“Foreign Policy in the Age of Globalization” - Speech by Frank-Walter Steinmeier at the Chongqing Dialogue on Urbanization on 15 June 2008 in Chongqing

16.06.2008 - Speech

Mr Bo Xilai,

Vice-Minister Li Ganjie,

Dr Appel,

Professor Töpfer,

Ladies and gentlemen,

Megacities, urbanization and neighbourhood management are now words that roll off our tongues, words we have learned thanks to globalization.

They stand for the problems of globalization rather than for alternative solutions. They concern the coexistence of people in local units and public services for communities – and not traditional local politics. This is also shown by your topics here, which go far beyond the standard issues of local politics.

Energy efficiency, sustainable industrial policy with a focus on the chemical industry, water management issues, logistics and, last but not least, corporate social responsibility are on the agenda today.

These are all issues that are under discussion from Berlin to Beijing, from Chicago to Chongqing, that determine our political and economic agendas.

I thus congratulate you all the more on organizing today's event. The themes you have chosen and the participants you have brought together illustrate that urbanization truly is a microcosm of globalization.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Globalization should be considered as more than the fact that all of us around the world face similar challenges, although we often lack convincing ideas on how to tackle them!

Let me firstly direct your attention to one point which is often forgotten amidst all the practical issues: globalization is in my opinion also a question of the attitude, the philosophy and the principles with which we address the problems and challenges.

It is this I consider to be the biggest challenge for us all. Precisely how we tackle common problems has much more impact than we usually admit on the chances of finding common answers and on the answers themselves.

For this reason, we should not try to tackle new challenges with old mindsets. We should not give in to the temptation of intellectual torpor. We should rather set out to broaden our horizons. It will be necessary to do so at some stage!

For the global challenges we face are already shifting the centres of economic power and redirecting the flow of political authority and influence. There will be no way around “re‑measuring” the world, as I have already stated elsewhere.

But to do this, we need new reading points and new measuring instruments. We are finding it harder and harder to identify friends or foes in our old familiar ideological formations.

Blocs and national interests are no longer an adequate yardstick for evaluating our world. We have to resist the temptation to overcome the complexity of the modern world by simply dusting off and adopting old attitudes and modes of action.

A new order will not and must not consist of reconfigured blocs. The issues raised by globalization require new policies, not just between the power centres of a multipolar world, but also between the state and civil society; they require openness and the will to modernize state and society.

Openness includes the ability to express criticism and the readiness to be at the receiving end. That is clear. But we must not limit politics to this, otherwise both criticism and politics will become an empty ritual.

Politics has to be forward looking, it has to aim to shape and change the future. It is much more complicated than simply pointing out what is wrong.

What we need is mutual openness and honesty, and sometimes encouragement too, but always the courage to conduct binding dialogue that enables us to find joint solutions to joint tasks.

We need to form a “partnership in responsibility ” to respond to the current global challenges, as somebody once said. By travelling here at the present time I am trying to contribute, just as you are by organizing today's event.

Your conference is part of the “Germany and China – Moving Ahead Together” programme, part of our new approach that also encompasses cultural relations policy. The programme highlights not just new modes of cooperation in the cultural sphere, but also uses cultural cooperation to focus attention on common social tasks. Today's event is an excellent example, and I would like to thank the organizers most heartily for their efforts!

Ladies and gentlemen,

As regards the attitude with which we tackle the issues relating to globalization, it is not only the courage to set out to re-measure the world that counts. Whoever assumes shared responsibility also takes the fate of others into their hands. A German newspaper recently wrote that compassion and a readiness to help are the catchwords in China following the terrible disaster of 12 May.

My whole delegation and I have therefore also come today to express our sympathy with the victims. As politicians, as business and cultural leaders, and above all as friends.

And we want to provide practical assistance in the worst-hit region, Dujiangyan. We want to rebuild eight schools in the earthquake zone and provide sponsorship for these schools.

I would also like to take this opportunity to thank the many German companies and their staff who have actively helped here – not least the Asia-Pacific Committee of German Business (APA), and especially Bosch and ThyssenKrupp, BASF and TÜV Rheinland, Dena and Fresenius Medical Care, as well as the SME partnership led by Dr Martin Herrenknecht and Lukas Meindl, for making this joint initiative possible. Bertelsmann AG is funding an additional aid project for schools.

