Scholz’s visit once again proves what the mainstream of China-Germany ties is

On Sunday morning, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz arrived in Chongqing and began his highly anticipated China visit, his second since assuming office. According to the itinerary announced by the German Chancellery, Scholz will visit Chongqing, Shanghai and Beijing in three days. This is also his longest trip as chancellor. From the preview of the itinerary, to the fierce competition among German companies for the “boarding pass” to join the delegation, to the speculation and debate on the topics and impacts of the trip, this visit has garnered high attention and interpretation from the public opinion of the two countries and the world, which is relatively rare.

The reason for this is related to the pivotal position of China and Germany as the world’s second- and third-largest economies in the current changing international situation, and also to the public’s close attention to the impact this visit will have on China-Germany and even China-EU relations. Judging from the “grand” visiting delegation of three federal ministers and many business leaders sent by Germany, as well as the overall itinerary, the importance of China-Germany relations to both sides is beyond doubt. More importantly, through a series of close interactions, China and Germany will once again prove that they are partners who can work together to cope with changes, and that there is still great potential for practical cooperation.

To a certain extent, Scholz’s “high-profile” visit to China is just a return to the normalcy of bilateral relations. Large-scale and close exchanges at the government level, as well as at the local and enterprise levels between China and Germany have always been key factors and advantages in bilateral relations. The extremely high attention and many interpretations of this visit are a reflection of the current confusion about China in Germany and Europe. Some German media described the visit as bearing certain resemblances to the “Merkel era.” This reflects, from another aspect, that the tradition of pragmatism, rationality, and win-win cooperation with China is still maintained in Germany.

In the current European public opinion environment, Scholz’s visit has been set with some “issues” and “difficulties.” At one moment, it was hoped that he could show more of Europe’s “tough” attitude on issues such as the Russia-Ukraine conflict, the Taiwan Straits and human rights. At another moment, it was suggested that at this delicate moment when the US and Europe threaten to crack down on Chinese goods in the subsidy dispute, Germany should not hold an “ambiguous” attitude.

In Germany, business people and local government officials who come to China for practical cooperation need to be careful not to be labeled as “exposing fatal weaknesses in China.” Such rhetoric is coercive and mixes ideological leftovers with the new slogan of “decoupling” as reasons for bullying Germany’s diplomatic autonomy. 

In fact, the practical needs of China-Germany cooperation far outweigh the temporary clamor of public opinion. An important detail that deserves attention is that after Scholz arrived in Chongqing, he visited a hydrogen motor production facility of a German auto supplier. It is easy to see Germany’s emphasis on the potential of clean energy cooperation between the two countries. 

Germany has been China’s largest trading partner in Europe for 49 consecutive years, while China has been Germany’s largest global trading partner for eight consecutive years. In 2023, according to German institutions, German investment in China reached a historic high. Just a few days ago, German automotive giant Volkswagen announced a €2.5 billion ($2.7 billion) investment to expand its operations in China. The facts show that practical cooperation is not an option, but a necessity.

There is no need to hide the fact that there is competition in certain industries between China and Germany, which has been a focal point for some US and European media outlets to drive a wedge in China-Germany relations. However, regardless of the true observations from Scholz’s visit, or the choice of German companies to invest in China, one can see that the space and potential for rational and pragmatic cooperation between China and Germany, as well as mutual benefit and win-win situations, should not be underestimated. When facing controversial issues, both sides will have enough wisdom and capability to find solutions.

Scholz’s visit comes at the 10th anniversary of the establishment of the China-Germany comprehensive strategic partnership, and the interactions between the two major economies undoubtedly hold great significance for bilateral relations and China-Europe relations. Beyond the bilateral level, the inspiration of Scholz’s visit to China is that dialogue and communication hold important value even in times of difficulties, challenges, changes and even chaos. Mutual respect and pragmatic cooperation should still be the principles to follow in developing relationships.

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