Speech by Frank-Walter Steinmeier at the opening of the Hamburg Summit – China meets Europe in the Hamburg Chamber of Commerce on 10 September 2008

10.09.2008 - Speech

At the “Hamburg Summit - China meets Europa”, Federal Minister for Foreign Affairs has plead for modernizing and opening up our societies by means of trade relations. Together with China's Deputy Prime Minister Zhang Dejiang he had visited the Airbus plant in Hamburg. Much of what they had seen there was the fruit of excellent Sino-German, or Sino-European, cooperation, Steinmeier said.

-- Translation of advance text --

Ladies and gentlemen,

Ole von Beust,


Members of the executive committee and management of the Hamburg Chamber of Commerce, with thanks for this invitation to the Third Hamburg Summit – China meets Europe,

Honoured guests from China,

And above all: Deputy Prime Minister Zhang Dejiang.

We Germans would like to express our sincere congratulations on the magnificent Olympic Games which have just come to an end.

I am delighted that they went off without any of the feared disruptions.

I'm certain people in China enjoyed them very much and not only because China was top of the medals table but also because China was host to the entire world.

As part of this world, we Germans were thrilled by exciting competitions, outstanding performances and the almost ethereal magic of the opening ceremony.

The Games are behind us now. Unfortunately, many will say.

Also behind us lies one of the more difficult years in the history of Sino-German relations.

We don't want to go into the reasons for this here. We've discussed them!

What's even more important is that we never stopped talking to each other, especially when the going got tough. We've tried hard to find the truth, get across our standpoints and perceptions as well as defend our traditions – indeed, we've sometimes argued about all of this. But we've been careful to keep the channels of communication open. In fact, never before during my term of office have I spoken so intensively or frequently with my colleague Yang Jiechi as I have during the past twelve months.

And I noticed from the spontaneous speech by your Prime Minister to the German delegation which accompanied me to China in July how relieved he was too that the recent problems had been resolved.

Also, I have seldom heard a senior world figure speak with such enthusiasm, warmth, indeed almost passion, about his relationship with Germany and the Germans.

Our established formats for talks have now resumed. The dialogues on the rule of law and human rights are taking place again and the regular meetings between our governments at State Secretary level have restarted.

Several German ministers have returned to China during the last two months!

Yesterday in Berlin I met your Defence Minister, who had visited the University of the Federal Armed Forces here in Hamburg.

Today you, Zhang Dejiang, are at this forum, which has become a tradition and which stands more than almost any other for dialogue and cooperation with China – far beyond the business sphere.

These things are more important than ever!

We are currently witnessing on Europe's doorstep how a failure to communicate, hate, misunderstandings and recklessness can transform a crisis into an armed conflict and everything is turned upside down within hours.

The crisis in the southern Caucasus is more than a regional conflict;

powerful interests are involved, and in the night from 7 to 8 August we Europeans had to stand by and watch a security architecture which had evolved over decades falter.

For people in Georgia and the Abkhazia and South Ossetia regions, the words of Willy Brandt again became a sad certainty:

Peace isn't everything,

but without peace there is nothing!

No-one is being naive here!

Interests, and thus conflicts of interest, will remain.

But without a return to common sense, the rules we observe when resolving our differences will be devalued and banished.

If we returned to the logic of blocs, if we revived the habits and perceptions of the Cold War, then we would be heading in the wrong direction.

We are experiencing an age of major changes. New political and economic centres of power are emerging, of which China is perhaps the most important. The world is seeking a new order.

I put it to you that without dialogue with these states, without dialogue with the emerging economies and, in particular, with the BRIC states Brazil, Russia, India and China, we won't find a new order.

Hamburg is an ideal location for this dialogue, particularly when it comes to cooperation between East and West, between Europe and Asia and, most especially, between Germany and China.

The Deputy Prime Minister and I have just come from the Airbus plant in Hamburg‑Finkenwerder.

I believe I speak for us both when I say that we were very impressed by the high-tech, know-how, motivation and energy of the management and, above all, of the workforce. The day-to-day work done there represents aircraft construction of the highest quality, world class technology – especially the construction of the new flagship, the Airbus A 380.

And we also saw much which is the fruit of excellent Sino-German, or Sino-European, cooperation.

More than half of all Airbus aircraft now have Chinese technology and Chinese components on board. Together with Chinese engineers, a special ship for transporting A 380 components has been developed. And Chinese engineers and skilled workers will be trained here in Hamburg for the final assembly of the A 320 family which is to take place in Tianjin.

Cooperation is growing and, at the same time, is making us stronger! The Airbus plant in Finkenwerder shows that Germany is an internationally competitive and viable location for industry, which we want to continue fostering within the Airbus consortium.

