By Andreas Rinke and Ju-min Park
TOKYO (Reuters) -Germany seeks closer ties with countries that share democratic values in the Asia-Pacific region, Chancellor Olaf Scholz said on Thursday, visiting Japan rather than top trade partner China during his first official trip to the region.
“It is no coincidence that my first trip as chancellor to this region has led today here, to Tokyo,” he said.
In a joint news conference, Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida underscored the two countries’ rejection of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and warned of possible attempts also in Asia to move territorial boundaries by force.
The Ukraine crisis has highlighted Germany’s energy reliance on Russia and is spurring Berlin to take security more into account in its foreign and trade policy and to strengthen ties with allies.
The first trip by Scholz’s predecessor Angela Merkel to Asia was to Communist-run China, which has refrained from criticizing Moscow over its invasion of Ukraine.
Merkel visited China twice as often as she did Japan, with German companies benefiting from booming Chinese economic growth.
Scholz’s visit comes the same day that the German lower house of parliament overwhelmingly passed a petition for support to Ukraine that included a clause calling on his government to threaten China with sanctions if it seeks to circumvent western restrictions on Russia or deliver weapons.
However, a member of the business delegation accompanying Scholz warned against reading too much into the decision not to visit China, given strict COVID-19 restrictions there.
NO FORCED CHANGE – IN EUROPE OR ASIA
Both Scholz and Kishida underscored their efforts to reduce their countries’ 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 fascists.
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.
“Change in the status quo by force is something that must be avoided not just in Europe but also in the Indo-Pacific, especially in East Asia,” he said.
The two leaders also shared “serious concerns” over events in Hong Kong and human rights conditions in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, he said.
Scholz warned against a trend of deglobalisation and protectionism which he said was “not an option, especially not for open, free trade nations like Germany and Japan”.
“What we need instead is a different globalisation, a cleverer globalisation,” he said.
(Reporting by Andreas Rinke and Ju-min Park in Tokyo; Additional Reporting by Elaine Lies in Tokyo and Riham Alkousaa in Berlin; Writing by Miranda Murray and Sarah Marsh in BerlinEditing by Bernadette Baum and Frank Jack Daniel)