“China – partner for a forward-looking foreign policy” – speech by the Federal Foreign Minister at an event organized by the Hasso Plattner Institute

19.09.2007 - Speech

Professor Plattner,
Professors Meinel and Zorn,
Ladies and gentlemen,

I was pleased to read on the Hasso Plattner Institute website that here one can learn to understand, develop and deploy large, highly complex systems and hoped to find a course on “Foreign policy in a multilateral world”, ideally focusing on how to deal with five major regional conflicts simultaneously and ensure that new regional powers shoulder international responsibility. Unfortunately that course wasn't on offer yet. Nevertheless, what we have in common is that we both have to work with complexity.

Although our disciplines are very different, one of our greatest tasks in the coming decades will be to gain Asia, and China in particular, as our partners! We want the region to share political responsibility while you want its cooperation in fostering the global development of innovation!

“Asia-Pacific: Changing the World” is not just the motto chosen for the Asia-Pacific Weeks in Berlin but a description of today's economic reality.

Before the decade is over, the Chinese economy will have overtaken ours. Measured in purchasing power, Asia – and above all China – has over the last few years accounted for one third of the growth of the world economy and a good 60% of the increase in global investment volume – and that with only a share of approximately 5% of the world economy. This clearly shows the scale of Asia's impact.

Many commentators already regard the rise of China and India as the most important development in international politics in the 21st century. I'm more cautious. After all, who knows what else will happen in this still young 21st century. Whatever people may think of such historical parallels, there are few who would deny that the rise of Asia is one of the crucial motors – or perhaps the crucial motor – behind the political and economic changes we are witnessing today.

European societies, economies and social systems will have to adapt to this Asian challenge. Otherwise we will be running the risk that many things that seem worth preserving, such as individual liberty, social justice and the sustainable management of resources, will belong only to the world of yesterday.

Only last week, I gathered the heads of Germany's missions abroad at the Federal Foreign Office to examine together our relations with Asia, and China in particular. Perhaps some of you were there. For be it in Africa or Latin America, Central Asia, or even transatlantic relations – we see an Asian factor which we cannot afford to ignore. We have to consider in very concrete terms what we can do in the fields of traditional foreign policy, as well in economic or cultural policy. And it's worth the effort!

China is already Germany's most important economic partner in Asia and we are China's most important economic partner in Europe. Our exports to China have increased a hundredfold during the last 25 years and our imports from China are two hundred times greater than in the early seventies. In a nutshell, German companies have done very well during the last few years because they not only offer goods but, above all, they make possible genuine cooperation. More than half the goods from China on the German market come from companies in which the German business community is directly involved.

Your name, Mr Zorn, is synonymous with the first e-mail to China and China's link-up to the Internet some 20 years ago. The Hasso Plattner Institute's cooperation with the Beijing University of Technology, and not least today's event, are further proof of this.

We should continue to build on this basis. We should broaden it in the cultural sphere and, what's more, built it up in the technological field. Working on this is one of the key tasks of a forward-looking foreign policy: in the energy sphere, in the field of climate protection and in the area of information and communications technology.

You all know that technological development requires not only talent, a spirit of research and inventiveness, but also commonplace – but not trivial – things such as intellectual property rights, rules on awarding contracts and effective legal protection.

Furthermore, participation in technology not only requires financial means but also tolerance, as well as freedom of information and communication.

And we all know that resolving these problems, as well as striking a balance between intellectual property rights and free access to products, between the right to freedom and legitimate security interests, is not a very easy process in any modern society. We also agree that this process is sometimes more difficult in emerging economies such as China than it is in our own country or that it does not come up to our expectations.

Many, also in Germany, are annoyed that in daily life, in the day-to-day running of courts and administrative bodies in China, intellectual property is not yet being protected as provided by domestic law. And that applies not only to ICT. It also applies to protection of the environment or the expansion of renewable energy sources.

And we also know that protection of the freedom of information and opinion have not yet been granted the status which, in our view, they merit and which – in my personal view – is crucial to the modernization process in China.

Without freedom of information, without free access of the largest possible number of people to as much information as possible, China will not be able to make the leap into the information age nor, ultimately, will China be the innovation partner which we desire and indeed need.

These facts naturally raise the question: how should we deal with the desiderata and shortcomings of our relations with China?

I believe we have to choose between a course of timid isolationism and a course of bold renewal.

