made great efforts to mobilise European countries to follow the American approach and to put pressure European countries. The Biden administration just wants to hijack European countries to follow its political agenda in dealing with China. So that’s what’s been happening in the last 20 months. But European countries are European countries. The EU is the EU. The EU is not part of the United States. They should not be hijacked by the United States.”

Nothing has fuelled European antagonism towards China as much as Beijing’s actions after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine this year. China abstained in a United Nations vote to condemn the action and Xi has reaffirmed his friendship with Vladimir Putin.

Joerg Wuttke, a German industrialist who chairs the EU Chamber of Commerce in China, says that senior figures in the Communist Party have not grasped why Beijing’s response to the war has hurt its relationship with Europe.

“The surprising thing is that actually they think they are neutral. They abstained at the United Nations and they don’t deliver weapons. Granted, they don’t actually break the sanctions but they don’t understand what this fence-sitting means to Europeans, in particular with the nuclear threat,” he said.

Wuttke believes Beijing could improve its relationship with the EU by quietly dropping its measures against Lithuania and taking some practical steps to ease the path of European investors in China. But he argues that Scholz is right to meet Xi in the aftermath of his accession to a third term as China’s leader and ahead of this month’s G20 meeting in Bali.

“We didn’t have a G7 leader in China in a thousand days. And I think it is important to have someone telling the Chinese in clear language our issues when it comes to Ukraine, Taiwan, human rights and so on. And at the same time see where we have common ground still on global climate change, biodiversity, terrorism and so forth, face to face,” he said.

“I really don’t understand why in Germany they think the timing is wrong. Because when is the timing going to be right? In one year? In two years? The party has just established a new leadership that’s not going to change for five years. So better in the beginning, make your position clear, than wait and hope for the best.”