German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and a delegation of business leaders landed in Beijing on Friday morning, kicking off the first visit by a leader of a G7 nation to China in three years.
Scholz and the entire delegation were administered COVID-19 tests upon landing, with Chinese medical staff donning hazmat suits going into the plane to conduct the tests, according to a Reuters reporter accompanying the delegation.
China‘s strict zero-COVID policy and growing tensions with the West have made it unfeasible for leaders of major western powers to visit China, while Chinese President Xi Jinping has only just resumed foreign trips.
Scholz’s visit is likely a welcome development for the Chinese leadership, who will be looking to shore up relations with the outside world after the conclusion of the 20th Party Congress, where Xi consolidated his status as the core of the ruling Communist Party.
“China, in the present domestic and international environments, requires his visit and whatever both sides would jointly declare in Beijing, especially shortly after the (Party) Congress,” said Shi Yinhong, a professor of international relations at Renmin University in Beijing.
Amid historic inflation and looming recession in Germany, Scholz will be looking to emphasise the need for continued cooperation with China, analysts say.
Scholz will meet with Xi and outgoing Premier Li Keqiang, where he is also expected to raise controversial issues such as human rights, Taiwan and the difficulties German companies face accessing the Chinese market, according to government sources.
In the run-up to the visit, there had been criticism of the visit within the EU and the German government coalition, mainly from the Green Party and the Liberals.
These tensions were brought to the fore by a deal whereby Chinese shipping giant Cosco received the green light from Berlin to obtain a stake in a Hamburg port terminal despite opposition from coalition partners.
Despite political rows within Germany over the Cosco bid, China’s crucial role in key industries from shipbuilding to electric vehicles, along with the unprecedented economic headwinds facing Germany, meant Scholz needs cooperation with China more than his predecessor Angela Merkel ever did, said Wang Yiwei, Jean Monnet Chair Professor and director of the Centre for European studies at Renmin University.
“Merkel was also quite ideological (towards China) in the beginning but then she changed her tune. Scholz has changed his tune even faster, but he does not have as solid of a domestic political standing as Merkel,” said Wang.