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Germany mulls downsizing China summit, aims to publish strategy in July

BERLIN — Germany is saying Willkommen to the Chinese government for a joint summit in Berlin next week — but kindly asking them to not bring too many ministers.

Officials from Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s office and other ministries have discussed downsizing the German-Chinese government consultations on June 20, three officials with knowledge of the discussions told POLITICO.

Berlin is keen to avoid giving the impression that it’s receiving China with all-too-open arms amid tensions over Taiwan and Beijing’s not-so-indirect support for Russia’s war in Ukraine — especially to EU partners, the U.S. and Japan, said the officials, who like all other officials in this piece agreed to speak anonymously to POLITICO due to the sensitivity of the discussions.

EU leaders are expected to discuss the bloc’s future relations with China during a summit on June 29 and 30 in Brussels.

Scholz and Chinese Premier Li Qiang will lead the government consultations. German Vice Chancellor and Economy Minister Robert Habeck is expected to participate since economic cooperation and trade are key conversations during the summit. The German government aims to focus on less controversial issues overall, such as fighting climate change.

Berlin is used to meeting with large Chinese delegations: In July 2018, the last time such a joint summit took place, former Chancellor Angela Merkel received a group with nine cabinet ministers by her side.

Next week’s meeting is expected to be considerably smaller, two of the officials said, but added that no final decision was made as talks with the Chinese delegations are ongoing.

China canceled a visit by German Finance Minister Christian Lindner in May at the last minute. Lawmakers and officials suggested at the time that this likely happened because Lindner is also the leader of the Free Democratic Party (FDP), whose education minister, Bettina Stark-Watzinger, went to Taiwan in the first such ministerial visit in a quarter of a century in March.

A German government spokesperson said: “Please understand that we do not comment on internal coordination processes as a matter of principle,” adding that further details would only be released on Friday.

Berlin’s cautious approach comes as the government aims to publish its long-awaited China strategy by early July so that it can be discussed in parliament before summer recess, according to four officials.

The date is not yet set in stone — as the German government experienced lots of painful delays with its National Security Strategy that will be unveiled on Wednesday — but a clear target by the Chancellery and the Foreign Ministry is July 5, the officials said.

A very critical first draft of the China strategy included a critique of China’s “massive human rights violations” but the final strategy will be “more nuanced,” as one official put it.

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