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Asia

Germany, China closer than ever despite differences

Cooperation between Germany and China is quite close - diplomatically and also economically, as highlighted by the second up-coming round of inter-governmental consultations.

The death of Bao Bao can not be seen as a bad omen for German-Chinese relations. After all, the panda was 34 years old when he died last Wednesday, August 22, at the Berlin Zoo. He had been the last living bear of his kind in Germany. As a young panda, Bao Bao played an important role in diplomacy - in 1980, Chinese head of state and party leader Hua Guofeng gave him to then Chancellor Helmut Schmidt as a gift during his trip to China.

Angela Merkel and Wen Jiabao

The first German-Chinese inter-governmental consultations were held last June in Berlin

By now, Germany and China have outgrown the so-called "panda diplomacy." In its 40th year of diplomatic relations, cooperation is exceptionally close. The most obvious expression of their closeness is the German-Chinese inter-governmental consultations. Germany only has such close relations with six other European countries.

On Thursday, August 30, Chancellor Angela Merkel will take up the second round of consultations in Beijing. She will be accompanied by seven ministers. For the first round last year, China's head of government went to Berlin with an even larger delegation.

"It is the first time that 13 ministers are accompanying me on a trip! We have 20 documents on cooperation and business contracts worth over 15 billion dollars to sign," Wen Jiabao said.

Mutual importance

Europe is China's most important trade partner, and Germany is China's number-one trade partner in Europe. For its part, China is Germany's fifth most important trade partner, and the second largest outside of Europe and the US.

China's thriving market for German machines and car manufacturers has played a role in providing cushioning for a decrease in sales in debt-ridden European countries.

Panda Bao Bao

Bao Bao's days of 'panda diplomacy' are over

"Everything more or less follows trade relations," said Sebastian Heilmann, China expert at Trier University. "Both countries at the moment compliment each other quite well; Germany delivers things China needs and China offers things Germany can use."

Heilmann spoke of a "division of labor" which had formed, with Germany being "responsible for high-end manufacturing - for high-tech and high-end industrial products - and China more responsible for mid-range products mainly for export to developing and emerging countries."

Seeking to attract Chinese investment to Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel often speaks of economic exchange. She seeks to attract Chinese investment to Germany. But she also places importance on illustrating the entire scope of bilateral relations – like she did in a video podcast at the end of January before a trip to Beijing.

"Cooperation is standing on a firm foundation - from science to economic cooperation, dialogue on the rule of law through to discussions on cooperation in the agrarian sector - we have strengthened cooperation in many areas. An especially important topic is of course environmental protection - climate protection and the development of renewable energy sources," she said in the video.

But this consensus does not exist in all areas of politics. When it comes to foreign policy, German and Chinese opinions can be very far apart - for example regarding the civil war in Syria and Iran's atomic program.

During the last government consultations, Angela Merkel also spoke out for Chinese dissidents and foreign journalists.

Political change

Angela Merkel (middle right) and Wen Jiabao (middle left) visit VW factory in Wolfsburg in April, 2012

Sebastian Heilmann says everything follows trade relations

"The fact alone that this forum exists is important and China surely views it as a positive thing," Political scientist Eberhard Sandschneider told DW. "Of course, that does not mean that all of the probems and differences will be erased by such a forum. But at least it offers a platform to discuss certain issues and perhaps even work towards finding solutions."

One should not expect too much from the next round of consultations, as China's Communist Party is awaiting a change in leadership soon. That is expected to take place during the 18 th party congress, which is planned to take place some time in autumn. Sandschneider said he was not expecting any spectacular outcome.

"We won't be expecting anything huge," Sandschneider told DW. "Right now, Beijing is primarily busy with its change in leadership."

When that is over, he added, one could expect to see more come out of such talks. "And that means that the participants of this round of discussions will just have to sit it out and until the new leadership is installed and then new issues can be discussed."

Author: Matthias von Hein / sb
Editor: Shamil Shams

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