I would also like to particularly thank the Geschwister Scholl School in Dortmund and the Bettina von Arnim School in Berlin. They have already invited a group of pupils from one of these eight schools to visit Berlin and Dortmund, and I am sure we will receive many more offers of cooperation for these schools.

Ladies and gentlemen,

This initiative, jointly promoted by the political and business communities and civil society is a small but tangible example of the “partnership in responsibility” that I just mentioned.

And it also shows that shared responsibility works best when societies are open – within themselves, between the government and the public, but also vis-à-vis friends from other countries. Here, too, it is true that openness breeds trust.

We should also take this idea to heart when addressing the challenges examined by today's conference. In this connection I would like to emphasize three points in particular:

Firstly, while preparing for this journey, I learned that from a historical point of view there are two types of town in China, those that grew up around forts, and those that grew up around markets. I think this phenomenon is not entirely unknown here in Germany, and that while the German saying “city air makes you free” has a lot to do with individuals breaking free from feudalism, it is also closely linked to growing social prosperity.

What does it mean for us today? I think the market model of urbanization can still help us in the age of globalization. At least, it can if we do not view markets as the mere exchange of goods and commodities, but remember that this exchange is the starting point for the development of cities, of urbanism, and that urbanism is much more than just the market, it is the formation of an economic, social, cultural and political community.

For this reason I am also of the opinion that we have to make very sure when shaping globalization that scope is left for the development of models of participation. Adam Smith, one of the fathers of liberalism, knew very well - notwithstanding various misunderstandings - that the famous “invisible hand” of the market and the highly visible “helping hand” of the state must be linked for the good of the community!

I thus await with anticipation the conclusions that your panel today will draw on issues regarding public services and infrastructure.

The second point I would like to mention is that big cities are already global players in many ways. Not just because for the first time in the history of mankind more people live in cities than in the country, but because megacities such as Chongqing with its 5 million inhabitants in the city proper and a further 25 million in the surrounding area have reached a size that we in Europe only know of states. The big cities account for 80% of global energy consumption and 75%, three quarters, of global emissions.

We politicians should draw the necessary conclusions from these facts: to make real progress on climate change and the sustainable use of natural resources, we need to start with the big cities. The Large Cities Climate Summit, which took place for the second time last year, is a good start.

I expressly advocate further promoting these strategies and for this reason, too, I would like to thank Professor Edenhofer very much for accompanying me on this trip. As a respected expert on climate change and megacities you will write a Chinese “Stern Report” in the coming months, and I am certain that today's conference will be an important stepping stone for you and everybody working on this issue.

Ladies and gentlemen,

My third and final point is closely related to the first two: urbanization is a microcosm of globalization. This is most clearly illustrated by questions pertaining to the use of natural resources. It can be no coincidence that today's conference has separate panels dedicated to the topics of “Water” and “Energy” and that sustainability and climate protection are a leitmotif running through the proceedings.

Since assuming office, I have made a case for viewing the allocation and use of natural resources as a key task of a far-sighted foreign policy.

Conflicts between states and regions over resources, conflicts over the control of resources within societies and the impact of climate change are major foreign and security policy challenges in the age of globalization. It is thus perhaps not such a surprise that today's conference, which brings together stakeholders from various sectors and levels in our two countries, is being opened by a German Foreign Minister. I support precisely this cooperative approach, and I am also firmly convinced, if you will excuse the lack of modesty, that we Germans, and in particular the companies represented here today, can contribute to getting the problems mentioned above under control.

Energy efficiency, modern resource management and environmentally sound infrastructure projects, complemented by a sustainable regulatory framework, are four fields among many in which German companies have experience and can offer expertise, technology and talent.

I am therefore very pleased that you have all assembled here for today's exchange of experience and am confident that the discussions and debates today and tomorrow will form a basis for further practical projects and activities and, above all, for joint solutions for the good of us all!

With this in mind, I would like to wish you a successful conference.

Thank you.

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