Saturday, July 5, 2014

China and Germany: An Assessment on a Rising, Dominant Bilateral Relationship

According to http://www.dw.de, German Chancellor Angela Merkel has made at least seven official visits to China.

In March 2014, Xi Jinping, China's president and chief of its Communist Party, visited Berlin. This spring it was Germany's turn: Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier and Economy Minister Sigmar Gabriel traveled to Beijing. 

In the fall, their Chinese counterparts are expected for intergovernmental talks in Berlin.

Despite the frequency of "chit-chats," German Chancellor Angela Merkel is embarking on a three-day state visit to China. 

No other European leader has met with the Chinese leadership as much as Chancellor Merkel.

On Sunday, July 6, Merkel begins her trip in Sichuan, a southwestern Chinese province with roughly 80 million people. Berlin has had a consulate general there for ten years, given that Chengdu is regarded by German companies as a springboard to the relatively underdeveloped western parts of China. 

Roughly 160 German firms are registered in Chengdu, among them a Volkswagen factory which the Chancellor is scheduled to visit.

From there, Merkel will travel to Beijing, where she will join Prime Minister Li Keqiang for discussions and on Monday (July 7), where she will meet President Xi Jinping. Liu Liqun, professor of German Studies at the Beijing Foreign Studies University, expects the talks to center on economic issues.

At the moment, there is a certain dynamic in the Sino-German relation. Merkel's current trip is aimed at keeping that momentum going, says Sebastian Heilmann, president of the Mercator Institute for China Studies (MERICS). The analyst believes that the upcoming government consultations will be the main focus of the talks which will also cover issues ranging from technology to education and cultural programs.

From there, Merkel will travel to Beijing, where she will join Prime Minister Li Keqiang for discussions and on Monday, she will meet President Xi Jinping. Liu Liqun, professor of German Studies at the Beijing Foreign Studies University, expects the talks to center on economic issues.

Beyond Western Europe, China is Germany's most important trading partner. For German plant and machinery installers, the Asian country is their biggest market. 

Since political backing is essential for business in China, Merkel is traveling with a high-level business delegation, which includes Frank Appel, the head of Deutsche Post, Joe Kaeser of Siemens, Martin Winterkorn, of Volkswagen, Thomas Enders of Airbus and Jürgen Fitschen of Deutsche Bank.

There are obstacles. German expert Liu Liqun, in a DW interview, states that there is room for improvement in terms of enforcing the protection of intellectual property in China. 

COMMENT: Eighteen months ago it could safely be said that bilateral relations between Germany and the US couldn't have been stronger.

Yet, a number of political missteps on the part of Washington by President Obama contributed to the sabotaging of what was clearly a one-sided relationship based upon a lack of trust and Obama's feeling that he was entitled to engage in wholesale economic espionage against Germany, who up until that time, had been a trusted US ally.

As I have said before, once a trusted ally discovers that you function without boundaries, trust can quickly dissipate to the point that your word means very little.

The crisis in Syria and Iraq, the atomic disputes with North Korea and Iran, the tensions in the South and East China Seas and the Ukraine Crisis will be the main international topics during the visit. Liu Liqun considers the two countries' positions to be close, mostly because Beijing doesn't really want to get involved in Ukraine.

Heilmann doubts Merkel can persuade the Chinese leadership to use their influence in Moscow for the sake of de-escalating tensions in Ukraine. 

In advance of the visit, the Germans emphasized that the issue of human rights would be discussed in Beijing. However, it is likely that these topics will be dealt with behind closed doors. 

Merkel is expected to press the case for international travel permission for Ai Weiwei, the Chinese artist and political activist. For months there have been hopes that the artist, detained by the country's authorities, might be allowed to travel to Berlin, where his biggest exhibition to date is being held until mid-July.

Merkel is expected to press the case for international travel permission for Ai Weiwei, the Chinese artist and political activist. For months there have been hopes that the artist, detained by the country's authorities, might be allowed to travel to Berlin, where his biggest exhibition to date is being held until mid-July.