Germany-China ties must prove their mettle

By Michael Clauss Source:Global Times Published: 2016/6/13 0:08:02

China and Germany kicked off Sunday a political exercise which is unique in China's foreign relations: a joint cabinet meeting, called the German-Chinese Government Consultations. This time, China is host and Chancellor Merkel has brought core cabinet ministers to Beijing to meet with China's State Council led by Prime Minister Li Keqiang. This is the chancellor's ninth visit to China.

The willingness of both our countries to interact in this unique way, at such a high level and at such frequency over such a long period of time underlines a few special features of our relationship.

First of all, there is a high degree of trust. If there are disagreements both sides know that we do not voice them with the intent to shortchange each other. And both our countries' relationship follows a straight line. Neither of us zigzags between unchecked mutual adulation and confrontation. Sobriety and maturity are maybe a characteristic we share to a greater degree than others do.

Secondly, Germany realized early on that China's rise is the most significant development in global affairs in this century and that building a long-term relationship based on trust with China is a must.

Thirdly, China has for a long time looked to Germany as a special partner in its modernization drive. In the early decades of China's reform and opening-up policy, Germany was mostly valued as a source of technology and trade. In the new millennium, Germany's political role as the anchor of stability in Europe and its ability to maintain its edge in technology has led to a relationship that like hardly any other truly deserves the label "comprehensive."

This relationship will now have to prove its mettle, and I have no doubt it will do so. There is no doubt that the global situation - political and economic - has become even more complicated than last year, when our political leaders last met. I see three important tasks at hand.

First is stabilizing the global rules-based system. The state of the world in 2016 is not great: Europe's problems appear to be piling up. The civil war in Syria and multiple other trouble spots in the Middle East are major contributing factors to turmoil in Europe and of course neighboring regions. But also closer to China's shores and borders, problems seem to get bigger rather than smaller: The peace process in Afghanistan seems to be stalling and North Korea continues to defy the international community.

Germany and China have their fair share of problems. However, we both continue to act as anchors of stability in our respective regions. Further commitments of both sides to embark on cooperation in third countries, for example Afghanistan, could help a lot to bring back some optimism.

Both our countries share a strong belief in development as a major stabilizing factor and a strong mistrust of military "quick-fixes." Where our two sides occasionally differ, on certain issues such as the South China Sea or human rights, this is never used to score points in a game of rivalry. 

The second issue at hand is economic rebalancing.

Discussions in China about the pace and focus of future reform have moved the economy back onto the center stage. Germany's economic performance continues to be very stable but, like China, cannot shield itself from the world economy, which continues to underperform. Deepening economic cooperation will therefore be a dominant topic for our governments. And they have a lot on their plate: Closer and concrete cooperation in the digital economy ("Industry 4.0" is a core element), better protection of intellectual property and other know-how including in cyberspace and coordination of our G20 agendas for global growth, which must be based on fair competition and innovation rather that debt-fuelled stimulus policies, is another area where Germany and China think very much alike. On the thorny issue of the EU granting market economy status to China, solutions can be found if all sides accelerate their efforts.

The final task is lowering barriers between people.

Germany and China have just inaugurated a joint year of youth exchange. Both sides have made good progress in making our visa processes both more user-friendly and efficient. Tourists and business travelers have greatly benefitted from shorter processing times and the opening of 10 additional German visa application centers across China and visa-on-arrival schemes on the Chinese side. The low-hanging fruit has been picked. We must now tackle the tougher issues such as smoother procedures for school and university students and interns. We must work harder to show to each other that we welcome more exchanges. Germany wants to make greater efforts to make Chinese students and other young people from China feel at home. China could signal that it embraces foreigners as a positive factor in China's development, students, interns and NGO workers included.

The author is German ambassador to China. Follow us on Twitter @GTopinion

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