Scholz begins his tour in China against the backdrop of the crisis in the Middle East


by Andreas Rinke and Sarah Marsh

CHONGQING/BERLIN (Reuters) – German Chancellor Olaf Scholz began a three-day tour of China on Sunday to strengthen trade ties between Berlin and Beijing, amid escalating tensions in the Middle East following the attack on Iran against Israel.

Upon his arrival, Olaf Scholz condemned the Iranian strikes “in the strongest possible terms”, his spokesperson said.

“We will do everything in our power to prevent further escalation,” the chancellor told the press.

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“We can only warn everyone, and in particular Iran, against a continuation of the situation.”

Olaf Scholz begins his visit in the southwestern city of Chongqing and will also visit Shanghai and Beijing. Accompanied by ministers and a large employers’ delegation, he is due to meet Chinese President Xi Jinping and Prime Minister Li Qiang on Tuesday.

The attack on Iran has somewhat redefined the agenda and the tone of the visit of Olaf Scholz, who will participate, for example, from his hotel, in a videoconference with the leaders of the G7 on Sunday to discuss the situation , a source from the German delegation told Reuters.

Members of the delegation had also expressed hope before the trip that Beijing could play a positive role in easing growing tensions in the Middle East, despite their critical assessment of its support for Russia during the invasion of Ukraine.

China indeed played a mediating role between Iran and Saudi Arabia last year, and Reuters reported that Beijing had asked Iran to help limit attacks on ships in the Red Sea by the Houthis from Yemen, supported by Tehran, under penalty of harming trade relations with Beijing.

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Earlier on Sunday, the chancellor visited the hydrogen fuel cell factory of German automotive supplier Bosch in Chongqing, shining the spotlight on a region where tensions are increasingly high.

The European Union (EU) has launched several investigations into Chinese exports, such as electric vehicle batteries, which it says have benefited from state subsidies.

Germany’s auto industry fears the investigations could lead to a trade war that could damage its prospects in the world’s largest auto market.

Olaf Scholz’s visit is being closely monitored to determine the extent to which Germany supports the EU investigation, even though Berlin’s general stance toward China has become more critical since the war in Ukraine.

Last year, Germany also published its first China strategy, outlining “unfair practices” and risks to supply chains in the event of a potential conflict over Taiwan, and calling for a “risk reduction”. However, diversification efforts towards China are currently uneven.

During his visit, Olaf Scholz is also expected to address the issue of China’s support for Russia. German officials denounced Beijing’s exports to Russia on Friday.

“It is a question of China not supporting Russia in its brutal war against its neighbor Ukraine,” wrote Olaf Scholz in a message published on the social network X on Saturday.

(Reporting Andreas Rinke in Chongqing and Sarah Marsh in Berlin; French version Kate Entringer)

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