Ladies and gentlemen,
It is a great pleasure for me to join you all in opening the German-Chinese Media Dialogue today. Following our last meeting in Beijing, I am pleased to welcome you to Berlin this year. At this seventh German-Chinese Media Dialogue, we have another opportunity to exchange views and learn from one another. The aim of my speech is not to review past meetings, but rather to say what I expect and want of the dialogue in the future.
Firstly, I would like us to see these meetings as an opportunity for genuine and honest dialogue. We should not content ourselves with merely stating our points of view. I know that we are capable of such dialogue. After all, without a real willingness on both sides to conduct dialogue and make compromises, we would not have achieved the current state of play in German-Chinese relations.
In economic terms, China is Germany’s most important trading partner in Asia. Conversely, China does more trade with Germany than with any other country in Europe. In political terms, the over 70 different German-Chinese dialogue formats illustrate how wide-ranging our relations have become. In 2017 alone, there were 25 mutual high-level visits, including at the highest political level. This year, our colleagues are working hard on organising the Chancellor’s visit to China and the intergovernmental consultations.
In addition, countless business, cultural, academic and interpersonal contacts breathe life into our agreements and dialogue.
At the same time, it is becoming clear that there is increasing friction in our bilateral relations, particularly as regards economic and socio-political issues. In this context – and this is the second point I would like to make – I regard our Media Dialogue as a blueprint. If we succeed in making progress on media matters, then we can do the same in other areas in which we still have difficulties with each other. In our opinion, the media provides orientation, also in this regard.
Naturally, differences of opinion are inevitable in increasingly complex relations. So far, however, German-Chinese relations have thrived thanks to our willingness to address these differences constructively and in the spirit of our strategic partnership. It is equally clear that we will only make progress together if we do not shy away from dialogue when our common ground ends.
This joint progress is more important than ever today. At a time when protectionism and walls dominate the debate, we must make understanding and cooperation our priorities. Along with economic, trade and investment relations, this cooperation also includes environmental and climate protection, dialogue on human rights and the rule of law, and cultural and academic collaboration.
Ladies and gentlemen,
My third point concerns the concrete role of the media and journalism. Both Germany and China have a long tradition with the printed word, which played a very important and indeed transformational role in both our countries, regardless of which one was actually the first to invent printing.
But joking aside, the ability to mass-print and disseminate ideas on paper changed the world and laid the foundations for the mass media as we know it today. Vice-Minister Guo, you and your delegation spent the last few days in Trier, where you celebrated the 200th anniversary of the birth of Karl Marx. His ideas are among the most influential in the history of humankind, but without printing, we would never have heard of him.
However, the example of Marx also highlights the huge force inherent in this ability to reproduce information. Almost as soon as books existed, many of them were banned or even burned. The question of what one may say, write or publish – and most importantly, what one may not say, write or publish – has occupied every generation since printing was invented.
In Germany, we now see freedom of expression and freedom of the press as cornerstones of our social order. These are rigorous checks and balances if the state tries to curtail the rights laid down in our constitution. We know that policies can only be sustainable, legitimate and successful if all members of the public and interest groups are able to take part freely in public discourse.
We are currently witnessing a new revolution in information technology, which has as much potential to transform the world as the invention of printing. Just over half of the global population has access to the internet today. Ten years ago, only a quarter did.
Social media such as Facebook, Twitter and Tencent have become the largest media companies in the world in a very short space of time. The monopoly of a relatively small media and political elite has collapsed. Today, anyone can publish material that can be seen by the whole world and reach millions of people. But does that mean journalists are obsolete? On the contrary, they are more important now than ever because in order to protect ourselves against fake news, “alternative facts” and conspiracy theories, we need good and independent journalists who conduct thorough and critical research, use language precisely and in a way people can understand, and regard it as a matter of course to question and check their sources. This type of high-quality journalism is the best antidote to disinformation campaigns and the manipulation of public opinion, be they online or offline.
Although different platforms are used in Germany and China and journalists play a different role in China than they do in Germany, I hope that both sides will keep an open mind today when sharing their views and see this dialogue as an opportunity to question their own opinions.
Ladies and gentlemen,
In the past, this Media Dialogue has repeatedly proved the great importance and value of international cooperation between journalists. That is why we are concerned when we hear reports about foreign journalists being obstructed in their work in China. For example, Deutsche Welle has been planning to open a Beijing bureau for a long time – so far, unfortunately, without success. We believe that as strategic partners we should give ourselves a chance to get to know each other better and to understand the other side’s views more clearly. We are able to receive China Global Television Network in every hotel and household in Germany. Why should the same not go for Deutsche Welle in China?
At the same time, we were pleased to hear the good news that the office of the weekly newspaper, “Die Zeit”, will reopen. We hope this opportunity will also be available to other media with an interest in China.
We may not always be of the same opinion, but less dialogue is not the way forward when it comes to resolving our differences. I firmly believe that we need more dialogue, more cooperation and more exchange.
We have this opportunity today, so let’s make use of it!
I hope this will be a successful Media Dialogue for us all.
Thank you very much.