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Moving ahead together


The year 2022 marks the 50th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between the Federal Republic of Germany and the People's Republic of China. It should, however, not be forgotten that the socialist German Democratic Republic had already established relations with New China in 1949.

Relations between China and Germany have generally been smooth. From the outset they were underpinned by high-ranking two-way visits. Former federal chancellor Helmut Schmidt made his first visit to China in 1975. Since federal president Karl Carstens paid a visit in 1982, nearly every German president has come to China once or even more times. Also, chancellor Helmut Kohl visited China four times, chancellor Gerhard Schroeder six times, and chancellor Angela Merkel 12 times.

In 2004, Germany and China established a strategic partnership. On the occasion of the state visit of President Xi Jinping in 2014, it was expanded to a comprehensive strategic partnership. Equally important are the intergovernmental consultations that have been held biannually since 2011: for these, the federal chancellor and the Chinese premier, jointly with most ministers, visit their respective countries. Germany has this format of close consultations only with a few countries.

These high-ranking consultations are prepared by no less than 80 official dialogues at various levels. They include the foreign and security policy dialogue of the foreign ministers and the high-ranking financial dialogue of the ministers of finance, the president of the federal bank and the governor of the People's Bank of China. The dialogue on the rule of law and the human rights dialogue complement these contacts.

The cornerstone of the relations is, however, the economy. Germany has been China's most important trading partner in Europe since well before the establishment of diplomatic relations. China has been Germany's most important trading partner in the world since 2016. In 2021, bilateral trade reached 222.3 billion euros ($240.5 billion), more than one-third of the entire trade between China and the European Union. For exports, Germany's strength is even more striking: nearly half of all EU exports to China come from Germany.

However, it is sometimes claimed that Germany is too dependent on its trade with China, which is not really true. In 2021, trade with China accounted for 10 percent of Germany's total trade while the corresponding figure for the United States was 14 percent.

In a globalized world, investment is equally if not more important than trade. German companies started investing in China early on; Volkswagen came to Shanghai in 1984. Today, there are some 5,000 German companies with 10,000 projects in China; they have invested more than 80 billion euros ($87 billion). Germany is particularly strong in the automotive sector: In 2021, BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Volkswagen sold between 30 and 40 percent of their worldwide production in China. Today, more German-brand cars are produced in China than in Germany.

Chinese investment in Germany has now reached nearly $50 billion. China has also been successful in the automotive sector: In the January-February period of 2022, the figure of Chinese cars newly delivered in Europe grew by a whopping 167 percent in comparison to the same period of 2021.

In culture and education, both countries are equally close partners. From 2007 to 2010, the roadshow "Germany and China--Moving ahead together" brought German ideas and technology to more than 1.5 million participants in six Chinese cities. Currently, 43,000 Chinese students represent the largest group of foreign students in German universities. Because of the pandemic situation, there are at present only very few German students in China; it is to be hoped that their number will soon top the 8,000 that studied in China in 2019. The Goethe Institute in Beijing--with a subsidiary in Shanghai--has been active in bringing German language and culture to China since 1988; since 2008, the Chinese Culture Center in Berlin has been active in Germany. Besides, there are some 20 Confucius Institutes all over Germany.

For the future, close cooperation between China and Germany is perhaps even more important than in the past. The world is currently going through momentous changes. Actors resort to force; they interfere in the internal affairs of other states against the opposition from the international community. In the face of this, China and Germany should, as two major states in Asia and Europe respectively, work strenuously to bring about a community with a shared future for mankind.

They should strive to strengthen the respect for the rights of peoples to independently determine their development path and uphold the principles that no state should ensure its own security at the expense of the security of other states and that the weak should not fall prey to the strong. These are worthy goals in the pursuit of which China and Germany should take the lead.

The author is a former member of the German Foreign Service and a researcher at the German Studies Center at Tongji University. The author contributed this article to China Watch, a think tank powered by China Daily.

The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.

Contact the editor at editor@chinawatch.cn