With a trade volume exceeding 150 billion euros in 2014, Germany is by far China’s most important trading partner in Europe. German businesses have long since discovered China as a manufacturing base and increasingly as a location for research. The country is at the same time a huge sales market. As early as 2009 China supplanted Germany as the world’s leading exporter.
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
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.
For some time now, 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. Germany and the EU have repeatedly called upon all parties to act with circumspection and settle disputes peacefully.
As the UN Climate Change Conference (COP 20) in Lima once again demonstrated in mid-December 2014, 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.
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. The third German‑Chinese intergovernmental consultations held in Berlin in October 2014 focused on the bilateral Innovation Partnership. Here, the Plan of Action on German‑Chinese Cooperation on Joint Innovation was agreed for the coming years and 2015 was declared the Year of Innovation. In 2015, China was the CeBIT partner country.
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 take on an active role in tackling ecological challenges.
The Federal Government, the Länder and German organisations are involved in a host of projects aiming to improve social systems, 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.
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
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.