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Germany's chancellor is visiting President Biden at the White House

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Today, President Biden hosts German Chancellor Olaf Scholz at the White House.

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

Judging by the outward signs, the meeting is a little unusual. It's not exactly secret. Here we are talking about it. But the two leaders are not calling much attention to their agenda. Analysts think the two leaders may be talking through their concerns about China, a country they see differently.

INSKEEP: NPR Berlin correspondent Rob Schmitz is covering this. Hey there, Rob.

ROB SCHMITZ, BYLINE: Hey, Steve.

INSKEEP: In what way are Biden and Scholz keeping this low-key?

SCHMITZ: Yeah, it's a little odd. The press will not be traveling with Chancellor Scholz on this trip. There's no press conference on the agenda. And the German chancellery is not sharing any details of what'll be discussed. According to German media, Chancellor Scholz is planning to give an exclusive interview to CNN. But that apparently won't be broadcast until Sunday. So there's this aura of mystery around this visit. I spoke to Rachel Tausendfreund about this. She's a senior fellow at the German Marshall Fund. And she thinks Chancellor Scholz is making this trip to try and persuade President Biden to tamp down what has become an escalating rhetoric on China's involvement in Russia's war in Ukraine. Here's what she said.

RACHEL TAUSENDFREUND: People in Germany and in the chancellery look at this kind of escalating rhetoric in Washington of an unavoidable escalation of conflict with China and view that with some concern and think that an escalation is still avoidable. And so that's going to be the difficult part for Olaf Scholz and German politics in general, if tensions continue to rise with China.

INSKEEP: I guess we should remind people of one specific point of tension. Of course, there's this war in Ukraine. Russia has invaded Ukraine. Germany is defending Ukraine. China is an ally of Russia. And Washington has been warning that China might be planning to send weapons to help Russia.

SCHMITZ: Right. And, you know, China's been responding to an increased sort of rhetoric from Washington with tough rhetoric of its own, saying that U.S. should not be dictating what China should do. In just this week, China welcomed Putin ally Alexander Lukashenko, president of Belarus, with a 21-gun salute in Beijing. So it is clear that tensions between China and the West are on the rise because of all of this.

INSKEEP: And the United States wants allies in confronting China because the country is so big, so powerful. It would like to have allies like Germany on the same page. Why would Scholz instead be the one to try to calm things down?

SCHMITZ: A few reasons. Germany's relationship with China, while it's been more tense in recent years, is still pretty cordial when compared to the U.S. relationship with China. Part of the reason for that is that Germany depends greatly on trade with China. Germany's auto industry, chemical industry, industry in general in Germany needs the China market to generate revenue in what is now a recession in Germany. Secondly, it's clear that Chancellor Scholz is concerned about what could happen should China enter into this conflict by supplying Russia with weapons. This could have big consequences on the outcome of the war.

INSKEEP: Such as?

SCHMITZ: Well, due to Germany's proximity to Ukraine, this could mean more refugees from Ukraine arriving in Germany. This could also result in a more emboldened Vladimir Putin, who may not stop with Ukraine. Ever since the war began, Scholz has been very careful - his critics say too careful - to avoid being involved in any escalation with Russia. And now China's potential role in this conflict is even more of a headache for him. So it's clear this will be a big part of his discussions with President Biden later today.

INSKEEP: NPR's Rob Schmitz, thanks so much.

SCHMITZ: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.
Rob Schmitz is NPR's international correspondent based in Berlin, where he covers the human stories of a vast region reckoning with its past while it tries to guide the world toward a brighter future. From his base in the heart of Europe, Schmitz has covered Germany's levelheaded management of the COVID-19 pandemic, the rise of right-wing nationalist politics in Poland and creeping Chinese government influence inside the Czech Republic.