BERLIN — Chinese Premier Li Qiang’s start of visits to Germany and France comes as Europe seeks to balance concerns about economic dependence on China and its stance on Ukraine and Taiwan with the wants to engage with Beijing on issues like climate change.
Li, on his first foreign trip since taking office, was received on Monday by German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier. He and a large delegation of Chinese ministers will meet Prime Minister Olaf Scholz and their German counterparts on Tuesday, the seventh time the two countries have held such government-level consultations. Top officials from both sides will also meet business representatives.
Li, former Party Secretary of Shanghai, took office in March as China’s No. 2 official. It’s part of a once-decade change of government that installs loyalists to Chinese leader Xi Jinping to enforce his vision of tighter political control over the economy. economic and social.
The visit comes as Europe and Germany are considering how best to deal with an increasingly aggressive China. Scholz advocated a balanced approach, calling for “lowering risks” — seeking to avoid becoming too dependent on China for trade and raw materials by diversifying Berlin’s partners — but rejected completely the idea of ”separation”.
The Group of Seven leading industrial powers repeated that position last month. “The G7 has no interest in hindering China’s economic development, and at the same time we are scrutinizing it to avoid dangerous economic dependence,” Scholz said on Monday.
China has been Germany’s largest trading partner in recent years, although it was second only to the United States in the first quarter of this year.
In Germany’s first national security strategy, presented last week, the government said it considers China a “systemic partner, competitor and competitor”.
It says that “elements of rivalry and competition have increased in recent years; At the same time, China remains a partner that cannot solve many of the most pressing global challenges.”
German officials point out that fighting climate change is a particularly important potential point of cooperation. The official motto of Tuesday’s meeting was “Together Sustainability”.
The German government is still drawing up a detailed separate China strategy, although it is unclear when that will be ready.
Mr. Li’s arrival in Berlin coincided with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s trip to Beijing, aimed at reducing tensions with China. Scholz welcomed that visit as “a good sign for the urgently needed normalization of relations”.
The prime minister traveled to Beijing in November to meet Xi Jinping, who has warned against using or threatening to use nuclear weapons. Scholz often describes it as a success amid China’s refusal to criticize Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Shortly before that trip, Scholz’s government settled an internal disagreement over a Chinese shipping company’s investment in a German container port. The company, COSCO, is limited to a stake of just under 25%, which means it won’t have the power to block operator decisions.
On Monday, the Hamburg port authority announced that the agreement for COSCO to take a stake in the Tollort terminal had been signed “after completion of the investment screening process”.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wengbin last week said that Li’s choice of Germany as his first stop “fully reflects China’s high importance to China-Germany relations”. He said China wishes to “send positive signals to the world to strengthen dialogue and cooperation” and participate in solving challenges “in order to promote the prosperity and development of the world economy”. “.
Li is following a visit to Germany, home to the EU’s largest economy, and a stop in France, the second largest. While there, Li plans to attend the “New Global Financial Compact Summit” being held at the initiative of French President Emmanuel Macron.