Experts, including former Chancellor Helmut Schmidt, gathered this week to discuss all things China, as current Chancellor Angela Merkel is in Beijing meeting Chinese officials.
The "Magnet China" discussion series involving three major German foundations opened this week in front of nearly 600 onlookers in Berlin. Among the speakers were former Chancellor Helmut Schmidt and Bonn-based political scientist Gu Xuewu. The term "magnet" was chosen to represent both the forces of attraction and repulsion between China and the West.
The 93-year-old Schmidt has been dealing with China and issues surrounding the country for over half a century. He may in fact be the only living German to have held direct discussions with, as he called him, "the great Steuermann" Chairman Mao whose charisma he recalled this week.
He also remembered the famine triggered by Mao's "Great Leap Forward" that led to the deaths of at least 20 million people and the catastrophic Cultural Revolution.
There was only one question that the old chancellor would not answer: What advice would he give Angela Merkel for her trip to meet China's leaders? Schmidt told host Frank Sieren that Merkel had to make up her own mind about what to do in China.
Don't worry, be happy
Schmidt's message to Europe and Germany, in the face of a rising China, was to have no fear. On the contrary, he said, Germany had thus far greatly benefitted from China's economic rise. He said that concerns over the purchase of German companies by Chinese firms were dated and should be placed within the context of globalization.
The former Social Democrat leader said he had great respect for China's growth and performance, as well as for the country's history, which he said was scarcely understood in Europe. He added that Beijing's policies today could only be understood with a knowledge of China's history.
Long stretches of the evening were devoted to discussions on Confucianism and what the panelists described as a balance between human rights and human responsibilities. Schmidt pointed out how ironic it was that the Chinese Communist Party was setting up Confucius institutes all over the world. He added that one of the greatest challenges the country faced was what he termed its ideological vacuum.
Differences of opinion
Gu Xuewu, director of the Bonn Center for Global Studies, was on hand mainly to put Schmidt's comments into perspective. This was particularly the case when Schmidt was discussing the Chinese political system. When the former chancellor expressed his doubts about the export of Western democracy to the People's Republic, Gu countered that democracy would actually suit China. The political scientist said a free system was always a better option than the naked exercise of power.
The next "Magnet China" meetings will be held in Hamburg in March to discuss "Growth without Limits? China's Rise in the Global Economy."
Author: Mattias von Hein / dfm
Editor: Anne Thomas