Dialogue is diplomacy

21.09.2017 - Interview

German art in China. Message from Federal Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel for the Deutschland 8 exhibition in Beijing. Published in the Tagesspiegel newspaper on 21 September 2017.

German art in China. Message from Federal Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel for the Deutschland 8 exhibition in Beijing. Published in the Tagesspiegel newspaper on 21 September 2017.


The Deutschland 8 exhibition opened in Beijing just a few days ago. Three hundred and twenty works by 55 contemporary artists are on show in eight locations. The artists include Beuys, Baselitz, Richter, Polke, Neo Rauch and Katharina Sieverding. The following text by Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel is based on his opening address in Beijing.

The crisis on the Korean peninsula and the North Korean dictatorship’s nuclear weapons and missile programme are reminding us once again that even ostensibly far‑off conflicts, wars and disasters have a direct impact on our lives and actions. Germany and Europe cannot simply sit back and watch while North Korea threatens to destabilise the region. Yet it is also clear that a breakthrough can only be achieved through international cooperation, patience, diplomacy and dialogue. For geostrategic reasons alone, a self‑assured China has an important role to play here. The international community has the key to the solution, but China has to turn that key.

You might ask what exchange in the field of art and culture can achieve in the face of such huge crises. In my opinion it makes more sense to turn that question around. We need to understand diplomacy as the forging of relations between societies in all areas. The priority of this kind of foreign policy is not only to negotiate a balance of interests through formal instruments, but equally to protect the freedom of the media, art and science. That also involves making ourselves and our world view available to others so that they can form their own opinion of us. And so that we can discuss our differences on a basis of understanding rather than ignorance.

Therefore, I am delighted that we have the opportunity to present the Deutschland 8 exhibition in eight locations simultaneously. In Taimiao Temple outside the gates of the Forbidden City, it offers a Who’s Who of German contemporary art in a constellation that has never before been available in one place, not even in Germany. At the same time it is a response to the China 8 exhibition in 2015, which displayed contemporary Chinese art in eight German museums.

With regard to China, I feel it is particularly important for us to use the diplomacy of art to develop and improve the art of diplomacy. Our countries are celebrating 45 years of diplomatic relations this year. This partnership is closer now than it has ever been from a political and economic perspective. But for it to maintain its depth and stability, exchange in the area of civil society and culture is crucial. This exchange is supported by hundreds of university partnerships and diverse forms of academic and cultural cooperation. It is also reflected in the education paths of young German and Chinese people who attend a partner school or spend time studying in the other country.

Last spring I launched the People‑to‑People Dialogue together with China’s Vice‑Premier Liu Yandong. This dialogue will further strengthen exchange in the area of civil society and culture. We have already achieved one breakthrough: the registration of the political foundations following the new legislation for foreign non‑governmental organisations in China. Of course, their activity is conditional on the availability of opportunities to travel and spend time abroad, the promotion of language learning and access to information. That is why we are doing everything in our power to overcome obstacles. That concerns the registration of our research organisations and the status of the Goethe‑Institut branches, it concerns our commitment to ensuring freedom of the media as well as to supporting artists. I am sure that our world views will play their own free and attractive part in shaping China’s world view and its impression of Germany.

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