10.11.2022 Author: Vladimir Terehov

Olaf Scholz, Germany’s Chancellor, visits China

On November 4, Germany’s Chancellor Olaf Scholz flew to Beijing for talks with the Chinese President Xi Jinping and Prime Minister Li Keqiang – a remarkable development, given the current state of the Great Global Game. The visit was surprising for a number of reasons – and here, by way of introduction, a few words of explanation are required.

Firstly, it is impossible to ignore the fact that the visit goes against the main trend in the policy of what we might call the “collective West,” which can be summarized as blocking channels of communication with China, the West’s main geopolitical opponent – a designation that has even been used in a number of official documents. That trend has, if anything, become even more evident following the end of the recent 20th National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party, which clearly marked a key moment in the process of China’s development.

Against that background, the Prime Minister of one of the leading Western nations, accompanied by a group of German business leaders, chose to travel to China for talks with the leader of a country that many see as “global outlaw number one.” And that is a clear indication that the term “collective West” – popular with journalists during the Cold War period – does not refer to any kind of “organization” and in reality merely indicates a loose grouping of very different countries. Although that grouping does include a number of structures such as NATO and the EU.

Moreover, increasingly clear divisions (some running deeper than others) in the “collective West” take place both between individual countries, and in individual countries’ domestic politics. That conclusion is supported by a number of the circumstances surrounding Olaf Scholz’s trip to Beijing.

While the event was likely planned some time ago, in the opinion of the present author the main reason for the trip may well have been the explosions that damaged the gas pipelines running under the Baltic Sea between Russia and Germany. The Chancellor’s own statements on that issue have been very vague, but his government contains a number of figures who appear to take a certain perverse glee in the damage. The current Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock, referring to Germany’s earlier decision to end its reliance on Russian oil and gas starting from next year, simply said: “We have to be patient.”

Her reaction – which quickly became something of a meme – begs a number of questions. Firstly, patient for what? In order to satisfy the unrealistic dreams of the government of an “independent” country, which has offered up the life and blood of the population under its control for sale in an international political market? And, at the end of the day, who is “we”?

Annalena Baerbock herself, as a former trampoline champion, will have no problem staying warm. But German’s industrial sector, the main driver of its economy, needs a source of cheap gas. A resource that should be on tap, so that the consumer can get as much as they need simply by turning up the dial. But that tap (according to one highly likely theory) appears to have been blown up by a nearby “ally.”

After that, it is clear that the term “collective West” no longer applies. In fact, it is hard to talk about any collective unity even within Germany’s political elite. After all, while Olaf Scholz was in Beijing, the Foreign Ministers of the G7 countries were meeting in Munster. As the representative of the host nation, Annalena Baerbock led the meeting and the supporting events.

Although the meeting of G7 Foreign Ministers was a scheduled event, commentators have been unanimous in seeing it as a kind of counterpoint to the Chancellor’s trip to Beijing. For example, during the Munster summit the Japanese and German Foreign Ministers and Defense Ministers met together in their first 2+2 format meeting, which was openly anti-Chinese in content.

Equally significant was the recent official trip by the German President, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, to Japan, a country whose relations with both China and Russia are troubled, to say the least. The trip lasted from November 1-3, finishing the day before Olaf Scholz’s trip to Beijing. During talks with the Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, both parties “vowed to unify the response to Russian aggression in Ukraine” and stressed that security in Europe and in the Indo-Pacific region were “inseparable.”

During his trip Frank-Walter Steinmeier and his wife were received by the Japanese Emperor and Empress. In accordance with the protocol, conversation in such ceremonial meetings is limited to neutral subjects, and in the present case they talked about the upcoming FIFA World Cup. It should be noted that it is very rare for the Imperial couple to receive foreign guests, and the fact that this honor was granted to the German President represents a significant milestone in relations between the two countries.

Olaf Scholz’s schedule during his trip to Beijing was extremely busy, without a moment of free time, as representatives of both countries have noted. All the events took place within just a few hours. At this point, some degree of clarification is required.

Naturally, the guest could not (and did not try to) claim to bring anything new to the table during his brief trip to China. During the last two decades a great deal of work has already been done to develop relations between Germany and China. On Germany’s part, the main driver of this process was Olaf Scholz’s predecessor, Angela Merkel.

During her time as Chancellor, she visited China 12 times. And before each trip she was subjected to psychological pressure from most of the “collective West’s” propaganda bodies, which tried to complicate her task by raising the issue of China’s human rights “abuses” with the Chinese leadership.

Her last trip to China, in September 2019, was particularly difficult, especially as she was clearly suffering from poor health at the time. During that trip a“Hong Kong activist” tried to get her to condemn the measures (which the present author considers to have been very mild) taken by Beijing to suppress the most recent outbreak of rioting in the streets of Hong Kong. And if, on her previous trips to China, she had to somehow abide by the fact that she was the head of one of the leading nations in the “collective west,” on this trip that fact was passed over without notice.

Moreover, in the period leading up to that visit Germany had become China’s most important trading partner, and Angela Merkel’s resilience and (relative) independence in the face of pressure form her partners in the “collective West” helps to explain why Beijing always treated her with marked respect.

Olaf Scholz was thus visiting a country with which, thanks to the efforts of his predecessor, who spent many years in preparing the ground, Germany now enjoys very fruitful relations. In general terms, the senior officials who Olaf Scholz met in Beijing merely requested him to confirm Germany’s commitment to its existing course, and the trip was largely a formality. Neither the recent 20th National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party, a milestone in Chinese politics, nor the change of leader in Germany, still China’s most important European partner, will have any impact on the relations between the two countries.

Naturally, however, Olaf Scholz, like his predecessor, had to at least pay lip service to the fact that his country forms part of the “collective West” (which is still a going concern).

Significantly, in response to Olaf Scholz’s trip to China, the editors of one of Japan’s leading newspapers Yomiuri Shimbun expressed concern that “Germany seems to be too eager to promote economic cooperation with China.” However, the editorial approves the German Chancellor’s comments on the international situation: “Scholz cautioned against China’s support for Russia over the Ukraine conflict and expressed concern about Beijing’s human rights problems as well.”

To conclude, let us return to the issue which, in the current author’s view, lay behind the German Chancellor’s decision to visit China, a country that at first sight one would not expect Germany to have close relations with. Until recently, it was hard to imagine a more natural partnership than Russia, with its wealth of natural resources and Germany, France and Italy, with their industrial and technological potential. But a certain world power was unhappy with the idea of that partnership developing into an established conglomeration – economical, if not political. The gas pipeline explosions, the use of populations on the edge of eastern Europe to create protective barriers, and the support to prop up the criminal Kiev regime are all part of its plan to undermine that partnership.

Given all these negative factors in Europe, it is clear that Olaf Scholz is seeking to find some solutions to his country’s problems in other regions. With that goal in mind, China remains a promising partner. Especially since the ground for this fruitful relationship was prepared carefully by Germany’s previous Chancellor.

However while Germany will continue to follow its existing course, it is clear that this will be against a background of hostility which is being forced on the German Chancellor both by his country’s partners in the “collective West” and his “well-wishers” within Germany. The author has already commented on the attacks initiated by Germany’s partners, and as for hostile moves from German politicians, they were not long in appearing.

Vladimir Terekhov, expert on the issues of the Asia-Pacific region, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook.