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Wang and Scholz arm-wrestle in Munich

China might be ready to restart trade and expand mutually beneficial cooperation with Germany, as its senior diplomat Wang Yi has put it, but the country’s Chancellor Olaf Scholz seemed more inclined to keep the far Asian superpower at arms-length and quite literally so.

Visiting the German city of Munich as part of his European diplomacy tour and taking part in the yearly Security Conference, Wang Yi, Director of the Office of the Foreign Affairs Commission of the Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee, met with Germany’s Chancellor Olaf Scholz on Friday.

During the meeting that took place on the sidelines of the Conference, Wang remarked that China was ready to reboot trade and expand mutually beneficial cooperation with Germany and the rest of Europe in different sectors. The member of the Chinese Political Bureau envisaged the development of bilateral relations as collaboration of two world leading powers.

Beijing’s emissary went on to recite platitudes about multilateralism and free trade that China has been repeating for years. He said that both countries should reject practices of decoupling and severing supply chains, and safeguard them instead along with the stability of global production.

In his meeting with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, Wang Yi noted, China is ready to fully resume exchanges with Germany and other European countries in various fields, expand mutually beneficial cooperation and enhance mutual understanding.

— Hua Chunying 华春莹 (@SpokespersonCHN) February 18, 2023

At arm’s length

As for Scholz, he had little else left to say other than that Germany would develop economic and trade relations with China, as China’s broadcaster CCTV reported, adding that the development would be carried out “firmly”.

The Chancellor said, as reported by CCTV, that Germany opposed any form of decoupling from China. Scholz reportedly added that strong bilateral ties were conducive to global stability and prosperity – a remark that is as diplomatically smooth as vague and truistic.

The generic nature of the statement suggests that all the Chancellor could do, when faced with the grand prospects Wang painted, was being diplomatic. The uneasiness of the situation was also visible in the awkward handshake Scholz offered to his interlocutor moments before the talks commenced.

In a video published by CCTV via Reuters, Wang and Scholz can be seen approaching each other in front of the display of their national flags. While Wang merely extends his forearm, offering an invitation to a closer, more cordial handshake, Scholz extends his entire arm in a rigid, top-down way. He is literally keeping Wang at arm’s length.

But the undeterred Wang would not stop at that. He takes a small step closer to Scholz shaking his stiff hand all the while dominantly putting his left hand on the Chancellor’s triceps. At that moment, the discomfort is clearly visible on Scholz’s, so far, poker face. The Chancellor seems to have surrendered and tried to wrestle out his arm from the clutches of his Far Asian guest. But to no avail.

The next caption shows displeased Scholz holding a handshake with Wang at a much closer distance to finally break up and proceed to another room for talks during which, according to CCTV, the two also exchanged views on the Ukraine issue.

Chinese companies may be supporting Russia

The Chinese diplomat claimed in Munich that China has always supported peace and committed itself to promoting peace talks and calling for an early ceasefire.

This sounds idyllic but seems to be not entirely true. In fact, in late January, the Biden administration confronted China’s government with evidence that indicated some Chinese state-owned companies may be providing assistance to Russia’s war effort in Ukraine.

The support consisted of non-lethal military and economic assistance, which stopped short of completely evading the sanctions the U.S. and its allies imposed on Russia after the invasion on Ukraine, Time reported.

The practices have been worrying enough for U.S. officials to warrant a note to Chinese counterparts and a warning concerning the implications of supplying material support to Russia.

President Xi Jinping has sidestepped criticizing Russia over its invasion but has also offered to play the role of a peacemaker. He also opposed the use of nuclear weapons in the conflict.

Although neither the National Security Council nor the Central Intelligence Agency nor the Chinese Embassy in Washington replied to the Time’s request for comments, the American weekly reported that US officials agreed that the Russia-China relationship was extremely close now and China was doing more than it once did in support of Russia.

Biden’s administration is reportedly reviewing the evidence it has accumulated to determine its gravity. Should it be proven that Chinese companies have supported the Russian invasion, the U.S. policy toward both Russia and China would need to be reconsidered.

Before Moscow launched its invasion on Ukraine on February 24, 2022, Russia and China declared a “no limits” relationship. U.S. officials are of the opinion that China’s initial intention was to sell lethal weapons to Russia for use on the battlefield. However, China has not made such a move so far and it is doing less to help Putin’s war efforts than expected. Still, it is reported that the anonymous members of the Biden administration believe China’s government wants to help Russia and isn’t neutral as it claims.

China has so far rejected Western sanctions imposed on Russia, which is in line with its general practice of not observing any sanctions apart from those agreed at the United Nations. In fact, Beijing views the U.S. calls on other countries to restrict trade as a violation of sovereignty.

Moreover, China’s imports from Russia have grown by nearly 50 percent since January 2022, while exports have increased by 13 percent.

As the war continues, it remains to be seen what role China would ultimately play in the conflict.

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