The end of Merkel’s long tenure means that China-Germany relations are about to usher in new variables and challenges.
In 1950 and 1972, China established diplomatic relations with the Democratic Republic of Germany (East Germany) and the Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany). In 1990, the Berlin Wall fell and the two Germanys were reunified. All rights and obligations of the GDR were inherited by the reunified Federal Germany. 1972 became the year of the establishment of diplomatic relations between China and Germany.
It can be said that since the establishment of diplomatic relations between China and Germany, the successive German prime ministers have maintained a friendly attitude towards China, but Merkel’s relationship with China is still quite special. She has visited China 12 times during her tenure and is regarded as the West who knows China best. One of the leaders. During her time in power, Sino-German relations had highs and lows, but many scholars believe that overall Sino-German relations have maintained smooth development.
Western leader who has visited China the most during his tenure
”How far is it from the Three Gorges Dam?” “What is the direction of the Yangtze River?” On September 7, 2019, a special motorcade stopped at the Wuhan Yangtze River Bridge. German Chancellor Merkel stepped out of the carriage and leaned on the railing by the bridge and looked far away. Looking at the beautiful scenery of the three towns in Wuhan, including the sparkling river surface and the Yellow Crane Tower, she made the above inquiry with interest.
On July 6, 2014, Merkel visited a vegetable market in Chengdu. She also bought a bag of Pixian Doubanjiang.
On May 25, 2018, Merkel went to Shenzhen to attend the opening ceremony of the Shenzhen Innovation Center of the German Chamber of Commerce and Industry. A small robot produced by a Chinese company aroused her interest.
On September 7, 2019, Merkel visited Wuhan and visited the Wuhan Yangtze River Bridge.
Jiang Feng, Secretary of the Party Committee of Shanghai International Studies University, served as Minister Counselor of the Chinese Embassy in Germany from 2008 to 2014, and happened to have experienced Merkel’s reign. In his view, these in-depth and detailed questions have a typical Merkel style. “She has a strong desire to understand China and she will focus on details. This is very rare among Western leaders.”
Also rare is the number of visits to China by Merkel: She has been to China 12 times in her 16 years as German Chancellor. The Western leader who visited China the most during his tenure. When the sixth round of Sino-German government consultations started in April this year, Merkel, who participated in the video, also expressed regret that she could not come to China during the epidemic.
Unlike most heads of government when they visit China, they mainly go to cities such as Beijing and Shanghai. Every time Merkel comes to China, she will visit another city outside the capital Beijing.
For her last visit to China during the Prime Minister’s term in 2019, she chose Wuhan. Prior to this, she has visited Shanghai, Nanjing, Xi’an, Guangzhou, Tianjin, Chengdu, Hefei, Shenyang, Hangzhou and Shenzhen.
The cities Merkel visits are often the focus of German investment and the cluster of German enterprises. In May 2006, when she visited China for the first time, Merkel took a maglev train in Shanghai. This project benefited from Sino-German technical cooperation. When she went to Tianjin to attend the Airbus aircraft off-line ceremony in August 2012, Germany was already the country with the largest number of European companies investing in Tianjin.
In addition, Merkel is equally interested in strengthening cultural exchanges between Germany and China. In 2014, she visited Chengdu, learned how to make Gongbao chicken with Sichuan cuisine chefs, and visited the vegetable market; in 2015, she tasted the dark beer brewed by students at the Hefei College of Anhui, which was jointly established by China and Germany, and was still in a rural elementary school on the outskirts of the city. Teach children to do arithmetic problems. In 2018, when China ushered in the 40th anniversary of reform and opening up, Merkel went to Shenzhen, the forefront of reform and opening up, and laughed when she saw a smart mirror. In recent years, many media have begun to use “Friends” to describe Merkel’s China trip.
In fact, Merkel is known for her pragmatic and rapid “cyclone visit”. According to media reports, Merkel’s talks with foreign leaders generally do not exceed three hours. It is precisely because of this that her seemingly leisurely “shopping” and “walking” in previous trips to China are particularly special.
”She hopes to understand China in all aspects.” Jiang Feng told the reporter of “Global People”. From Merkel’s trip to cities like Xi’an and Chengdu, it can be seen that she worked very hard to understand China’s history, culture and lifestyle. She visited local start-ups in Shenzhen, which demonstrated Germany’s attention to China’s technological innovation.
It is worth noting that during her visit to China in 2010, Merkel also entered the school of the Communist Party of China for training cadres and a new high-end think tank with Chinese characteristics-the Party School of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China. When she visited China in 2012, Merkel’s first official event was a speech at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. “She pays special attention to reviewing China’s experience in state governance and administration, and has in-depth and high-frequency exchanges with President Xi and other national leaders.” Jiang Feng analyzed.
