Scholz visits Beijing but tensions simmer on Russia and Gaza

Berlin is one of Israel’s most fervent allies, while China has long been a champion of Palestinian statehood

When Olaf Scholz last came to Beijing in November 2022, China was still under strict zero-Covid protocols and Xi Jinping had met few foreign leaders during the previous three years. On Tuesday, as the two leaders walked through the gardens of the Diaoyutai state guesthouse, the atmosphere was more relaxed but many of the same tensions remain.

If Xi wanted to talk about the trade relationship between the world’s second and third biggest economies Scholz made clear at the start of the meeting that he had a different priority. “Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine and the militarisation of Russia have had enormous negative consequences for Europe’s security. They affect our core interests,” he told the Chinese leader.

When China published a 12-point proposal for peace in Ukraine last spring, the western powers dismissed it as irrelevant, along with proposals from the African Union and others. As conditions on the battlefield have worsened some of Ukraine’s allies are more interested in a negotiated settlement but Beijing is stepping back.

Switzerland is planning to host a peace conference near Lucerne in June, but the country’s foreign minister suggested during a recent visit to Beijing that it is too soon for Russia to be involved. The conference is expected to follow the so-called Copenhagen format, with Kyiv’s peace proposal, which requires the withdrawal of all Russian forces from Ukrainian territory, at the centre of discussions and Moscow not present.


Xi told Scholz that China supports the holding “in due course” of an international conference that is recognised by both Ukraine and Russia. Beijing may favour a negotiated settlement but while China’s interest does not require Russia to prevail (it has never recognised the 2014 annexation of Crimea) Xi does not wish to see Vladimir Putin lose the war.

If there is scant common ground between Germany and China on Ukraine, there is less on Gaza where Berlin is one of Israel’s most fervent allies while Beijing has long been a champion of Palestinian statehood. But it is in the interest of both countries to prevent an escalation in the conflict between Israel and Iran, and the western powers are eager for Beijing to use its influence with Tehran to lower the temperature.

China is an important economic partner for Iran but its diplomatic influence there is limited, and when foreign minister Wang Yi spoke to his Iranian and Saudi counterparts this week after the Saudis helped to defend Israel from the Iranian attack last Saturday, his priority was clear.

“China appreciates Iran’s stress on not targeting regional and neighbouring countries as well as its reiteration on continuously pursuing a good-neighbourly and friendly policy,” the Chinese readout said.

China last year brokered a deal to restore diplomatic relations between Iran and Saudi Arabia, two of its important energy suppliers, and Beijing wants to ensure that the current crisis does not wreck that accord.