German Scholz visits ally Japan, not China, on first trip to Asia

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz delivers a speech during the Germany-Japan business dialogue in Tokyo, Japan, April 28, 2022. REUTERS/Issei Kato

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TOKYO, April 28 (Reuters) – Germany is seeking closer ties with countries that share democratic values ​​in the Asia-Pacific region, Chancellor Olaf Scholz said on Thursday, visiting Japan rather than the main trading partner of China on his first official trip to the region.

“It is no coincidence that my first trip as chancellor to this region today led here to Tokyo,” he said. “My trip is a clear political signal that Germany and the EU will continue and intensify their engagement in the Indo-Pacific region.”

During a joint press conference, Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida underlined the two countries’ rejection of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and warned against possible attempts also in Asia to move the territorial borders by force.

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The Ukrainian crisis has highlighted Germany’s energy dependence on Russia and is prompting Berlin to take greater account of security in its foreign and trade policy and to strengthen its ties with its allies.

Scholz’s predecessor Angela Merkel’s first trip to Asia was to communist-ruled China, which refrained from criticizing Moscow for its invasion of Ukraine.

Merkel visited China twice as often as Japan, as German companies benefited from China’s booming economic growth.

Scholz’s visit comes the same day Germany’s lower house of parliament overwhelmingly passed a petition in support of Ukraine that included a clause calling on its government to threaten China with sanctions if it seeks to circumvent Western restrictions. on Russia or to deliver arms.

However, a member of the trade delegation accompanying Scholz cautioned against over-interpreting the decision not to travel to China, given the strict COVID-19 restrictions.

Both Scholz and Kishida highlighted their efforts to reduce their country’s dependence on Russian energy imports given the Kremlin’s attack on Ukraine, which Moscow calls a “special operation” to disarm the country. and protect it from the fascists.

Asked about Russian threats to cut gas supplies to Europe, Scholz said: “Whether and what decision the Russian government takes in this situation, one can only speculate.

“You have to prepare for it and, as I said, we started this before the war broke out and we know what we have to do.”

Scholz criticized Russian President Vladimir Putin for clinging to the idea of ​​a “forced peace” in Ukraine, which he said would not work, while Kishida raised the issue of Chinese territorial disputes.

“Changing the status quo by force is something that should be avoided not only in Europe but also in the Indo-Pacific, especially in East Asia,” he said.

The two leaders also shared “serious concerns” about events in Hong Kong and human rights conditions in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, he said.

Scholz warned of a trend towards de-globalization and protectionism which he said was “not an option, especially not for countries that are open and free to trade like Germany and Japan.”

“What we need instead is another globalization, a smarter globalization,” he said.

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Reporting by Andreas Rinke and Ju-min Park in Tokyo; Additional reporting by Elaine Lies in Tokyo and Riham Alkousaa in Berlin; Written by Miranda Murray and Sarah Marsh in Berlin Editing by Bernadette Baum and Frank Jack Daniel

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