Calligrapher Zheng Chang'an instructs a visitor the finer points of Chinese calligraphy. The event was part of the Changzhou Culture Week which kicked off in Berlin in on February 24 (XINHUA)
Shi Mingde, Chinese Ambassador to Germany (WANG XIANG)
The China-Germany relationship has been regarded as one of the major pillars of stable China-EU relations. Shi Mingde, Chinese Ambassador to Germany and a member of the 12th National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, shared his views on China-Germany relations at large in a recent interview with Beijing Review's President Li Yafang and reporter Xu Bei. Edited excerpts of the interview follow:
Beijing Review: The EU landscape has undergone tremendous changes in the past year, and this year will witness many elections in EU countries. What's your take on today's China-Germany relationship?
Shi Mingde: We always think the China-Germany relationship is an integral part of China-EU relations. The China-Germany relationship outweighs those between China and other EU states. Consequently, its tone sets the scene for China-EU relations as a whole.
On the political front, German officials visited China frequently last year, which laid a solid foundation for the bilateral relationship. This year marks the 45th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic ties between the People's Republic of China and the Federal Republic of Germany. President Xi Jinping will attend the G20 Summit in Hamburg in July. Berlin has already expressed its wish to invite President Xi for a state visit to Germany during his G20 trip. Both sides are now working on the details.
From the economic perspective, China-Germany trade accounts for 30 percent of China-EU trade, eclipsing the combined bilateral trade volumes between China and France, Italy and the UK.
Besides, based on the solid foundation of bilateral relations, as well as Germany's growing political and economic influence in the EU, the significance of the China-Germany relationship will continually increase. Against the backdrop of a changing international landscape, China and Germany will strengthen cooperation in all fields. Exchange visits of high-level officials will not only point out a new direction for our bilateral relations, but also inject new impetus. The outlook is optimistic.
Germany's general election will take place in September. Two months prior to the election, all parties will begin campaigning and to be involved with other election-related issues. After the election, there will be a period of two or three months for the transition of power. Therefore, major diplomatic events may take place before July this year.
China and Germany have both voiced their concerns over rising protectionism globally. How should the two nations deal with such phenomenon?
In the context of a sluggish world economy, trade protectionism and isolationism are on the rise. China will step up consultation with Germany and the EU to demonstrate a positive view of unity, collaboration and reciprocal relations. Last year in Hangzhou, during the G20 Summit, China and Germany worked closely and coordinated with each other toward the final agreement on several major international issues. The Hangzhou Summit's agenda items were innovating the growth pattern, combating trade protectionism and eliminating economic imbalances. China, Germany and the EU share the same goal. These items will be further discussed in the Hamburg Summit this year. We can see that compared with last year, dramatic changes are taking place, and uncertainties are growing. We will endeavor to negotiate our positions, reach consensus and steer the world on a course of positive and healthy development.
In the field of trade, we hope to work closer with the EU and address disputes properly. It is natural that trade frictions happen. The higher the trade volume, the more frictions will occur. To stop trade disputes completely, we would have to stop trading. We should not lose sight of what we really want. What matters is how we cope with the frictions and whether their outcomes are positive or negative. We should not exaggerate or overstate the negative side. Trade disputes between China and Germany involve trade volumes whose combined value accounts for only 2 percent of that between China and the EU.
These frictions can all be settled through bilateral negotiations. For example, two years ago, the photovoltaic trade dispute was resolved successfully. The two sides are now dealing with the issue of steel overcapacity. Our view is to observe the fundamental principles between us while dealing with each single case within its own context.
Germany will host a G20 Summit in Hamburg, themed "Shaping an Interconnected World," whose major agenda topics include ensuring stability, improving viability for the future and accepting responsibility. How do these issues relate to last year's Hangzhou Summit?
Actually, the two governments had close consultations before the G20 Hangzhou Summit, exchanging views on the agendas of the two summits. Therefore, the meetings have certain common agenda items, besides which, Germany has attached much importance to two aspects: digitalization and public health. Since Germany took over the rotating G20 presidency last December, various G20-related international conferences have taken place in Germany, almost on a monthly basis, such as meetings of agriculture, finance and foreign ministers. High-ranking delegations from China have participated in all of these events.
China will hold the Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation in May. What kinds of cooperation outcomes have China and Germany achieved under the initiative so far?
When China first proposed the Belt and Road Initiative in 2013, Germany had deep concerns about the proposal, worrying it would serve only the geopolitical interests of China and expand China's influence through exports of its production capacities. Therefore, heated debate over Germany's potential participation in the initiative occurred, and research into and assessment of the strategy took place. In the past three years, German people have gradually found that China has been sincere in promoting the initiative with concrete steps and that the strategy would probably bring Germany many business opportunities. Against this backdrop, Germany cast off its doubts and became more and more active in the initiative.
In the past three years, Germany has not only joined the China-initiated Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), but also secured one of the AIIB's five vice president posts. Germany is also the European country which enjoys the strongest voting right in the AIIB. At present, many China-Europe freight trains run through Germany, and bilateral railway cooperation is continually moving forward. In March last year, China and Germany signed a memorandum of cooperation on a railway freight route connecting the two nations and agreed to strengthen cooperation in exploring third-party markets. For instance, the two countries have cooperated in Afghanistan on issues including training mining industry personnel and disaster mitigation and relief. Currently, our cooperation in Afghanistan is continually expanding, showing common support for the peaceful reconstruction of the Central Asian country.
China is the largest economy at the eastern end of the Belt and Road, as well as in Asia, while Germany is the largest economy in Europe. The spacious Eurasian continent provides vast cooperation potential for China and Germany.
According to your experience as a senior diplomat involved in China-Germany relations for decades, what are the most outstanding aspects and attributes of Germany and the German people? Also, what most hinders communication between the two peoples, and how can such obstacles be overcome?
Germany being the birthplace of many famous philosophers, intellectuals and artists, and Germans having a reputation for ingenuity and passion for scientific precision, the phrase "Made in Germany" is often associated with high quality and durableness in China.
Currently, mutual understanding between the two peoples is still inadequate. In general, people from China have a better understanding of German people than German people have of China and its people. In the minds of many Germans, images of China and Chinese people are those of 15 years ago. I think the problem is due to both ideological differences and biased media reports. In recent years, we have made lots of efforts to promote media dialogue and people-to-people exchanges between the two nations, trying to enhance mutual, objective understanding. The situation has improved a lot, but more work should be done. We will continually make further effort in this direction.
Copyedited by Chris Surtees
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