That we find ourselves in this favourable position is not a matter of course. Rather, it is thanks to the efforts of our companies and politicians. You'll say that I'm talking about the Agenda 2010. Yes, it did take bold growth and employment policies. Without them we wouldn't have brought about this upswing.

However, something else was equally important: we refused to listen to bad advice. I still remember the demands that we develop a service-based economy.

Of course we urgently need the financial and capital services sector.

But we would never be so naive as to believe that a large economy can rely on this alone. Maintaining and strengthening our economy's industrial core was and remains important to us. Sometimes even in the face of opposition from Brussels, sometimes in the face of the scepticism of our European neighbours.

But it was the right choice. Thanks to that policy we are today somewhat better placed than other economies which have got rid of their industrial potentials – I say this also in view of today's statement from Brussels about the danger of recession.

We are still a partner whose products remain in demand worldwide.

That is at the same time why Germany has developed such good trade relations with the Far East and especially with China.

That is a good thing! But it also obliges us to consider the long-term effects if we are to maintain and develop the huge potential our economic cooperation represents. Logistics and infrastructure are issues we must deal with in this connection, and today's meeting is a good example of this.

Over the past year merchandise trade flows have already undergone a massive change.

No‑one knows better than people here in Hamburg that a port is a gateway to the world. Through it flow both goods and new ideas. A port attracts courageous, “can‑do” people, and without that “can‑do” spirit there can be neither progress nor prosperity.

The new century's flows of goods and ideas will change the way we see the world. This also applies to the Eurasian landmass. Siberia and Central Asia have already become the focus of renewed attention because of their energy and raw-material wealth.

But these huge regions will not be important for that reason alone. Their significance as a transport corridor will also increase – and I'm therefore pleased that Deutsche Bahn AG is playing a pioneering role with its project to create a regular rail service between Beijing and Hamburg.

Let me be bold in stating that we need a “21st‑century Silk Road”.

This trade route, over 5,000 years old, once led from China, via Byzantium, to Western Europe, indeed here to northern Germany. The Silk Road stretched over several thousand kilometres, and it was one of the first major international trade links, taking in mountain passes at 7,000 metres, crossing deserts and traversing difficult terrain. Caravans took two or sometimes even three years to complete their journey, averaging at best around 30 kilometres per day.

Thirty kilometres, that's the approximate distance a modern container vessel can cover per hour, loaded with over 10,000 containers. But sometimes it seems that our “mind map” cannot keep up with this speed.

That's why we should perhaps recall that the Silk Road's golden age coincided with one of the most cosmopolitan, liberal and peaceful periods for the Chinese empire and far beyond.

We should also not forget that along the Silk Road only cooperation between all concerned guaranteed the travellers' safety.

This should be the case for the modern maritime, air or rail “Silk Road”, too. This is because transport, logistics, mobility – the entire infrastructure required for trade – is more than just an economic factor.

It brings people closer together, makes it easier for them to meet, and speeds the exchange of information, not only between continents but particularly within countries and societies.

We should exploit this opportunity, not only as an economic motor but as a way of modernizing and opening up our societies.

By modernization and opening I don't mean that the market should rule unchecked. What I'm thinking of is a growth model which focuses on sustainability, on the individual and on giving people the opportunity to enjoy a fair share.

This model will have to meet its major challenge in the cities of the 21st century, as rapid urbanization is one of the global mega-trends of our era.

Cities are becoming the catalysts of economic and societal change. Urbanization is, in other words, a microcosm of globalization.

I witnessed this for myself during my last visit to China, especially when I was recently in Chongqing – the fact that five million people in the city proper and around 30 million more in the surrounding area live and work together presents us with both massive challenges and massive opportunities!

We Germans want to help exploit the opportunities of this development, as urban planning, energy efficiency, mobility and utilities supply and disposal are areas in which European, and particularly German, companies have a lot to offer.

Modernization and opening also mean, in my view, being open to greater global responsibility.

The more closely integrated we are into the global information and trade flows, the less able we are to evade our responsibilities with regard to jointly facing up to the global challenges.

By this I mean the core issues of foreign and security policy, peace and stability, the non‑proliferation of WMDs, climate security or food crises.

However, I'm also referring to secondary issues, especially in the field of economic cooperation and global trade:

  • inflation, which in some parts of the world is out of control and which above all affects the poor,
  • the current crisis in the world trading system,
  • the confidence crisis in the worldwide financial system,
  • and not least, the increasing shortage of raw materials which has already somewhat slowed down international trade due to rising transport costs.

No individual country, no exclusive alliance, can master these challenges alone any longer. On the contrary, we must work towards a global community of shared responsibility.

I'm convinced that we can best achieve this in a spirit of open dialogue and cooperation. With this in mind I propose a toast to Sino-German relations. GanBei!

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