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Opinion

Opinion: Gauck stays true to himself

Expectations were high as Joachim Gauck gave a speech at Shanghai's Tongji University. The German president remained true to his reputation, writes DW's Philipp Bilsky.

German President Joachim Gauck's speech to students at Shanghai's Tongji University was the highlight of his China trip. Many journalists had been wondering about what exactly Gauck - who is known for his critical remarks about socialist governments - might say about the situation in China.

As it turns out, Gauck addressed an array of issues in his speech. The German president expressed his admiration for Chinese culture. He emphasized that he was aware of the humiliations that China experienced at the hands of invading Western colonial powers in the 19th century. And he paid respect to the economic progress that China has achieved since the country opened up its economy.

Lessons of the past

Bilsky Philipp Kommentarbild App

DW's Philipp Bilsky

At the same time, the president expressed concern. Many Germans sympathize when they see the images of China's smog-covered cities, he said. Moreover, some ask themselves how prosperity can be more evenly distributed, or, as Gauck's transcript reads, "how those people fare who go their own way and seem to stand in the way of the official line."

In fact, the German president had the opportunity to meet some of the people he was referring to. And they made the biggest impression on him, as he said.

But President Gauck talked mainly about Germany. He said that the entire political system of the former GDR lacked proper legitimacy, given that free, equal and secret public elections were never held.

He also spoke of the lessons of Germany's Nazi past, stressing that power shall never again be allowed to take precedence over the law. And on the matter of the environment, Gauck spoke of the key role Germany's civil society has played in overcoming the country's environmental problems.

Not losing face

Prior to his talks in Beijing, Gauck reportedly said that he – as well as the Chinese government – did not want to lose face during his China visit. After his speech in Shanghai, it can be said that Gauck stayed true to himself. He did not lose face.

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