Olaf Scholz under fire as he warns West must not 'decouple' from China

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz at a press conference in Berlin earlier this year - AFP via Getty
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz at a press conference in Berlin earlier this year - AFP via Getty

Olaf Scholz has said that the West must “avoid the temptation to once again divide the world into blocs” in a lengthy article which has triggered criticism of his approach to China.

Writing in Foreign Affairs, the German Chancellor argued that Europe needed to double down on the successes of globalisation, while recognising that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine had initiated a new era - what he terms a Zeitenwende, or turning point - in world affairs.

“What we are witnessing is the end of an exceptional phase of globalisation, a historic shift accelerated by, but not entirely the result of, external shocks such as the COVID-19 pandemic and Russia’s war in Ukraine,” Scholz, 64, wrote.

While the Chancellor spent much of the article discussing the EU’s response to Moscow’s imperial ambitions, critics said his comments on China show he has failed to learn the lessons of recent history.

China's rise to become a global power “does not warrant isolating Beijing or curbing cooperation,” Mr Scholz argued, adding that “pitting democracies against authoritarian states… would only contribute to a new global dichotomy.”

Ulrich Specht, a Berlin-based geopolitical analyst, observed that the article made no mention of the EU’s definition of China as both a partner and a rival.

The article argues for "full continuity with the Merkel approach of unlimited engagement. Russia is a troublemaker, China remains a partner. Globalisation can continue,” Mr Specht wrote on Twitter.

Mr Scholz has repeatedly said that he sees it as unwise to "decouple" from China as a reaction to the increasingly nationalist rhetoric emanating from Beijing.

Despite domestic and international criticism, he made a controversial trip to Beijing early in November shortly after Xi Jinping was nominated for an unprecedented third term as the leader of China’s communist party.

He took the chance in the Foreign Affairs article to mention that Mr Xi joined him during that meeting in making a public condemnation of the Kremlin's threats to use nuclear force.

Since becoming Chancellor a year ago, Mr Scholz has repeatedly stressed that he sees the 21st century as being more multipolar than the preceding 100 years.

He has argued that the EU should embrace opportunities to deepen ties to emerging economic powers such as Indonesia and the states of Latin America.

Mr Scholz also announced in the article that Germany will publish a new national security strategy at the beginning of next year.