Germany’s Scholz vows not to ignore ‘controversies’ on China visit

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz pledged on Wednesday not to ignore "controversies" during a high-stakes trip to China this week, which has sparked a storm of criticism.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz
Chancellor Olaf Scholz (SPD) holds a press conference after a meeting with state premiers in Berlin. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Kay Nietfeld

“We seek cooperation, when it is in the interest of both sides. We will not ignore controversies,” he wrote in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung newspaper, ahead of his visit Friday together with a business delegation.

Scholz listed “difficult topics” that he would raise, including respect for civil liberties, the rights of ethnic minorities in Xinjiang and free and fair world trade.

He will be the first European Union leader to visit China since late 2019, before the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic, even as Beijing continues to pursue its tough zero-Covid policies.

READ ALSO: Germany’s Scholz set for high-stakes China visit

But the leader of Europe’s largest economy has faced a backlash for undertaking the trip, and even members of his own coalition have raised concerns about Germany’s heavy reliance on increasingly authoritarian Beijing.

Such fears have grown after Germany was left exposed by its dependence on Russian gas imports: the country has been plunged into an energy crisis after Moscow slashed supplies as tensions soared over the Ukraine war.

Germany would continue to demand “reciprocity” in its relations with China, Scholz said.

He said both sides were “far away” from that goal, listing areas including market access, legal certainty and protection of intellectual property.

Scholz also sought to play down concerns that Germany was going it alone and seeking to look out for its own interests with the visit, despite the concerns of EU partners.

“When I travel to Beijing as German chancellor, then I do so also as a European,” he wrote of the visit, during which he will meet President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang.

Scholz stressed he would not speak on behalf of the whole EU, but that German foreign policy could “only be successful” as part of a common European strategy towards China.

He also pointed out the last trip by a German leader was three years earlier. “Such meetings have not been possible for a long time due to the Covid-19 pandemic and Beijing’s strict coronavirus policies,” Scholz said.

“That makes direct talks all the more important now.”

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: Why is Olaf Scholz’s stance on China so controversial in Germany?

Blinken arrives for G7

Washington has frowned on the visit, even though a senior US state department official told journalists on Wednesday: “I think what we’ve seen over the last couple of years is increasing alignment between us and Europe on the challenges posed by China.”

The topic was likely to come up in a meeting between US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and his German counterpart Annalena Baerbock on Thursday on the sidelines of Group of Seven industrialised nations talks in the western city of Münster.

Blinken landed in Germany on Wednesday evening.

Annalena Baerbock and Anthony Blinken

Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock (Greens) gives a press conference alongside US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa Pool | Bernd von Jutrczenka

The United States has in particular raised concern over Germany allowing Chinese shipping giant Cosco to buy a stake in a port terminal in the northern city of Hamburg.

“The embassy was very clear that we strongly suggested that there be no controlling interests by China and as you see they adjusted the deal,” another high-ranking US diplomat said.

Ultimately, Scholz defied calls from six ministries to veto the sale over security concerns, instead permitting the company to acquire a reduced stake.

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German parliament to hold urgent debate on citizenship

Politicians will gather in the Bundestag on Thursday afternoon for an urgent session on Germany's planned changes to citizenship law.

German parliament to hold urgent debate on citizenship

According to information on the Bundestag website, the urgent discussion was scheduled on the request of the opposition CDU party, who have been fiercely critical of the planned reforms in recent days.

The debate, which is scheduled to start at 2:50pm and last an hour, will see MPs air their views on the government’s planned changes to citizenship law.

Interior Minister Nancy Faeser (SPD) is currently in the process of drafting a bill that will simplify and speed up the naturalisation process in Germany, which she said this week is “as good as done”.  

The law will end a ban on dual nationality for non-EU citizens, meaning people from places like India, the USA and the UK can naturalise as Germans without losing their current citizenship – or citizenships. 

It also foresees a dramatic reduction in the amount of time it takes to become eligible for German citizenship.

In future, people would be able to naturalise after five years of residence in the country rather than the current eight, while people who speak good German or fulfil other integration criteria could naturalise after three years rather than six.

Additionally, the Interior Ministry wants to grant automatic German citizenship to the children of foreign parents – provided their parents have been in the country at least five years – and remove language requirements for members of the guest-worker generation who want to become German. 


‘We don’t need reform’

High-profile politicians from the CDU have slammed the government’s plans to ease citizenship rules, with parliamentary leader Thorsten Frei describing the move as an attempt to “sell-off” German passports as a “junk commodity”.

“We don’t need reform,” Frei told public broadcaster ZDF. “There would no majority whatsoever in any party’s supporters for this change.”

Earlier this week, CDU leader Friedrich Merz had argued that expediting the naturalisation process would damage integration and allow people to immigrate into the benefits system more easily. 

“The CDU will not close its mind to a further modernisation of immigration law and the citizenship law of the Federal Republic of Germany,” Merz told a meeting of CDU and CSU MPs in Berlin on Tuesday.

“However, we also attach importance to the fact that the granting of citizenship takes place at the end of an integration process and not at the beginning of it.” 

The CDU and CSU have previously been vocal opponents of permitting dual nationality, arguing that holding more than one citizenship would prevent people from fully integrating into German life. 

Nevertheless, it remains unclear if the opposition will be able to block the legislation in any meaningful way.

If there aren’t any substantial changes to the core of the citizenship bill when the amendments are made, the Interior Ministry believes it won’t need to be put to a vote in the Bundesrat – the upper house where the CDU and CSU hold a majority.

Instead, the parties of the traffic-light coalition – the Social Democrats (SPD), Greens and Free Democrats (FDP) – would simply be able to vote it through in the Bundestag. 

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: Could Germany’s conservatives block dual citizenship?