Strategic partners from “comprehensive” to “all-round”
After Merkel took office, the development of Sino-German relations has not been smooth sailing.
Meng Hong, a researcher from the German Studies Center of Renmin University of China, told the reporter of “Global People” that as a German leader, Merkel has many “firsts”: she is the first female Chancellor of Germany, grew up in the GDR, before entering politics Is a natural scientist. These characteristics have more or less left a mark on its China policy.
Merkel was elected prime minister in 2005 after the German “Economic Weekly” editor Stefan Baron when he had to make a judgment: “For Merkel, the People’s Republic of China but is only magnified the German Democratic Republic.”
In At the beginning of taking office, Merkel emphasized the promotion of “value diplomacy” with Western ideology at the core of China, and met with the Dalai Lama in 2007. Although the meeting was dubbed a “private name”, the venue was at the German Chancellery. As a result, Sino-German relations have fallen into a trough. In February 2008, Merkel made it clear that he did not support “Tibet independence.” Later, she did not meet with Dalai again.
From 2008 to 2009, the international financial crisis and the European sovereign debt crisis broke out one after another, the European economy was severely impacted, and the demand for cooperation with China increased. China expressed sympathy for the difficulties faced by the European Union, provided support for the European side to cope with the challenges, and bought bonds of some troubled countries as much as it could.
At the same time, the complementarity of the Chinese and German economies has become more prominent. Many factors have prompted Merkel’s value diplomacy to change, and her policies have become increasingly pragmatic. In Jiang Feng’s view, this is also Merkel’s ruling feature. “Once she recognizes the problem, she will quickly find a solution and put it into practice.”
Since then, Sino-German relations have developed steadily, and the cornerstone of economic and trade relations has advanced by leaps and bounds: In 2005, China was only Germany’s fourth largest importer and The eleventh largest exporter; in 2020, China has become Germany’s second largest exporter and largest importer, and has been Germany’s most important trading partner for the fifth consecutive year. Even with the unfavorable factors of the new crown pneumonia epidemic, China-Germany trade volume continues to rise against the trend.
If economic and trade cooperation is more pragmatic, then the all-round development of China-Germany relations in the political, cultural and other fields will be more breakthroughs.
Meng Hong mentioned the landmark event in 2010: China and Germany announced the “comprehensive promotion of strategic partnership” and established a normalized government consultation mechanism. “This kind of communication and dialogue mechanism has no precedent in Germany’s history with China, it is also unique among China and the EU and other member states.”
In March 2014, President Xi Jinping paid a state visit to Germany. After that, China and Germany established an all-round strategic partnership. From “comprehensive” to “all-round”, literally, it seems that there is little change, but the linkage, sustainability, and operability of strategic cooperation are more prominent, reflecting Germany’s unique position in China’s new diplomatic strategic plan.
From 2005 to 2014, it was also called the “Golden Decade” of Germany-China relations by the German media. One detail that can reflect the changes in Merkel’s perception of China is that when she visited the Central Party School in 2010, she was asked how she viewed some Germans who believed that “China is just like East Germany before.” Merkel replied: ” I have lived in East Germany before, and I can say with certainty that China is definitely not what East Germany was at that time. The path that China is taking now is an exciting path that deserves the attention of the world.”
During her visit to China that year, Merkel spent her 56th birthday in Xi’an. According to the Chinese Zodiac, Merkel is a horse. The Foreign Affairs Office of Shaanxi Province specially prepared for her a gilt-gold dance horse-bit cup-patterned silver pot imitation souvenir. One of the two national treasure-level cultural relics exhibited abroad.
In April 2021, during the sixth round of Sino-German government consultations, Merkel conducted a video connection with Chinese representatives.
“She worked hard to understand the difference between China and the West”
When studying in Germany, Meng Hong had the opportunity to get in touch with Merkel up close. In her impression, Merkel, who was still serving as the chairman of the Bundestag Union party caucus at the time, was inward and serious, which can be said to be bad words.
Meng Hong noticed that in the 16 years since becoming prime minister, Merkel has become more and more stable and mature. She is no longer the “Little Girl of Cole” that German political circles previously jokingly called, but a leader of a major country who can listen to the voices of the people and coordinate the interests of multiple parties within Germany, as well as be able to walk through the world on the international stage.
In fact, these 16 years have also been 16 years in which Germany’s international role and status have undergone major changes. Meng Hong analyzed the reporter of “Global People” that after the end of World War II, Germany has always maintained “restrained diplomacy” and its influence on global governance has been relatively weak. However, in the later period of Merkel’s administration, Germany actively participated in leading the European Union and international affairs, and gradually became an important force in global governance.
