Xi, Scholz warn against 'irresponsible' nuclear threats over Ukraine
- Scholz is first G7 leader to visit Beijing since pandemic
- Trip tests waters between China, West as tensions simmer
- Xi says China and Germany must work together
- Scholz: China has responsibility to help end Ukraine war
- BioNTech vaccine gains limited access to China
BEIJING, Nov 4 (Reuters) - Chinese President Xi Jinping and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz on Friday condemned threats to use atomic weapons in Ukraine, with Scholz warning that Russia risked "crossing a line" in the international community by resorting to nuclear force.
In the first visit by a G7 leader to China since the COVID-19 pandemic, Scholz pressed Xi to prevail on Russia to end its invasion of Ukraine, saying Beijing had a responsibility as a major power to do so.
Xi agreed that both leaders "jointly oppose the use or threat of use of nuclear weapons" over Ukraine, according to a readout by the state-run Xinhua news agency, though he refrained from criticising Russia or calling on Moscow to withdraw its troops.
Scholz arrived in Beijing on a one-day visit that tested the waters between China and the West after years of increasing tensions, with talks touching on reciprocal market access, climate change and COVID-19 vaccines.
Scholz made the trip while facing criticism from within his own coalition about relations with Beijing. He has tried to balance securing a level playing field for European companies with shedding Germany's heavy reliance on the Chinese market.
During lunch with Scholz, Xi stressed that it is easy to destroy political trust but difficult to rebuild it, and both sides need to take care of it, according to Xinhua.
Earlier, while greeting Scholz at the Great Hall of the People in the heart of Beijing, Xi urged the two countries to work more closely on international issues.
"President Xi and I agree: nuclear threats are irresponsible and incendiary," Scholz said after the meeting. "By using nuclear weapons, Russia would be crossing a line that the community of states has drawn together."
Ukraine's Western allies have accused Russia of threatening to use nuclear weapons in Ukraine. Moscow denies doing so and has repeatedly accused Kyiv of planning to use a radioactive "dirty bomb", without offering evidence.
Before their lunch of beef strips, prawn and sweet and sour fish, Scholz told Xi that Russia's invasion of Ukraine was creating problems for the rules-based global order, according to a recording of the remarks provided by the German delegation.
Scholz then met outgoing premier Li Keqiang. He told Li that it was clear China and Germany were no friends of "decoupling", alluding to their respective economies.
During a news conference after his discussion with Li, Scholz said he raised the issue of Taiwan. China claims the island as its own territory and has never renounced the use of force to bring it under its control.
"Like the U.S. and other countries, we are pursuing a one-China policy," Scholz said. "But I have made equally clear that any change in Taiwan's status quo must be peaceful or by mutual consent."
Scholz bluntly complained about access to the Chinese market while also touting a breakthrough deal to allow Germany's BioNTech to become the first non-Chinese drug manufacturer to sell its COVID-19 vaccine to expatriates in China.
"However, we have to realise that economic exchange with China has become more difficult for German companies recently," Scholz said. "This applies to market access, which is very open on the European side, while China seals off many sectors."
China also formally announced existing deals for Airbus(AIR.PA) worth $17 billion in what experts described as an effort to showcase concrete results from Scholz's visit that caught the European planemaker and China-watchers off guard.
Scholz himself made no mention of the deal, and the aircraft announcement also marked an apparent signal by Beijing to the United States where Boeing remains largely frozen out of the Chinese market after several years of trade tensions.
While touching on the human rights of minorities in China's Xinjiang region, Scholz denied Germany was meddling in domestic Chinese affairs.
He also asked Xi, who has supported President Vladimir Putin since Russian forces swept into Ukraine in February, to promote peace. "I have told President Xi that it is important, that China uses its influence on Russia," he said.
Scholz and the delegation of German business leaders flying with him were administered COVID-19 tests upon landing in Beijing on Friday morning. Chinese medical staff donned hazmat suits and entered the plane to conduct the tests, according to the Reuters reporter accompanying the delegation.
China's strict zero-COVID policy and growing friction with the West have made it unfeasible for leaders of major Western powers to visit China, while Xi only resumed foreign trips in September.
Scholz is pushing for greater market access at a time when the German economy, Europe's largest, is fighting decades-high inflation and a looming recession. His visit was likely a welcome development for the Chinese leadership, which is looking to shore up relations with the outside world.
"China, in the present domestic and international environments, requires his visit and whatever both sides would jointly declare in Beijing, especially shortly after the (Party) Congress," said Shi Yinhong, a professor of international relations at Renmin University in Beijing.
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