CHONGQING (dpa-AFX) - The start of German Chancellor Olaf Scholz's (SPD) three-day visit to China has been overshadowed by Iranian air strikes on Israel. The Chancellor learned of the dangerous escalation in the Middle East halfway through his ten-hour flight from Berlin to Chongqing on Sunday night.

Scholz: Iran risks regional conflagration

The first thing he did after landing was to condemn the attacks "in the strongest possible terms". "With this irresponsible and unjustifiable attack, Iran is risking a regional conflagration," said government spokesman Steffen Hebestreit on behalf of the Chancellor. "In these difficult hours, Germany stands closely by Israel's side. We will now discuss further reactions closely with our G7 partners and allies."

Scholz was kept informed about the escalation in the Middle East during the flight, according to sources close to him. The delegation had been in close contact with the German security authorities.

The retaliatory strike for an airstrike - presumably carried out by Israel - on the Iranian embassy compound in Syria's capital Damascus had been expected for days. There were also indications that it could take place this weekend. Scholz decided to go on his trip anyway.

Kick-off in the world's most populous city

The extent to which the developments will now affect Scholz's travel program was still unclear on Sunday morning. In the megacity of Chongqing, which with its 32 million inhabitants is considered the most populous city in the world, a visit to a Bosch hydrogen drive production facility and a discussion with students about urban planning were planned. A meeting with the regional party secretary Yuan Jiajun and a boat trip on the Yangtze River were also on the chancellor's agenda.

Chongqing is located on the Yangtze River against a mountain backdrop and is regarded as an up-and-coming economic metropolis. Among other things, 30 percent of the laptops produced worldwide come from there. The onward journey to Shanghai is planned for Monday, and on Tuesday the Chancellor wants to meet China's President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Qiang in Beijing. At least these two appointments in the capital are out of the question.

A dozen top managers present - VW not represented

The Chancellor will be accompanied by a dozen top managers. Among them are the CEOs of the car manufacturers Mercedes-Benz and BMW as well as the chemical company BASF. Volkswagen, the largest European car manufacturer, is not present this time. In Beijing, Scholz will also be supported by Ministers Cem Özdemir (Agriculture, Greens), Volker Wissing (Transport, FDP) and Steffi Lemke (Environment, Greens).

This is the Chancellor's second trip to China since taking office in December 2021. His inaugural visit in November 2022 was only a day trip due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. This time, he is taking three days - more time than ever before for a single country on a single trip.

The main topics are likely to include economic cooperation, efforts to end the Russian war of aggression against Ukraine, tensions between China and Taiwan and climate protection.

Practical test for the China strategy

Last summer, the traffic light government adopted a China strategy aimed at reducing economic dependency on the People's Republic in order to avoid a rude awakening like the cut in Russian gas supplies following the attack on Ukraine. However, this strategy is not really catching on with the German economy. The 5000 or so German companies in China are more concerned about unfair competitive conditions and exporters are worried about falling sales figures. Conversely, cheap Chinese electric cars are flooding the European market. The EU Commission has therefore launched an investigation into possible illegal subsidies. If this results in countermeasures, this could trigger a trade war, German car manufacturers in particular fear.

China's official news agency Xinhua, which is considered the mouthpiece of the ruling Communist Party, wrote before Scholz's landing that it expected the visit to bring "new momentum" to relations between the two countries. Germany and China, with their economic ties in the age of globalization, should continue their close and mutually beneficial cooperation, it said.

Ukraine war: China as Russia's most important ally

The greatest success of the chancellor's inaugural visit to Beijing a year and a half ago was that Xi subsequently opposed Russian threats to use nuclear weapons. Among other things, this time it is likely to be about the Ukraine peace conference, which is due to take place in Switzerland in mid-June. Its possible success depends on the participation of China and other states that are friendly to Russia, such as Brazil and South Africa. Scholz is campaigning for the participation of these countries.

At the same time, he is concerned that China is supplying Russia with goods that can be used for military purposes. This was also discussed during the visit. "It is important that China does not support Russia in waging a brutal war against its neighbor Ukraine," Scholz told the "tageszeitung" newspaper before his departure./mfi/jon/DP/zb