Olaf Scholz says Germany 'will manage better this winter'
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Olaf Scholz has been attacked for “rolling over in front of the enemies of the free world” amid concerns about his trip to Beijing this weekend. The German Chancellor has been accused of kowtowing to China by allowing its companies to gain a sizeable stake in the port in Hamburg.
On Saturday, the central European premier defended the trip to the far East, saying it was “worth it” to secure an agreement of opposition to the use of nuclear weapons in Ukraine.
His coalition foreign minister, Annalena Baerbock, had said earlier this week that China was “increasingly a systemic rival” as she vowed to write a new policy towards the east Asian nation.
Many within Mr Scholz’s own country have pointed to the hammer-blow Germany’s dependence on Russian fossil fuels – largely brokered under his predecessor, Angela Merkel – had placed on its economy.
Last month, the German Chancellor was forced to announce a bank-busting energy support package, and the Government is encouraging households and businesses to reduce energy consumption as it heads into winter.
It came after Russia shut off the flow of gas into Europe through the Nord Stream pipeline – widely seen as a reaction to sanctions over the war in Ukraine.
Marie-Agnes Strack-Zimmermann, a senior Free Democrat politician, asked: “What still has to happen for Germany to arrive in reality and not roll over in front of the enemies of the free world?”
Meanwhile, French President Emmanuel Macron warned that “we have made strategic errors in the past with the sale of infrastructure to China”.
Mr Scholz’s first visit to Beijing comes at a time of increased wariness towards the largest communist state.
President Xi Jinping – who has just secured a third consecutive term as premier – has straddled a position of strategic ambivalence towards Russia’s horrific invasion of Ukraine, in order to continue to trade with both Vladimir Putin and Western nations.
Concerns in Germany about China came to a head last month after Mr Scholz defied calls from six of his ministries to allow Chinese shipping behemoth Cosco to purchase a stake in the Hamburg shipping terminal.
Instead of vetoing the sale altogether, the Chancellor allowed Cosco a reduced stake.
In a comment piece by ARD, a German public broadcaster, published today, it called the trip to Beijing “a continuation of Scholz’ lonely course, in which he has proven in the past that […] despite all the warnings from advisors, ministries and security authorities, he personally opened the gate to the port of Hamburg to China.”
Last weekend, Ms Baerbock said Germany needed to learn its lesson from its dependence on Russia and never again become reliant on a state that did not share Berlin’s values.
The German foreign minister explained: “We clearly stated in the coalition agreement that China is our partner on global issues, that we cannot decouple in a globalised world, but that China is also a competitor and increasingly a systemic rival.”
Ms Baerbock added that the German Chancellor would need to communicate his nation’s position on “the question of fair competition, the question of human rights and the question of the recognition of international law” while in Beijing, something his spokesperson has said will be addressed in official meetings.
Hans-Jorg Heims, a spokesperson for the company selling off parts of its port operation, defended the deal.
He told the Telegraph: “Hamburg is stuck in an extremely hard competition with the other European harbours.
“They could have said: ‘why should we land our freight at Hamburg when we have part-ownership of harbours in Rotterdam and Antwerp?’”
Norbert Aust, Hamburg’s chamber of commerce chief, who also welcomed the deal, said the harbour “is the heart of Hamburg’s economy”.
Ahead of the trip to Beijing, Steffen Hebestreit, a Chancellor spokesperson, said Mr Scholz wanted to “diversify and minimise risks”, but that he was not in favour of cutting ties with China.
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