The news reaches the Chancellor at an altitude of 11,900 meters, around five hours before landing: Iran is serious about its threats and is carrying out a heavy air attack on Israel. American, British and Israeli fighter jets appear and apparently intercept many of the drones. But the signs are now pointing to war in the Middle East. That too.

The Chancellor is constantly informed on the plane and consults with confidants, including his foreign policy advisor Jens Plötner. They draft a short written response and send it out immediately after landing in Chongqing, China, supposedly the largest city in the world. “With this irresponsible and unjustifiable attack, Iran is risking a regional conflagration. In these difficult hours, Germany stands closely by Israel’s side.”

The escalation thwarts the Chancellor’s trip. He will be traveling in China for three days. Several hours are scheduled for the meeting with Xi Jinping, the Chinese President, on Tuesday alone. It should be about fair trade, about climate issues, about the situation in Ukraine. The meeting with Xi is over – the only question is: does the agenda still apply?

Scholz was already prepared for the escalation in Berlin. Over the past few days, the Foreign Ministry and the Chancellery have been busy monitoring the situation in the region, drawing up scenarios and sorting through intelligence information. The new escalation was triggered by an air strike on the Iranian consulate in Damascus at the beginning of April, which was attributed to Israel. A general was killed and several senior Iranian officers. Israel will be “punished,” Iran’s revolutionary leader Ali Khamenei announced: “And that’s how it will be.”

The question will now also be whether further Iranian attacks will follow, how Israel and the West will react, whether there needs to be a counterattack, and what it might look like. The heads of state and government of the G7 countries want to get together on Sunday. The Chancellery has a technician on board who can always provide secure communication during the trip.

There have been hectic attempts in the West recently to prevent the Iranian attacks. Joe Biden, the US President, announced as a precautionary measure that they would stand “ironically” by Israel’s side if it had to be defended. Annalena Baerbock, the Foreign Minister, called her counterpart in Tehran a few days ago, and the Chancellery also called. A conflagration in the Middle East? Not that too.

Scholz will have to change his program, at least for Sunday and Monday. A boat trip across the Yangtze was planned, as well as discussions with city planners and students. That would look strange now.

Is he in the wrong place at the wrong time? Perhaps. On the other hand: to have an exam with the president of a world power now of all times – what timing! You can see it that way too.

China has influence on the Iranian regime. How big it really is is unclear. But what was noticeable in the Chancellery is how much Chinese President Xi recently seemed to be interested in gaining diplomatic reputation. Maybe something is happening, right now.

In addition, China has already seen better times economically. The country doesn’t need turbulence in the global economy right now. Shouldn’t it also be in Xi’s interest to get involved in the Middle East?

The Chancellor’s team likes to remember that during his first visit to Beijing in 2022, Scholz forced China’s president to publicly warn against the use of nuclear weapons. An important signal to Russia because China is probably the Kremlin’s most important ally. Now it would be important if China at least worked in the background to end Iran’s war games. Anything that helps is welcome.

Learning to read China better, but also clearly formulating one’s own interests, is one of the main reasons for the Chancellor’s trip. When it comes to economic and security policy issues, anger has spread in the Chancellery about Chinese actions. Scholz’s team is concerned that although China does not directly supply weapons to Russia, it does provide a variety of goods that enable the Kremlin to continue the war, and in some cases even to force it. In any case, China is by no means neutral.

Xi Jinping’s course on Ukraine is contrary to “German core interests” and this will be addressed very clearly. To what extent Xi is impressed by this is unclear. The war has some nice side effects for the People’s Republic, the weakening of Europe, the dispute in the USA. From Scholz’s point of view, it would be nice if the Chinese government agreed to accept the invitation to a peace conference that Switzerland invited in June. How was it? Anything that helps.

By the way: There are around a dozen CEOs in the Chancellor’s delegation, including the heads of three large automobile companies. The fact that Scholz is taking the bosses with him needs to be explained, as the federal government had actually agreed in its China strategy to declare the People’s Republic a “partner, competitor and systemic rival” and to avoid too close economic ties in order not to become involved to end up with similar dependencies as once existed with Russia.

But there are just a lot of problems. China is flooding the European market with subsidized electric cars, with cheap products such as batteries, devices and solar panels. The EU Commission is considering punitive tariffs for Chinese exports to compensate for competitive disadvantages. This, in turn, is causing excitement in the German economy, as possible countermeasures would most likely affect them. For many large companies, access to the huge Chinese market is essential. There is currently no adequate replacement.

Three days, many conflicts. And a development in the Middle East that is likely to turn the script of this visit on its head.