At present there are many in Germany who are airing their grievances against China, resorting to grand gestures and symbolic acts. This course of action ensures the attention of the mass media, feeds on common prejudices and reinforces existing fears. It is, as it were, ready-made for the tabloids. And that is not unimportant, especially for politicians. Unfortunately. But usually this course of action – at best – only helps describe the problem in Germany a little bit. But it does not help resolve it in China.

I, at any rate, don't believe that the clapometer of the German press has any influence on the situation in China.

However, I consider this course of action much more questionable for a second reason: if we take a closer look at how some are fuelling fears with comments such as “Chinese spies”, “economic war” or a “Western alliance against Asia”, then we recognize a much more dangerous strategy which is all too familiar to us from other contexts. Just think of the culture war at the start of last year:

Conflicts of interest are labelled cultural conflicts, thus running a high risk of escalation. This, in my opinion, is a very dangerous trend.

It leads to policies based on fear. But we all know that fear is not a good counsellor. The way to combat fear is to learn! And to convince others.

That's what the Arctic explorer John Franklin says in Sten Nadolny's novel “The Discovery of Slowness” and I believe that in the light of the current situation and climate change, which caused the North-West Passage – which John Franklin searched for in vain – to open up last Saturday for the first time since records began, we should once more remind ourselves of these shrewd observations! And I want to add that we should learn together, preferably in an international framework.

That's why it's so important that Germans and Chinese work together on the development, deployment and, above all, the understanding of highly complex systems – just as you are doing here at the Hasso Plattner Institute. I am quite certain that your cooperation is not only making a major contribution towards advanced technology but also towards common understanding.

What is required is a common global awareness of the need for this cooperation. And that is an extremely ambitious undertaking, for we ourselves will have to overcome centuries-old cultural divisions and national borders.

In tomorrow's world in which new powers such as India, China and others will become increasingly prominent on the world stage, we will not be able to assume that our Western-European culture will be automatically accepted as the universally valid guide for everybody's actions. That is anything but a reason for fear or panic – not, at least, if we are prepared to learn and convince others. Rather, it emphasizes the need to make ourselves understood again.

This is why cultural relations and education policy will take on a new significance in the future. Wholly in keeping with a forward-looking foreign policy, it is an investment in a common future and I believe we are on the right path also with regard to China.

Just a few days ago we began a series of events under the motto “Germany and China – Moving Ahead Together”. We are using this programme to present German culture in all its facets: we are promoting our language, showcasing our culture and offering cooperation in the cultural sphere.

We have quite consciously extended and broadened our programme to include every area in which we can use talent, tolerance and technology – to put it in a nutshell: creativity – to help foster understanding of our joint tasks for the future. A conscious decision was made to include elements from the economic and scientific fields. For example, I would just like to cite the question of megacities, as well as energy, environmental and, not least, ICT issues.

I believe this broadening of the spectrum is a forward-looking step and I am pleased that the Goethe Institut, the flagship of the Federal Republic of Germany's cultural relations policy, has been cooperating with the Asia-Pacific Committee of German Business (APA) and the “Germany – Land of Ideas” initiative, as well as all other partners from the world of culture, business and academia.

And I would like to mention another point which will perhaps also be of interest to students at the Hasso Plattner Institute in the next few years.

We intend to extend our network of schools abroad as of next year. Intercultural learning, comprehension and mutual understanding are fostered at an earlier age and more intensively in these schools than in any other institution.

The 117 German international schools are attended by more than 70,000 pupils, of whom 53,000 hold non-German passports. Many people who work for German companies abroad rely on sending their children to German international schools.

And many families in the host countries are proud of their children attending a German school and going on to study in Germany, as do about one quarter of all non-German graduates of these schools. That ought to serve as an incentive for us. For it shows that only because and, above all, only if we promote our own culture in a globalized world can we help preserve diversity!

My Greek and Mexican counterparts have at least one thing in common with the famous tenor Rolando Villazon – their years at German schools have left them all with a lasting bond with our country.

I would like to upgrade this important instrument of German foreign policy, also financially. My hope is that this schools initiative will strengthen our work and presence abroad in this field. Through close cooperation with industry, the schools initiative is however intended to surpass all efforts to date.

Scholarships could be offered to the top graduates of German schools abroad, modern IT equipment or physics classrooms could be donated, and work placements could be organized for pupils. Let your imaginations run free!

In initial talks, several major enterprises, including SAP, spontaneously expressed their readiness to do more to help German schools abroad. Let me take this opportunity to thank you most kindly for this support.

We hope that others will “learn” from this good example and I want to say to you here today: let us put our heads together and think about new forms of cooperation between German schools abroad and business! I am convinced that this is a good investment in a better common future.

Thank you for your attention.

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