Speech by Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier at the Hamburg Summit: China meets Europe

24.11.2016 - Speech

Speech by Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier at the Hamburg Summit: China meets Europe

President Fritz Melsheimer,
Vice-Premier Liu Yandong,
Vice-President Jyrki Katainen,
Mayor Olaf Scholz,
Ladies and gentlemen!

When a man and woman have been married for thirty years, we call it their pearl wedding anniversary in Germany, and it’s an occasion well worth celebrating – at least for couples who have enjoyed their long years together.

In May 1986, Shanghai and Hamburg got twinned. And this couple have not just tolerated each other’s company for thirty years; they have built a close partnership whose like I have rarely seen among the town twinnings I know – and that across an impressive distance of 13,000 kilometres. Twinning these two cities not only established their own partnership but also helped bring about the Hamburg Summit, which connects Hamburg, Germany and indeed Europe to China.

I’d like to thank you for the invitation, Mr Schües. I am delighted to have been made part of this event for a third time. That may not quite amount to a pearl anniversary, but still!

Vice-Premier Liu,

I happen to know that your home town is Nantong, only a hundred kilometres from Shanghai. That’s just a stone’s throw away by Chinese standards, so we could say that Hamburg is actually your twin town too. Let me therefore sincerely bid you welcome, once again, to Germany and particularly to Hamburg.


I want to thank you for the opportunity to be back in Hamburg. I don’t know how many times I’ve visited already this year; people in Berlin are starting to ask why. And I’ll be back in Hamburg again the week after next, because my fellow foreign ministers from 56 other countries will join me here for the end of Germany’s OSCE Chairmanship.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Just like a good marriage, a partnership between cities, countries and regions needs more than initial mutual fascination if it is to last. Other factors – sensible, pragmatic considerations – have to be involved. Both parties need to have the feeling that they can achieve more together than they could on their own. I think I can say that this has long been more than just a feeling between Shanghai and Hamburg. That pairing proves its worth year after year.

We can see how close the relationship is very tangibly here in Hamburg. Almost one in three containers unloaded in Hamburg come from China, while one in five Airbus planes assembled in Finkenwerder go to buyers in China.

Those close ties between our countries and our place on the world stage mean that we have a responsibility not only to one another as partners but also to the international order – particularly in these turbulent and stormy times!

Looking back on 2016, it has certainly been full of surprises. Since we’re in a harbour city – the waters have been troubled and boats have been rocked. I am of course thinking of the British deciding they no longer wanted to be part of the European Union and, naturally, of the outcome of the US presidential election, which took me too by surprise. The list could go on and on.

I need hardly explain to you, ladies and gentlemen, how much political developments in the world are shaped by economic realities and how much those developments, in turn, directly affect the economy.

Once we accept that there will always be a considerable amount of uncertainty in international politics and in the global economy, a certain risk of internal and external shocks, we have to ask ourselves how we intend to deal with that. One answer, which I find persuasive, is that, under conditions of uncertainty and upheaval, we must try to create the highest possible level of reliability. Reliability is hard currency, both in politics and in business.

Ladies and gentlemen,

I am convinced that rules-based interaction, a rules-based order, is absolutely key to successfully dealing with the uncertainties we face and creating reliability. On the basis of our shared values. The values to which we have committed ourselves at the international level – at the United Nations, for example – whether they be in the sphere of peace and security or in the realm of human rights. The world expects international players like Germany and China to conduct themselves in compliance with international law and the rules of peaceful international interaction. Those rules can only be set jointly; no one player can change them unilaterally.

We therefore have to work together on strengthening international law and the international order. We should be particularly conscious of that here in Hamburg, a city that not only looks back on centuries of international seafaring but also, as the home of the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea, stands for the settlement of conflicts by law.

Strengthening the international order is one of Germany’s core foreign-policy goals, and I have no doubt that it is in China’s interests too. China’s objective interests, not least as a major trading nation, often chime with our own, e.g. when it comes to putting an end to conflicts and crises. Just think of our extremely intensive cooperation on the Iran dossier: China and Germany were both part of the E3+3 group, fighting and negotiating side by side for more than twelve years to find a compromise that would prevent the spread of nuclear weapons in the Middle East. Germany and China are on the same page in terms of other global goods too; I’m thinking specifically of the Paris Climate Agreement. And we will be taking up the baton of the G20 Presidency from China in the coming year. We want to strengthen the international order alongside China, and we will be building on the work done this year under China’s Presidency to that end.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Reliability is a key pillar of Germany and China’s bilateral relations too. I may have said earlier that 2016 had been full of surprises, but that certainly wasn’t the case for relations between our two countries. The past twelve months have seen more frequent high-level visits between Germany and China than any other year since diplomatic relations began 44 years ago. China has hosted the Federal Chancellor, the Economic Affairs Minister and Deputy Chancellor, the intergovernmental consultations and myself. I am pleased, Vice-Premier Liu, to be extending that impressive list with your visit today.

Reliability, ladies and gentlemen, is also a valued asset in our economic relations. We are a reliable partner to China. And Germany is an open market economy. I will happily reiterate what Gerhard Schröder said yesterday: Chinese investment is very welcome here. However, as discussed with the President and Premier at the intergovernmental consultations, it also has to be clear that this cannot be a one-way street. Our openness depends on our companies also finding equal treatment and fair market access in China. On both sides, we need to be able to rely on legal certainty and the protection of intellectual property and trade secrets. That may have been a one-sided German concern in the past, but given the breathtaking economic and technological development in China, I think it is now in the interests of both our governments and all our companies for these subjects to be discussed and resolved in open and fair dialogue.

In these turbulent times, we should do all we can to ensure that our two countries can remain driving forces in the global economy. That will require close German-Chinese cooperation. There are plenty of areas that we can work on together. Industry 4.0, for example, is a topic vital to the future of both our economies – as evidenced by the Made in China 2025 strategy, which outlines some pretty ambitious goals.

Ladies and gentlemen,

It is our shared hope that we can successfully extend our dialogue and our openness to one another beyond the realms of politics and business. Along with the exchange of goods and services, we should facilitate the exchange of ideas, stories and experiences – in other words, exchange between people.

Vice-Premier Liu,

We want to continue to develop our dialogue with China and nurture exchange within civil society – be that in education, research or sport (thinking particularly of football, though that may be a difficult subject here in Hamburg, given the two Hamburg teams’ current league positions), or be it in the promotion of tourism, where I still see a lot of potential. But let me make one thing very clear on that point: Chinese tourists are more than welcome in Germany!

Today, Vice-Premier Liu, we will officially bring the German-Chinese youth exchange year to an end together. It has been, as I see it, an almost unexpectedly successful year.

The programme has given more that 4000 young people from Germany and China the opportunity to get to know each other’s countries, languages and cultures, to see the world from new and different perspectives and quite simply to make new friends.

With a bit of luck, it may even have sown the seeds for one or two pearl anniversaries of the future... but that’s not really a politician’s remit.

Thank you very much.

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