Speech by Federal Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel at the launch of the People‑to‑People Dialogue in Beijing

24.05.2017 - Speech

Vice Premier Liu,
Dear dialogue participants,
Ladies and gentlemen,

I would like to begin by quoting the President of the Federal Republic of Germany: “The comprehensive strategic partnership between Germany and China would be incomplete were it not to include an intensified social and cultural exchange”. That is precisely what we have set out to do. We want to add such an exchange to everything we have achieved with regard to our political and economic relations.

I am convinced that both sides only stand to gain from this dialogue and exchange of civil society. It is already taking place today, and it is being supported by many German‑Chinese friendship societies, as well as town twinning and regional partnerships.

It is also supported by university partnerships and a wide range of academic cooperation projects.

A vibrant exchange is ensured by those young Germans and Chinese who choose to enrich their academic studies by taking courses at a German partner school, or to study in Germany as part of an exchange programme – which you, Ms Liu, made a special effort to promote last year.

It is greatly enriched thanks to cultural exchanges in the spheres of music, theatre, fine arts, literature and film. These contacts, too, have become more and more intense in recent years.

Exchange is deepened by the work of Germany’s political foundations and the wide range of NGOs that examine social issues and promote the sharing of experiences in China, as well as in Germany.

All of these initiatives are brought to life by committed individuals, both here in China and in Germany. Through their passion, their knowledge, their curiosity, their creativity, and sometimes also thanks to their courage, these people make German‑Chinese relations dynamic, diverse and so incredibly enriching for everyone involved.

I therefore am particularly pleased that well‑known representatives from the spheres of culture, art, sport, foundations, education and science organisations have come here to Beijing with me.

The fact that new elements are always being added to our cooperation is further proof of how vibrant it is: Last year – thanks to your efforts, Ms Liu – a football cooperation project was launched.

In Germany, football is known as “the most beautiful triviality in the world”. For some, it is even the most important thing in the world. That said, football is also a great way to get to know one another.

Many will not know this, but the biggest fan club of the previous and current German football champion FC Bayern München is to be found not in Bavaria, but here in China. More than 130 million Chinese fans support FC Bayern, and Schalke 04 is supposed to have more than 60 million fans in China.

Sport, and especially, football, promotes exchange: players and trainers have been moving between our two countries for quite some time. Yang Chen of Eintracht Frankfurt was only the first of a series of highly talented Chinese football players to play in the German Bundesliga since the late 1990s. Shao Jiayi is remembered well, not only by fans in Munich, Cottbus and Duisburg.

With the football cooperation agreement that was signed last year, our football‑based relations are being intensified even further. The agreement between Eintracht Frankfurt and the Federation of University Sport of China that is being signed here today can also contribute to this development.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Football is of course only one facet of the wide‑ranging cooperation between our two countries’ cultures and civil societies – ties that exist today and that will grow even stronger in the future.

To get a sense of the potential and development of our relations, I would like for us to take a brief look at their history.

For example, looking back 100 years, which is only the blink of an eye in terms of Chinese history, a great deal has happened. The curiosity that both sides felt for one another has actually further increased.

In 1913, the famous German private scholar Dr Max Weber decided to make China a focus of his research. How did he do this? He sat down in the reading room of Ruprecht Karls University in Heidelberg and ordered books that would help him take an intellectual trip – not an actual one – to this country that he had no previous knowledge of.

In 1922, Guo Moruo translated The Sorrows of Young Werther into Chinese. Subsequently, the poet Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, and of course he himself, as Goethe’s Chinese translator, became famous overnight.

At the latest in 1935, the exchange took on a tangible form: the first three Chinese scholarship holders of the German Academic Exchange Service came to Germany. One of them was Qiao Guanhua, who later would become the first head of the delegation of the People’s Republic of China to the United Nations and after that would serve as China’s Foreign Minister. Another one was Ji Xianlin. He studied in Göttingen, later became Vice President of Beijing University and was well‑known in China far outside his area of academic research. He described his German Academic Exchange Service scholarship as “a gift from heaven”.

Meanwhile, many thousand students have followed in the footsteps of these pioneers, thanks to scholarships from the German Academic Exchange Service, the Federal Chancellor and the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation. With more than 30,000 Chinese students currently enrolled at German universities, your country leads the list of foreigners studying in Germany. Chinese students are also the most successful. This is particularly true for female Chinese students.

The exchange works the other way around, as well: some 8000 students and researchers from Germany go to China every year. 1250 cooperation projects between German and Chinese universities prove that exchange has become part of everyday life, that academics from many fields in both countries are jointly studying their societies, benefiting from both an insider’s and an outsider’s viewpoint.

There is a Chinese saying that goes, “if you want to ensure prosperity for 100 years, invest in education”.

Dear Vice Premier,

we cannot, I believe, overstate the value of our civil society cooperation. It certainly does not simply supplement our political relations – it is an essential part of them!

Only through it do our relations come alive and can the individual get a sense of these relations. When our citizens make clear that they desire a closer partnership between China and Germany, then it is the duty of our governments, both in China and in Germany, to make this happen.

However, we, the governments, are not the actors. The people who make this happen are the people in our societies. The actors are the organisations, the institutions, the associations and the foundations, as well as the active citizens who are engaged in them. They shape and promote this cooperation.

Yet it is incumbent on us, the governments, to create the conditions for vibrant cooperation between our civil societies. These framework conditions must:

- promote civil society cooperation,

- enable everyone who wishes to become involved in this cooperation to take part,

- allow for freedom of expression, and thereby create a space for frank public exchange, and

- minimise all factors that may impede cooperation and exchange.

We, ladies and gentlemen, must have the common aim of constantly reducing any impediments.

One thing is clear, namely that the less impediments and obstacles there are, the easier it will be for our German‑Chinese partnership to grow.

This concerns a number of areas: Creating preconditions for civil‑society organisations to be active in the other country; enabling trips and stays abroad to take place; promoting language learning; and ensuring access to information from China and from Germany in the other country.

Against this background, it is a positive development that meanwhile all of Germany’s political foundations have been registered in China under the new law for foreign NGOs. This gives them a solid foundation for continuing to make a great contribution to social and cultural exchange – as they have of course been doing for many years.

Many other important actors in the spheres of culture, education and academia need to be successfully and swiftly registered, as well. I will only mention Germany’s Chambers of Commerce Abroad, which, after all, make a very special contribution in the area of vocational training.

Ladies and gentlemen!

China and Germany are already close partners politically and in the economic sphere, as we all know. We should now make a joint effort to improve the framework conditions, so that our societies can become ever more closely linked, as well. They must get to know one another, respect each other’s differences and, above all, come to understand one another.

The Dialogue that we are conducting for the first time today can be an important part of this effort.

I want to thank everyone involved for their commitment to German‑Chinese exchange, and I particularly thank you, Ms Liu, for hosting this meeting.

Thank you – I hope this will be the beginning of good and long‑term cooperation.

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