German Chancellor Olaf Scholz will pay a formal visit to China on Friday at Premier Li Keqiang's invitation.
Short as it may be — reportedly no overnight stay is planned — the German chancellor's first China visit, also the first by any European Union leader since the pandemic started, will be closely watched as a bellwether for relations between the EU and China.
Considering the degree of interdependence that has developed over the decades between the Chinese and German economies, and Germany's recent pains over how to reevaluate and reposition ties with China in the context of a corresponding EU policy overhaul, Chancellor Scholz's visit carries very high stakes. After all, some in his government have displayed deep worries about their economy getting too close to that of China and too reliant on it. So much so that there have been growing calls from within the coalition government to "diversify" away from China and show "no more naivety" in dealing with China, which is putting pressure on the chancellor himself.
But no responsible leader can ignore the hard truth of economic reality. China has been Germany's biggest trading partner for years, with bilateral trade in goods nearing 246 billion euros ($245.09 billion) last year. Contrary to what some Western critics seem to assume, Sino-German economic and trade ties have never been one-sidedly beneficial to either. With both economies conspicuously dependent on the international market and mutually complementary, the special closeness between them has been an outcome of normal market logic. Had the Chinese side "weaponized" trade, as some in the West clamor, there would not have been the sizable German business presence in China. That most German automakers have formed joint ventures with Chinese firms, and some have even increased investments amid the current political headwinds, attests not only to the appeal of the huge potential of the Chinese market, but also their confidence in cooperation.
Scholz will reportedly lead a delegation of senior executives from such German industry giants as Adidas, BASF, Bayer, BMW, Siemens and Volkswagen. There is no better way to build trust and dispel misgivings than face-to-face communication.
Volkswagen CEO Oliver Blume was correct in saying it is very important for the two countries to communicate, and listen to each other. That the German government just approved Chinese shipping company Cosco acquiring a stake in a container terminal at Hamburg Port despite internal pressure shows reason still prevails in Berlin's approach to relations with China. As a spokesperson of the German government said, "decoupling" from the Chinese economy isn't the right way to go.