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Asia

Opinion: Europe must speak with one voice in China

It is good that Germany and China are engaged in dialogue, but it would be better if Europe were represented by one voice, says Matthias von Hein, head of DW's Chinese department.

Matthias Von Hein Photo: DW/Per Henriksen

Matthias von Hein

Much of politics is symbolism. And when half of the German cabinet travels to Beijing to meet with eight Chinese ministers to read out prepared declarations and sign one agreement after another, it is symbolic of how important each is to the other and how strong relations have become.

There were no surprises, no big news, no drama during these consultations - proof of the relationship's maturity. All in all, Chancellor Merkel's meeting with Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao went according to plan.

It had been expected that China would carefully signal support for the euro - without making any clear concessions. China itself is suffering under the weak euro, as the beleaguered Europeans are spending less money on Chinese goods. But Europe is China's number-one export market. China also has the world's largest foreign currency reserves; it has over 3 trillion US dollars. Of that, 500 billion are in state mutual funds which could be used to buy Italian, Spanish or Greek government bonds. Nonetheless, it is more likely China will choose to go through the International Monetary Fund (IMF), should it want to invest more money in the euro. That would ensure less risk is involved and it would give China the option of demanding a political price: more say in the IMF.

This year marks the fourth decade of diplomatic ties between China and Germany. Since diplomatic relations started, the balance of world power has dramatically changed. Forty years ago, Mao Zedong was still the leader of China - a country which had been swallowed up by the chaos of his Cultural Revolution and was almost completely closed off to all other countries. Today, we live in an era of growing mutual dependencies. China is the world's second largest economic power and Germany's second largest trading partner outside of Europe. Nearly every political problem of international importance has a Chinese dimension.

Other than the euro crisis, there are the Syrian and Iranian conflicts as well as environmental issues. You don't have to love China - especially not its political class - but you have to talk with it.

That is why it is a good thing that the German Chancellor met with China's next generation of politicians. China's Communist Party will change its leadership at its party convention which is expected to be held some time in autumn. The date has not yet been set but at least the list of participants has been written.

China is an important, yet difficult partner. That also means Germany has to show resolve in representing its own interests. Germany is an important voice. But unfortunately, it is just one in a choir of 28 European voices. If Europe wants to represent, protect and keep its interests in a changing world, its voices must unite. It is a compliment that China sees Germany as its key partner in Europe. But it must not be forgotten that Europe will only get anywhere as one.

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