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GERMANY AND CHINA

Germany’s Scholz arrives in China to boost economic ties

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz arrived in Beijing Friday seeking to bolster a vital economic relationship but facing criticism about his country's heavy reliance on a nation growing more authoritarian under Xi Jinping.

President of China Xi Jinping meets with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz on his arrival on November 4th.
President of China Xi Jinping meets with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz on his arrival on November 4th. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa Pool | Kay Nietfeld

Scholz is the first G7 leader to visit China since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, which prompted the world’s number two economy to largely close its borders.

Accompanied by top executives, he is due to hold talks on the one-day trip with President Xi, as well as Premier Li Keqiang.

But the visit has sparked controversy, coming so soon after Xi strengthened his hold on power and as tensions run high between the West and Beijing on issues ranging from Taiwan to alleged human rights abuses.

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

German industry’s heavy dependence on China is also facing fresh scrutiny, as Berlin reels from an over-reliance on Russian energy imports that left it exposed when Moscow turned off the taps.

Scholz’s approach is still underpinned by the idea that “we want to keep doing business with China, no matter what that means for the dependence of our economy, and for our ability to act”, opposition lawmaker Norbert Röttgen told the Rheinische Post newspaper.

Concern about China has also come from within the ruling coalition, with Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock saying mistakes made in the past with Russia must not be repeated.

The sensitivity of the issue was highlighted when a row erupted last month about whether to allow Chinese shipping giant Cosco to buy a stake in a Hamburg port terminal.

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

‘Going it alone’

The German and Chinese economies are deeply intertwined. Some in Berlin view the relationship as particularly important as Germany, battling an energy crisis triggered by the Ukraine war, hurtles towards recession.

China is a major market for German goods, from machinery to vehicles made by the likes of Volkswagen, BMW and Mercedes-Benz.

The leader of Europe’s top economy has defended the trip, insisting direct talks with Chinese leaders were “all the more important” after a long hiatus due to the pandemic.

In a newspaper article, he said that “we will not ignore controversies”, and listed thorny topics that would figure in talks, from respect for civil
liberties to the rights of minorities in Xinjiang.

READ ALSO: Scholz vows not to ignore controversies on China visit

In Beijing, foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said China was looking forward to a “successful” visit, and that “cooperation far exceeds competition” between the countries.

But he also warned that “the Chinese side is opposed to interference in our internal affairs, and smearing us under the guise of discussing human rights issues”.

There are concerns that the trip – coming on the heels of Xi securing a historic third term at a Communist Party Congress last month — may have
unsettled the United States and the European Union.

“The chancellor is pursuing a foreign policy which will lead to a loss of trust in Germany among our closest partners,” said Röttgen, from the conservative CDU party, accusing Scholz of “going it alone”.

Berlin, however, says there have been consultations with key partners, while Scholz has insisted he is visiting China as a “European” as well as the leader of Germany.

By Peter WUETHERICH

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CITIZENSHIP

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. 

READ ALSO:

‘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?

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