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Angela Merkel in China 7.7.2014
Image: Reuters

An innovation partnership

Cui Mu / sri
October 9, 2014

Innovation Partnership is the motto of the current government consultations between Germany and China. But Berlin is also seeking to include the social aspect in the partnership.


German Chancellor Angela Merkel is meeting China's leadership for the third time this year as part of the third Sino-German intergovernmental consultations. In March, China's President Xi Jinping traveled to Berlin, a visit which was followed just a few months later by Merkel's trip to Beijing in July.

This time around it is Chinese Premier Li Keqiang's turn. On October 10, Li is set to land in Berlin accompanied by 14 of his ministers. While the first round of Sino-German intergovernmental consultations took place in Berlin in 2011, the second one took place in Beijing in 2012.

The third round will be taking place under the motto innovation partnership which was announced during Xi Jinping's visit in March, but it is now expected to be concretized.

"In the area of innovation, both countries have clearly defined common aspects for the sake of their own interests," said Björn Conrad, analyst at the Berlin-based Mercator Institute for Chinese Studies (MERICS).

Bildergalerie Hochgeschwindigkeitszüge China CRH3
China's state-owned rail company CNR is one of the largest train manufacturers in the worldImage: picture-alliance/dpa

"For China it is absolutely essential to strengthen its capacity for innovation," Conrad told DW. This is because without an increase in added value and productivity China will not be able to maintain its economic growth in the long run, the expert stressed, adding that this is the reason why the Chinese leadership wants to have a strong partner like Germany at its side.

A host of opportunities

For the Germans it is important to expand into economic sectors where they already have a technological advantage. For instance, Chinese markets offer a host of opportunities for German technology in the fields of environment and medicine given that these sectors have yet to be developed in China.

The frequently invoked cooperation is, however, always accompanied by concerns over the protection of intellectual property rights. A well-known example is Siemens.

When the German engineering conglomerate supplied 60 high-speed trains to China eight years ago, it also had to pass on the technological know-how to CNR, the Chinese joint venture partner. Today, the state-owned company is one of the largest train manufacturers in the world, selling products worldwide.

"This is a major challenge for the innovation partnership," says Conrad. When it comes to future cooperation, German companies such as Siemens should learn from the past. "This innovation partnership can only work if the Germans are confident that their intellectual property is thoroughly protected. For that to happen, the legal framework must be strong."

A 'new logic'

Conrad says that the "old logic," according to which technology is transferred in exchange for market access, will be partly followed as it can be mutually beneficial for both parties. But the countries also need to find new ways of cooperating on an equal footing in areas of high tech and innovation, always guaranteeing the protection of intellectual property. This "new logic" is the main basis for the German government's new innovation partnership with China.

The German government is aiming to set new basic conditions for the innovation partnership. But there is more: "From the beginning the Chinese have focused on technology, while the Germans have understood innovation in a much broader sense," said the China expert.

In order to achieve this an innovative society with free speech, unhindered access to information and legal certainty as well as innovation in the fields of law, society and education would be required, he added.

Proteste gegen Zensur Presse in China OVERLAY
Aspects such as free speech, unhindered access to information and legal certainty are essential for an innovative society, says ConradImage: dapd

"There were initially very different perceptions of an innovation partnership. We now expect that the social aspects will be included in the government declaration on the partnership," said Conrad.

However, it remains unclear what this will look like in practice and whether the technological aspect won't end up being prioritized after all.

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