During this period, China has also undergone changes such as rapid economic development, continuous enhancement of comprehensive strength, and further increase in global influence. Therefore, the exchanges and cooperation between China and Germany have not only continued the basic logic between China and EU countries, between large developing countries and developed countries, but also encompassed the multi-dimensional linkage of regional and global governance.
Germany has always been equivalent to a “stability anchor” to Europe. A good Sino-German relationship has become an important fulcrum of Sino-European relations and even Asia-Europe relations-for example, when China faced a photovoltaic industry crisis a few years ago, Germany’s performance made many people still remember.
After 2011, the European Union and the United States successively initiated anti-dumping investigations against Chinese photovoltaic products. At that time, the European Union market accounted for 60% of China’s photovoltaic export market.
Merkel has always insisted on dialogue and negotiation to prevent the EU from imposing permanent tariffs on China. With the joint efforts of China and Merkel, China and the EU reached an agreement on price commitments, and a friction that involved the largest amount in the history of China-EU trade ended.
From 2014 to 2019, President Xi Jinping and Merkel met at least once a year on average. Sino-German cooperation in many fields such as economy, politics, environment, security, and culture has been deepening.
After the outbreak of the new crown pneumonia, President Xi Jinping and Merkel maintained frequent telephone and video communication. China and Germany are helping each other to fight the epidemic. The first batch of new coronavirus vaccine BNT162b2 approved by the World Health Organization for emergency use is the result of joint cooperation between Chinese and German pharmaceutical companies.
”She is a leader who can look beyond Germany and Europe. When there are differences between China and the West, she is not eager to make an evaluation. Let’s solve problems together, including climate change and other issues of global significance, realize the interests of Germany and Europe through cooperation, and work hard to promote cooperation between countries.” Jiang Feng told the reporter of “Global People”.
Sino-German Relations in the “Post-Merkel Era”
The changes in the relations between the two countries are not only related to the growth and decline of their own strengths, but are also affected by the complex and volatile international situation. Merkel’s contacts with China during the last tenure of her career as prime minister started under this background.
From the perspective of Germany’s external environment, trade friction between China and the United States occurred in 2018 and continues to this day. The then U.S. President Trump regarded China as a “strategic competitor.” In 2019, the European Parliament voted to pass the “New Europe-China Strategy Report”, which considered China to be the EU’s cooperation and negotiation partner, but also proposed that China is an “economic competitor and institutional opponent.”
Within Germany, the refugee crisis has not been properly resolved, and economic vitality is showing signs of weakening. With the development of China’s technological innovation, the “complementarity” of the Chinese and German economies has changed.
In this context, Merkel must take into account the balance of multiple interests when formulating its China policy. The release of the new “Indo-Pacific Strategy” by the German government in September 2020 is a typical manifestation. Meng Hong believes that this new policy of proposing more cooperation with Asian countries such as Japan and India means that Germany is trying to reduce its economic dependence on China.
However, Meng Hong said that overall, Sino-German relations are still developing smoothly. Merkel is actively committed to promoting practical cooperation and friendly exchanges between Germany and Europe with China with a subtle approach to art. For example, in December 2020, Germany’s term as the rotating presidency of the European Council has come to an end, but Merkel has continued to work hard and successfully promoted the negotiation process of the China-EU Comprehensive Investment Agreement.
The G7 leaders summit held in June this year also attracted the attention of Chinese and German researchers. At this meeting, the leaders of the seven countries spent almost half of the time discussing China. Some leaders advocated a hard-line approach to China. However, Merkel stated that on issues such as climate change and biodiversity, “if you put aside China, we will never find a solution.”
On the evening of September 10 not long ago, President Xi Jinping had a phone conversation with Merkel. Xi Jinping emphasized that in recent years, China-Germany relations have generally maintained smooth development, and cooperation in various fields has shown strong resilience under the epidemic situation, which has brought tangible sense of gain to the two peoples.
In the coming “post-Merkel era”, where will China-Germany relations go? Jiang Feng believes that the pragmatic cooperation between China and Germany in economic and other fields will not change. However, whether the new German Chancellor can understand China in an all-round way and have a long-term strategic vision like Merkel is still a challenge.
Meng Hong analyzed to a reporter from “Global People” that given the current problems in Germany, the new Chancellor may first concentrate on internal affairs after he takes office. But no matter which party wins the election, Germany’s development needs to maintain cooperation with China. I believe the new prime minister’s degree of importance to China will not be reduced. “Merkel has proven personally that through active and effective communication and exchanges, Western powers and China can seek common ground while shelving differences, respect each other, and cooperate closely. This is a general trend that no one can change.”