Germany and China - between fear and fascination | Asia| An in-depth look at news from across the continent | DW | 19.02.2014
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Germany and China - between fear and fascination

The relations between China and Germany are as close as ever, especially in economic terms. But how do Germans view China and what is the Chinese perception of Germany? A study has examined this question.

What is the name of the Chinese president? If one were to pose this question to Germans, most of them wouldn't know the answer. According to a study conducted by the Chinese technology company Huawei, in collaboration with Hamburg-based GIGA Institute and research institute TNS Emnid, only two percent of all Germans are aware of President Xi Jinping.

A thousand people from each country alongside 200 business leaders and 100 politicians were interviewed to compile the study titled: "Germany and China - perception and reality."

An ambivalent relationship

The report found that Germans, for the most part, view China's rapid growth as a great opportunity for the German economy. The study also points out that the vast majority of Germans believe economic ties with China are as important as those with the US. But on the other hand, China's rise is also seen as a threat. Around a half of respondents were concerned about increased competition.

Volkswagen factory in China

German companies are investing heavily in China

The same is true for politics. "Germans tend to have a critical perception of China's actions on the international political arena," says Patrick Köllner, director of the GIGA Institute in Hamburg. "The view is even more pronounced when the corresponding values for economic decision-makers are taken into account." Only a quarter of all respondents rate China's international political engagement positively, a lower figure compared to that of countries such as France or the United States, whose engagement Germans often appreciate.

However, Germans regard China more positively than either Russia or India. Conversely, more than two-thirds of Chinese have a positive image of Germany. Although the Germans are critical of Beijing in the areas of human rights, rule of law, environment and climate change policy, they believe China will make progress in terms of environmental protection over the coming fifteen years.

Similar traits, but still foreign

The interest in each other's country is great, but different. While Germans are interested in Chinese culture, food and famous buildings, for instance, Chinese are fond of German products and brands.

Moreover, the image they have of each other's cultures is remarkably similar, says Yun Schüler-Zhou from the GIGA Institute. "The Germans view China as a traditional country characterized by elements such as modesty, community and family orientation as well as societal hierarchy."

At the same time, many Chinese see Germany as a traditional country with similar cultural characteristics. Nevertheless, half of the Chinese surveyed and nearly sixty percent of Germans perceive the other culture as foreign. Still, a majority in both countries is of the view that they could make new friends with people from the other country.

Positive image among youth

According to Katja Levy, professor of Chinese Politics and Law at Berlin's Free University, these views are strongly influenced by the media. German media coverage on China is often linked to special events such as record car sales, environmental scandals or human rights violations, she says.

International exchange students in Leipzig, Germany

Student exchange programs forster international understanding

"When people get all the information from a third source, then they are very strongly influenced by them," Levy told DW, adding that this leads to a less nuanced perspective.

However, many young Germans experience China first hand by studying, doing internships or working in the Asian country. This development has had an impact on the study's findings which state that young Germans rate China much more positively than older ones.