The Evaluation and Prospect of a China-Germany Partnership

Kaiyu Zeng is from China. She is currently a junior student at the Renmin University of China. Her major is International Relations. She won the award of Merit Student, Merit League Member and Study Scholarship. She was a Summer School Student at Harvard University and went to the University of St Andrews on a semester exchange in 2019. She has worked in World Wide Fund For Nature (WWF) and Tencent as an intern.

China | June 27, 2020 | Student Essay

This year marks the 48th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic ties between China and Germany. China-Germany cooperation has entered a fast track of all-round development. Exchanges and dialogues in various fields and at all levels are active, making China and Germany a leader in China-EU relations. For China, Germany is a practical and pragmatic partner, especially in the economic field. But at the same time, the future strategic partnership between China and Germany also has problems to be adjusted, and still needs to deal with the undercurrents and challenges that hinder its continuous evolution.

At the political level, China and Germany regard each other as “the most important partners in their respective regions”. Since the launching of the China-Germany partnership with global responsibility within the framework of the China-EU comprehensive strategic partnership, the two countries have had frequent high-level visits and strengthened strategic communication and mutual trust. In the 15 years since taking office in 2005, German Chancellor Merkel has visited China 12 times, becoming the most frequent western leader to visit China. Wang Yi, Chinese Foreign Minister, considered Germany as a “bellwether for the EU” and a “leader in relations with China”. China has observed Germany ‘s important influence at the regional and global levels and is committed to giving full play to the cooperative effects of the China-Germany partnership on this basis. Moreover, China and Germany have long maintained close coordination and cooperation within the framework of the United Nations, The G20 and other organizations, maintained close communication on international and regional hotspot issues and worked for sustainable solutions. 

China-Germany economic and trade relations are a core part of bilateral relations, continuing to expand with the deepening of the partnership. The two countries have been engaged in long-term pragmatic cooperation, committed to building an open world economy and expanding all-round economic and trade relations. Close economy and trade ties are a pillar of China-Germany relations. In 2016, China became the largest trading partner of Germany, which is significant for a country dominated by an export-oriented economy. Germany is the fourth largest trading partner of China in the world and the largest trading partner in Europe. Also, China and Germany are highly complementary in trade. China’s huge market is an important source of growth for German companies, while Germany’s advanced technology and management experience have become an important resource for China to upgrade its economies. In 2010, China and Germany signed the Joint Communiqué Comprehensively Promoting Strategic Partnership and agreed to establish a governmental consultation mechanism between the countries. In terms of investment, Germany has long been the EU’s largest investor in China, accounting for one quarter of the EU’s investment. At present, there are 8,200 German enterprises in China, which are distributed in many fields such as chemical industry, automobile industry, electronics and electronics and retail. In recent years, Chinese investment in Germany has also accelerated. However, with the acceleration of overseas acquisitions by Chinese companies, Germany is worried about the acquisition of high-tech frontier technology by Chinese companies. On June 12, 2017, the German Cabinet adopted a resolution on amending the German Foreign Economic Regulations, aiming to further protect German enterprises from the impact of foreign capital. Therefore, both cooperation and competition will exist in China-Germany economic relations for a long time. 

Nevertheless, in the process of rapid development of relations between countries with different geographical environments and different civilizations genes, it is inevitable for China and Germany to expose some unavoidable contradictions. 

Firstly, as China and Germany have different social systems, they lack common values as a bond, particularly having ideological differences on human rights issues. In the West, China is seen as a despotic state and the antithesis of western capitalism and free markets, neglecting human rights as well as lacking democracy and freedom of speech. On Tibet issue, German Chancellor Merkel met the long-exiled Dalai Lama, who is the leader of separatist forces in Tibet, in 2007 despite strong opposition from The Chinese government. On May 5, 2017, when Hong Kong police charged the participants in the 2014 illegal “Occupy Central” operation, a German government spokesman expressed a critical attitude. Germany views these as legitimate ways to protect human rights, but China sees it as interference in its own internal affairs. However, it should be pointed out that the above incidents are not the mainstream of the development of China-Germany partnership, but reflect the ideological conflicts between the two countries. 

Moreover, Germany’s policy towards China is restricted by external factors. As the most important member of the EU, Germany’s policies are bound to be influenced by the EU. Coupled with increased competition between China and the US, Germany, which has a different position from China in the current international system, cannot afford to disregard the position of its strategic ally, the US. 

Although the existence of negative factors will lead to the “expectation gap” in the development of bilateral relations, it also shows that there is still potential and room for further deepening of China-Germany partnership. Protectionism, unilateralism and rising populism pose a huge challenge to the established global order. In terms of the international structure, the United States, as the world’s leading power, withdrew from the multilateral governance framework, resulting in a huge rift in the Atlantic Community. The EU’s internal cohesion and integration capacity is under test after Sovereign debt crisis, refugee crisis and Brexit. Against the backdrop of increasing uncertainty in the international situation, the trend of anti-globalization and the rise of protectionism, China and Germany share common positions and interests. We both stand for promoting trade liberalization, opposing trade protectionism, and upholding the multilateral trading system.

In conclusion, China regards Germany as a strategic partner. The pragmatic pursuit of new cooperation based on the common interests of the two countries is the core thread running through the process. Strengthening bilateral comprehensive strategic cooperation conforms to the fundamental interests of the two countries, not only help to lead the development of China-EU relations, but also to create mutually beneficial developing countries and developed countries new relationships. Addressing the uncertainties in the external environment with the stability of China-Germany cooperation will become a model for cooperation between developing and developed countries. 

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