German Chancellor Olaf Scholz met with Chinese President Xi Jinping during the first trip to China by a G7 leader in three years.
On Friday, when leading a high-level business delegation to China, the German chancellor was criticized for his apparent desire to do partnerships with a nation that is becoming more autocratic under President Xi.
German industry's reliance on China has also come under fresh criticism, notably Berlin's over-reliance on Russian energy imports, which left the country vulnerable when Moscow cut off the supply in response to sanctions imposed for its invasion of Ukraine.
Scholz's presence in Beijing was the first visit by a G7 leader — Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom, and the United States – since the 2019 outbreak of COVID-19.
CCTV reports that at a face-to-face discussion with Scholz on Friday, Xi stated that China and Germany, as large nations with power, should work together amid "times of upheaval and turmoil" for the benefit of world peace.
According to a Reuters reporter accompanying Scholz's delegation, Scholz told Xi that it was fortunate that the two leaders were meeting in person during tough times, with the Russian invasion of Ukraine causing issues for the rules-based international order.
Before the visit, German opposition lawmaker Norbert Roettgen told the Rheinische Post that Scholz's approach to Beijing looked to be predicated on the notion that "we want to continue doing business with China, regardless of what that means for our economy's dependence and our ability to act".
"The chancellor's foreign policy will lead to a loss of trust in Germany among our closest allies," warned Roettgen of the conservative CDU, accusing Scholz of "going it alone" in his approach to China.
Before the visit, Berlin reportedly consulted with important allies in the United States and Europe, and Scholz pledged a "frank dialogue" with Chinese leaders on difficult issues.
China's 'internal affairs'
The economies of Germany and China are intricately connected. China is an essential market for German goods, including machinery and automobiles manufactured by Volkswagen, BMW, and Mercedes-Benz.
State-run Chinese media has praised the visit.
Patrick Fok of Al Jazeera reported from Beijing that state media in China had billed the visit as "putting the brakes on the EU's excessively hostile approach towards China," and that the visit will likely be portrayed as an endorsement of Xi's new government.
At the Chinese Communist Party Congress in Beijing last month, Xi was re-elected for a third five-year term, a vote that elevated Xi to the position of China's most powerful leader since Mao Zedong.
Fok stated, "Olaf Scholz's visit has been subjected to intense scrutiny, with many in Europe claiming that it indicates a lack of a cohesive voice within the bloc on how to deal with Beijing and that Germany is repeating the same mistakes it made with Russia."
"Perhaps that is why this is such a brief visit," he added, stressing that the German chancellor will only spend roughly 24 hours in China.
Scholz stated in a newspaper interview, "We will not disregard difficulties," and he enumerated several delicate issues that will be discussed with his Chinese counterpart. These include respect for civil liberties in China, human rights in the Xinjiang area, where the United Nations has stated that the treatment of the Uighur Muslim minority may constitute crimes against humanity, and Taiwan's status.
Thursday in Beijing, foreign ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian stated that China was looking forward to a "successful" visit and that collaboration between China and Germany "much outweighs rivalry."
"China and Germany are allies, not adversaries," added the official.
"Both nations have benefited from the expansion and practical bilateral cooperation of the other. "A solid connection between China and Germany is beneficial not only for the two nations but also for China-EU relations and the entire globe," he said.
The spokesperson further cautioned that China would not tolerate criticism regarding "internal affairs."
"China's attitude toward Xinjiang, for example, is constant and unambiguous. These are China's internal issues, in which no outside influence is permitted. Regarding so-called 'human rights issues, China respects and defends them, he said.
He said, "China opposes using human rights talks as a pretext to interfere in China's domestic affairs or to slander and tarnish China."
Chinese dissidents and the World Uyghur Congress urged Scholz to postpone his travel before the visit.