German Chancellor Angela Merkel is heading to China for a short routine visit to an important country, says DW's Frank Sieren.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel has been to China eight times. Eight is a lucky number in China, standing for harmony. However, it seems more as if Sino-German relations are experiencing a case of the "seven-year itch". Routine, disenchantment - even though China doesn't have closer relations with any other country in Europe. It is not by chance that Prime Minister Li Keqiang has invited the chancellor to his home city Hefei in the south-eastern province of Anhui.
He will accompany her in person so that she can get an idea of poverty in China. Long dependent largely on agriculture, Anhui was considered the most backward region in eastern China. It has now developed into a center of heavy industry, most particularly the auto sector. Whereas the per capita GDP was $1,935 dollars 15 years ago, it had risen to over $5,600 dollars by last year. The average per capita income in China is just over $7,600 dollars.
Human rights issues on the agenda
Generally, Sino-German relations are fine. Merkel is not coming for long but a big German business delegation, including 18 CEOs, will accompany her and the Airbus will be full. Managers are always worried, but considering the circumstances, business is going well. Merkel cannot really complain about China's economic slowdown, as she would just be told that the situation in Europe and the world generally is not particularly rosy.
The chancellor has a good relationship of trust with China's top politicians, which allows her to broach human rights issues from a critical standpoint. This time too, she will discuss matters dear to her heart. According to the brief, she will bring up the case of the Deutsche Welle employee Gao Yu. She will also talk about the upcoming climate conference in Paris and Syria, after Beijing played a very constructive role in the negotiations with Iran.
China in a phase of economic restructuring
Merkel will also surely be interested in the results of the deliberations about the new five-year plan, which will be implemented between 2016 and 2020. They will finish on the day of her arrival in China.
The outcome is very important for Germany since China is currently undergoing economic and political reforms with uncertain results. Although Sino-German relations are fine in this regard, they are somewhat deflated. There's a lack of new projects, of challenges, common goals. The innovation partnership that was decided upon last year has failed to really come alive.
The German government's concept of "Industry 4.0" - also known as the fourth industrial revolution - has met with more interest in China than in Germany. It can already be predicted that the big idea with which Sino-German relations could be revived is missing on this visit. "A routine visit," German diplomats are saying.
However, not much more can be expected from the chancellor at the moment. Compared to other problems that she has, Sino-German relations are very smooth. So, Merkel will steer herself through China over 36 hours in a routine and friendly manner, before having to deal with German concerns on the flight back. China will practically have been forgotten by the time she lands and she'll turn her attention once again to refugees, Syria, Putin and Greece.
DW's Frank Sieren has lived in Beijing for 20 years.