BEIJING -German Chancellor Olaf Scholz will press China to open up its markets and will raise human rights concerns next week in what will be the first visit by a European Union leader to China since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, Berlin said on Friday.
Scholz will visit on Nov. 4 at a time of growing concern in the West about China’s trade practices and human rights record, as well as anxiety over Germany’s reliance on the world’s second-largest economy.
It also comes amid a festering row within Scholz’s three-way coalition over whether to approve Chinese investment in a terminal at Hamburg, Germany’s largest port, which Scholz is pushing through despite the security concerns of his ministers.
The German government’s spokesperson told a briefing on Friday that Berlin’s view of Beijing had changed but it was against “decoupling” from the Chinese economy and wanted Beijing to show reciprocity in trade relations.
Germany would discuss “autocratic” tendencies in China, and human rights, “but also a whole range of other questions, about reciprocity, as in the opening of Chinese markets for European and other companies”, the spokesperson said.
The German government wanted to meet non-governmental organisations during the visit but it was not clear if that will be possible, the spokesperson added.
Scholz is visiting China at the invitation of Chinese Premier Li Keqiang, China’s foreign ministry said in a brief statement confirming the trip.
China has been Germany’s biggest trading partner for the past six years, with volumes reaching more than 245 billion euros ($244 billion) in 2021.
Scholz will be accompanied on his one-day visit by a delegation of business leaders. The chief executives of Volkswagen and BASF have confirmed that they will be among those joining the chancellor.
The German leader has faced criticism ahead of the trip for pushing through a cabinet decision to allow China’s Cosco to invest in a terminal at Hamburg. This came despite strong pushback from his coalition partners amid concerns over Chinese influence over critical infrastructure.
Berlin is also still examining the potential Chinese takeover of the chip production of Dortmund-based company Elmos, the German spokesperson said.
The spokesperson declined to confirm a German media report that Germany’s domestic intelligence agency had warned against approving the investment.
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