China – a land with many faces
Financial district in Beijing
© picture alliance / dpa
Everyone knows China is booming. In summer 2010, China surpassed Japan to become the world’s second largest economy, having already supplanted Germany as the world’s leading exporter in 2009. German companies have long known China as a location for production, and increasingly also view it as a research site. At the same time, the country that calls itself the Middle Kingdom is also a giant sales market. German trade with China reached a volume of more than 140 billion euros in 2012. China is also increasingly investing in Germany and the EU. Many Chinese people enjoy a much higher standard of living today than just a few years ago.
In international politics, too, China is a much observed player with growing influence. As a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, it takes direct part in all current policy decisions – for example, regarding Syria, Libya and Iran as well as policy towards North Korea and other trouble spots. As the UN Climate Change Conference in Durban once again demonstrated at the end of 2011, China is indispensable in climate policy as well. The country’s size and its role as an opinion leader among emerging economies make it essential to any effective regime that might succeed the Kyoto Protocol.
China’s rising influence is not limited to Asia. Africa and Latin America have seen massive increases in economic involvement from China in recent years as well.
High speed growth – and its downside
Chinese migrant workers in Shenyang
© picture alliance / dpa
But China’s rise also has its dark side. Millions of people in China, especially in rural areas, continue to live below the poverty line and have little access to health care or decent education. Many of them travel to the cities and the Pearl River Delta in search of work. The living conditions of these migrant workers are often precarious. Another downside of the economic boom is the air and water pollution in Chinese cities, which has been reaching record levels in recent years.
Western nations disagree with China regarding protection of human rights: In October 2010 the Nobel Prize Committee awarded the Nobel Peace Prize to the prominent Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo, who is imprisoned in China. The Chinese leadership responded with incomprehension and criticism. Time and again, extremely harsh sentences are handed down to people who have stood up for the rule of law, democracy and human rights. The situations in Tibet and Xinjiang are further cause for concern. In response to the many cases recorded since 2011 of Tibetans setting themselves on fire, the German Government has repeatedly called on the Chinese leadership to investigate the causes of the existing conflicts and pursue a policy that will reduce tensions.
Since last year, Chinese territorial disputes with Japan in the East China Sea, and with other states with coastlines on the South China Sea, have also been causing concern. In September 2012, EU High Representative Catherine Ashton called on all involved to maintain calm and engage in peaceful conflict resolution.
What is German policy towards China?
Germany and China maintain a strategic partnership. Bilateral relations are close, including at the highest political level. Federal Chancellor Angela Merkel welcomed Prime Minister Wen Jiabao to Berlin for the first German Chinese intergovernmental consultations in June 2011. He was accompanied by 14 ministers. The second round of consultations were just as large and took place in Beijing in August 2012. Chancellor Merkel also travelled to China on an official visit in February 2012. The main focus there was on economic relations between Europe and China. In October 2012, Foreign Minister Westerwelle was in China to celebrate 40 years of German Chinese diplomatic relations, visiting Beijing and Shenyang, where he opened a new Consulate General – the fifth Germany now has in China.
German diplomacy uses these contacts in a variety of ways – for example, as a partner to the German business community in building up business ties, in strengthening the rule of law and improving the human rights situation, and in campaigning for China to commit to climate protection.
Because of China’s successful development, no new development cooperation projects have been agreed with China since 2009. Acting in a spirit of partnership, Germany will nevertheless continue supporting the Chinese Government in tackling societal challenges. Through a broad range of projects, the German Government and German organizations receiving Federal Government funding act to improve the social system, the ecological situation and the legal system in China. This is to the benefit of German Chinese cooperation as a whole, including its economic dimension.
As ever, one of the German Government’s key policy objectives is to improve the human rights situation around the world. It consistently and openly raises the subject of specific human rights violations in its talks, including its encounters with the Chinese Government. In addition to these efforts, the annual German Chinese Human Rights Dialogue is an important forum for discussing human rights issues with China. The most recent Dialogue, held in October 2012, focused on guaranteeing human rights in the penal sector and the situation of minorities. Other subjects covered include freedom of the press and of expression, the situation of non governmental organizations, religious freedom and the abolition of the death penalty.
At the international level as well, German foreign policy seeks to gain the responsible partnership of China in facing the challenges of our time. This applies not only to international efforts to protect the climate, as mentioned above, but also to the shared work of continue to develop the architecture of the global financial system and the UN Millennium Development Goals.
Cultural relations and education policy
German booth at education trade fair in Beijing
© picture alliance / dpa
Alongside the pillars of politics and business, the third pillar of German Chinese relations is cooperation in the areas of culture, education, research and society. Through school partnerships, higher education cooperation and language courses, Germany promotes exchange between young people and the learning of the German language. The Goethe Institut, DAAD, foundations and numerous other partner organizations strengthen bilateral cultural and educational exchange through their projects in China.
Media dialogues and discussion forums also provide a venue to address controversial issues such as citizen participation and the right to free expression.
The three year programme of events “Germany and China – Moving Ahead Together”, which ran from 2007 to 2010, provided impetus to further intensify exchange between the two societies. The programme, which drew more than two million visitors in six Chinese cities and offered over 600 exhibitions, performances and workshops engaging with the topic of sustainable urbanization from economic, cultural, architectural and educational perspectives, forged long term friendships and ties.
In 2012, to mark 40 years of diplomatic relations, China responded with a Year of Chinese Culture. The programme saw cultural events held all over Germany. In an exhibition entitled “The Art of the Enlightenment” at China’s newly opened National Museum, Germany presented the European Enlightenment as a central theme of its intellectual, artistic and formative history as a civilization. It prompted more than 450,000 visitors to engage in dialogue about the contemporary meaning of the Enlightenment idea. A large number of public discussion forums were held in China, resulting in lively debates.
In 2013, one focus of Germany’s cultural relations and education policy in relation to China will be on promoting the German language. At the second German Chinese intergovernmental consultations in August 2012, the two countries agreed to hold a German Chinese year of language promotion in 2013/14. The intention is to substantially improve the base for promoting German in China, by expanding the partner schools initiative from 81 schools to 146 by the end of 2013, institutionalizing staff training for teachers of German and recognizing the German language qualifications DSD I and II.
Last updated 04.03.2013