China and Germany go globally and responsibly

Authors: Wang Li & Du Hui-yan

D
uring May 30 to June 2, 2017, Chinese Premier Li Ke-qiang was invited to make an official visit to Germany, which has been the largest trade partner of China in the European Union and the one of the high-technology and Foreign Direct Investment sources of the world.

As the Chinese media stated, “China is strongly interested in German technology and aims to create a transcontinental economic space through the “Belt & Road Initiative” linking it to the Central Asia and Europe.”

Geographically separated by the Eurasian landmass, though, China and Germany have forged the mature relationship since 1972 when Beijing and Bonn accorded diplomatic recognition to each other. True, the two countries started their early relations in unequal and ironical way which was then followed by a century of the vicissitudes in history. As it was in 1897 when Imperial Germany turned to “Weltpolitik” with a view to becoming a global power, Kaiser and his generals decided to take China’s Qingdao by coercion as the first demonstration of world policy in the new era. But during 1927-1938, it was the German advisory group in China that dedicated to help Chinese troops modernized on the German model and the training doctrines. Later, during the heyday of the Cold War, China and Germany (West) belonged to the opposite camps, but the two countries had no immediate disputes over their core interests concerned. In the aftermath of the Cold War, China and Germany have developed their relations rapidly and the year of 2014 ushered in a comprehensive strategic partnership. Given this, Premier Li and Chancellor Merkel stated on June 1 that “the relations between the two countries are anything but free of friction”.

For sure, to the people who believe in realism or focus on the trade disputes between China and Germany, they are rather hesitated to accept this discourse. Particularly, the two sides do disagree on the protection of intellectual property, customs cooperation and the human rights issues, etc. Yet, if we examine the purposes of Chinese Premier’s visit to Germany and then the EU in light of what he stated in Europe, it is reasonable to see that due to the United States’ withdrawal from the Paris climate agreement, even though there will be no new East-West alliance in the end, Trump’s move to self-isolationism will certainly lead to closer cooperation between China, Germany and the EU in the coming years. On the global and strategic level, when the United States actually takes sharp protectionist measures, which have frustrated Germany and the EU en bloc, China has lost no time to pursue its economic and geopolitical interests with all its rigor and hardness. Thus, it is much easier for China and Germany to share the similar view on the world issues. This paper thus argues for their going globally and responsibly in view of the reasons as follows.

First of all, Germany is not only a core member of the EU, but also a very advanced world power in high-technologies. China, as a rising power, has since aspired to achieve its historical dream by 2050 that assures it as a great power in terms of sophisticated technologies rather than GDP only. Due to this, China has exercised all of its efforts to promote bilateral relationship with Germany, as the latter has been for four decades China’s most important partner of trade, invest-ment and technology in Europe. According to China’s statistics, bilateral trade volume between the two reached $151 billion in 2016; and China for the first time became Germany’s largest trade partner around the globe. Since China and Germany decided to forge all-round strategic partnership in 2014, bilateral political consultation and intergovernmental cooperation have reached an unprecedentedly high level. For example, Beijing and Berlin have set up more than 70 bilateral consultation and cooperation mechanisms, including nearly 100 pairs of sister provinces, states and municipalities.

Second, during the talks between Premier Li and Chancellor Merkel, the two leaders had an in-depth exchange of views on promoting two countries’ innovative cooperation. In addition to traditional trade and investment, multiple-cooperation in the fields of the intelligent manufacturing, energy conservation and environmental protection have become the common interests of China and Germany. As Merkel said, China is becoming an increasingly important partner to Germany since the two countries established diplomatic relationship 45 years ago, with closer communications in politics, economy and trade as well as people – to - people and cultural exchanges. Bilateral cooperation in the fields such as aerospace, aviation, automobile, recycling economy and scientific research are continuously strengthened. In face of increasing uncertainties in the world, China and Germany also have the responsibility to enhance strategic partnership. No doubts, Germany is willing to work with China to make joint contributions to building an open global economy and maintaining free trade as well.

In terms of the international milieu where still exists many uncertain factors, and the trend of anti-globalization and protectionism is rising, China and Germany agree to uphold mutual respect and equal treatment, to safeguard the rules of the UN & the WTO, and to cope with external uncertainties with the stability of bilateral relations in a bid to jointly inject a positive signal of stability, cooperation and development into the region and the world at large. Given this, China and Germany have vowed to cooperate in promotion of global economic governance within the G20 framework.

Obviously, Chinese leaders are well-aware of the issues which alienate both sides to reach the consensus in trade dispute, the status of China as a market economy and perhaps symbolic human rights. Yet, China has steadily used the Article 15 of the WTO protocol to defend its status. It is reported that Chancellor Merkel urged the EU should fulfill the responsibilities of the protocol. In the meantime, Premier Li raised the prospect that China would be willing to better align “Made in China 2025” with Germany’s “Industry 4.0”. To that end, he invited German companies to help China develop large passenger plane C-919 and get an air-worthiness certificate from the EU. In a return, China supports Germany in well hosting the G20 Hamburg Summit with a view to promoting the robust, sustainable and balanced growth of world economy. On both public and private occasions, Merkel claimed that Germany was a reliable cooperation partner of China, for both countries stand ready to uphold the spirit of mutual benefit and win-win results.

In international affairs, it is usually difficult for two powers, separated in a long-distance, to reach consensus in the bilateral, regional and global issues. Despite the disagreements aforesaid, China and Germany have lots of common interests in foreign affairs. For example, both sides wanted to commit themselves to the climate protection accord and advanced their closer cooperation in order “to show solidarity with future generations and take responsibility for the earth". Chinese Premier and German Chancellor agreed with the EU statement that “the decision of the United States to leave the climate treaty is a big mistake". Yet, the fight against climate change will continue "without the US".

For sure, the leadership in Beijing now wants to push into Trump's gaps. But considering that transatlantic unity is the most powerful and consolidated in the world, what China wants are to highlight the common issues such as climate protection, free trade and global governance. In so doing, China has high expectation for Germany as the latter has not only advanced technologies but also widely rich experience in fundamental research, so one day the ancient giant in Asia would be able to create a batch of heavyweight research achievements in cutting-edge areas. To that end, the potent innovative partnership between China and Germany has put a high-powered engine to the cooperation that can be regarded as a model of equality between developing country and developed country.

It concludes that Chinese Premier’s visit to Germany is an important constituent of high-level exchanges between the two countries this year. And it plays a significant role in consolidating and enhancing the Sino-German strategic mutual trust which assures their going globally and responsibly.

(*) Du Hui-Yan, MA in International Relations, with her dual MA degrees in both Konstanz University and Warwick University

Wang Li is Professor of International Relations and Diplomacy at the School of International and Public Affairs, Jilin University China.

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