Germany's Chancellor Scholz travels to China to discuss trade and Ukraine

By Jan van der Made with RFI
China via REUTERS - POOL

Chancellor Olaf Scholz travels to China this weekend in the wake of other EU leaders, in an attempt to develop new economic ties. He is also likely to ask Beijing to put pressure on Moscow over Ukraine.

With the economies of both China and Germany currently under performing, Scholz will travel with a bumper delegation of ministers and business executives.

While much of the focus will be on inking new business deals with the Chinese, he is also expected to raise the issue of Chinese subsidies.

Chinese subsidies
Just this week, for example, Brussels opened an investigation into alleged unfair competition involving Chinese wind turbine producers who are flooding the EU market with their products while receiving financial support from Beijing.

A recent study by the EU Parliament's Foreign Affairs Committee (AFET) concludes that Brussel's approach to China has been "largely defensive".

It points out that the international system "is in a state of flux and [with] the liberal rules-based order being called into question, the EU must develop a strategic vision of its own preferred international order and a guiding foreign policy vision." 

A 2019 EU policy paper declared China a "systemic rival"  which led to the  opening of discussions among EU member states about how to deal with Beijing.

There were two options options discussed. The first is "decoupling", which means pulling away from China as far as possible and moving economic ties to other regions.

The second option is to prevent sensitive industries from engaging with China, but enabling the development of ties for the rest.

In its latest China Strategy, published last year, the German foreign ministry watered down the core EU strategy and changed its position on China. China, the paper argues, should still be seen as a a "systemic rival,"  but also as a "partner" and "competitor".

France too is taking a slightly milder approach towards Beijing.

If Brussels is still seems to be wielding a stick, France is holding a carrot. Last year Macron visited to Beijing, where he said, in a now controversial interview, that Europe should have its own strategic autonomy and "avoid the trap [of being] caught in crises which are not ours," -  a reference to Taiwan, which is at the core of the current China-US stand-off.

Europe, Ukraine, and China
And then there is the issue of Ukraine. Speaking about it earlier this month during a visit to China,  French foreign minister, Stéphane Séjourné said, "We are convinced that there will be no lasting peace if it is not negotiated with the Ukrainians.

"There will be no security for Europeans if there is no peace in accordance with international law."

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte also visited China at the end of March. 

The Netherlands and China are at loggerheads over Dutch company ASML, one of the world's leading manufacturers of semiconductors.

Earlier this year, it announced that it had been blocked from exporting "a small number" of its advanced machines to China.

Chinese president Xi Jinping told Rutte recently that China's technological progress could "not be held back," in spite of a US and EU export ban on semiconductors.  

Rutte told told reporters at a press conference that he couldn't share details of what had been discussed about the issue.

Ending the war?

However,  the main reason for France, Germany and the Netherlands want to maintain good relations with China may be because it hopes Beijing can exert pressure on Russia to stop the war in Ukraine.

With the possibility of a Trump presidency after US elections in November and the likelihood of less US support for NATO and Ukraine if this happens, the costs for EU member states of maintaining financial and military support for Kyiv would increase substantially.

The only country Russia might listen to is China. 
Last month, Wang Yi,meeting the press during the yearly session of China's parliament, underlined the ties between the two countries, saying that "political mutual trust" between the two countries "is deepening."

Putin and China's leader Xi Jinping met each other on several occasions since Russia's invasion of Ukraine, and Putin has been looking at China as an alternative market after Western sanctions hit its oil and gas industry.

Both leaders talk about the "ironclad" relationship between their countries on a regular basis.

Rutte, the Dutch leader, is also pushing Xi on Russia. "Russia [can] not win. I talked about this with the Chinese leaders and I hope they understand what this means for Europe," he told students during a visit to Beijing University. 

But he also admitted that repeated requests by EU leaders to Beijing to exert pressure on Moscow to end the war, as well as complaints about subsidies of Chinese products and violations of intellectual property rights, are not being acted upon.

"It is not improving, or it improves very slowly," he was quoted as saying by Dutch daily De Volkskrant

(With newswires)