Published in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung on 11 October 2012
The Federal Republic of Germany and the People’s Republic of China established diplomatic relations on 11 October 1972, 40 years ago today. Following lengthy, top secret preparations, Foreign Minister Walter Scheel travelled to Peking for the occasion. It was a turning point in the middle of the Cold War.
It is no exaggeration to say that the world has changed dramatically since then: since the Communist Party’s decision to open up in 1979, the “Middle Kingdom” has seen absolutely incredible advances. Peking has become one of the 21st century’s most significant forces in shaping world affairs.
German foreign policy had an eye on this from the outset: building on the foundation laid by the far-sighted social-liberal Government of the day, all subsequent German Governments have promoted and dynamically expanded the country’s economic exchange with China. We have taken yet another step and turned our relationship with China into a comprehensive “strategic partnership”. The fact that in August the Federal Cabinet flew half way round the world for intergovernmental consultations in Peking is a clear reflection of the new quality of our relations with China.
We have succeeded in making use of the historic changes of the last forty years and in seizing the opportunities presented by globalization. Germany and China are successful players in the Champions League of globalization. Trade and investment have increased exponentially. Our economic cooperation is not a zero-sum game, but is beneficial to both sides. With high-tech made in Germany, our country is making a major contribution towards modernizing the Chinese economy.
China’s rapid rise is making one thing particularly clear: the international order is shifting faster than ever before. We are living in an increasingly multipolar world. So the new centres of power in Asia, Latin America and Africa are more than mere engines of economic progress: they have become indispensable partners in international decision-making processes. Efforts to stabilize the financial markets, protect our climate and defuse regional crises make close cooperation between equals not only desirable, but an absolute necessity.
That’s why, without losing sight of our old partnerships, German foreign policy aims to build up new partnerships with the 21st century’s new global players. Our strategic partnership with China points the way. We are committed to long-term cooperation in the political, economic, cultural, scientific and social fields. Over 40 dialogue formats – from the Human Rights Dialogue and environmental dialogue to the dialogue on SMEs – form the sound framework for our political relations.
Our relationship lives and breathes through the people in our countries. The year of the German language in China in 2013, the Year of Chinese Culture in Germany and the Bridge to the Future are important initiatives. The 25,000 Chinese students in Germany and the 4000 Germans studying in China also have a significant role to play in our shared future.
The question of how China is going to slot into the global order in the long term is becoming more and more important. We want a China that takes on its role as a responsible global player. Effective international institutions and binding rules are in everybody’s interest. They reduce uncertainty and mistrust and open up new possibilities for cooperation. Whether we’re talking about the negotiations on Iran’s nuclear programme or a political solution to the crisis in Syria, it’s hard to make progress without China on board. This is particularly true when it comes to the tensions in the East and South China Sea. As the biggest power in the region, China bears a special responsibility here.
We can conduct a frank and open dialogue with China because over the decades we have built up a relationship of trust which can withstand differences of opinion. Human rights are a major topic in our exchanges. It is in our interest to work with China towards further improvements in human rights protection. In this connection, the 10th German-Chinese Human Rights Dialogue was held in Wiesbaden a couple of days ago. This is a long-term, lengthy process which reminds us that full respect for human and civil rights was not created overnight everywhere else either.
Tomorrow I will be opening a new Consulate-General in Shenyang, our fifth in China. This, too, is part of our response to the new shifts in the world order. And in this context it must be remembered that trade and investment cannot be separated from issues relating to the rule of law and legal certainty, or from human and civil rights and security policy.
German foreign policy is interest-led and value-oriented. We want economic opening and political cooperation, social liberalization and genuine partnerships. That is true for China and worldwide as well.