What are westerners doing wrong with China?

In economic terms, China has long been one of Germany's most important partners. But politically, Berlin is having a hard time with its partner in the Far East - and is looking for the right tone against the growing power.

Green MP Viola von Cramon sees the situation as dramatic. "We are noticing that our partners in China are no longer taking us seriously," she says. Whenever German and Chinese delegations met, German representatives would paint a bad image: poorly prepared and with little knowledge of the country, they entered the negotiations. "The Chinese tell us: If you keep coming here with these state secretaries, with these representatives of the federal states, then you don't need to come any more."

China offensive called for

Viola von Cramon, Alliance 90 / The Greens

There is a lack of well-trained China experts in Germany, criticized by Cramon. "Chinese delegations, on the other hand, are very well prepared. They know exactly who they are dealing with, they know exactly what it is about. They have a clear strategy." The MP is therefore calling for the government to launch a China offensive: more Chinese classes in schools and universities, the establishment of think tanks, more jobs for China experts in government agencies and a government coordinator for China policy - such as there is it for the USA, Russia or France.

Some of the allegations can be seen as exaggerations typical of the opposition. It is hardly to be expected that China will exclude an important partner country from negotiations if its representatives are not detained in cultural studies. But Chinese delegations may actually find some encounters in political Berlin irritating. A Chinese delegation visits the Bundestag to debate the euro crisis and the German MPs first ask about the fundamentals of the political system: Who decides on the budget in China? How often does Parliament meet? A representative asks Chinese visitors whether it is conceivable that German students will study in China one day and Chinese students in Germany. So far, she had obviously not been aware of the fact that Chinese students make up the largest group of foreigners at German universities.

"Endure differences of opinion"

Rainer Stinner, foreign policy spokesman for the FDP

So is Germany systematically neglecting the Middle Kingdom? "Never before has Germany had such close ties with China as it does today," replied a spokesman for the Federal Foreign Office. Germany is China's most important partner in Europe. Once a year, ministers from both countries meet for joint government consultations - a privilege that Germany only grants to two other countries outside Europe: Israel and India. "The accusation that we are pursuing uncoordinated China policy is wrong," says Rainer Stinner, foreign policy spokesman for the liberal parliamentary group.

The Federal Republic of Germany and China have maintained diplomatic relations for forty years. German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle described the relationship in October as an "intensive, trusting dialogue," not without adding that these relationships also "can withstand differences of opinion". Because a certain distrust of China always resonates in the German public and in politics. The human rights situation, product piracy, industrial espionage - there are some criticisms of China. While economic ties have grown closer and closer since the 1990s, German governments are struggling with the country's political system.

The German public expects their government representatives to stand up for more human rights in China. China, on the other hand, is increasingly rejecting "instructions" from Western politicians. That shouldn't change with the new leadership either. A video is circulating on the Internet by the new party leader, Xi Jinping, who explains to journalists in Mexico that he has no sympathy for "fat Westerners who have nothing better to do than criticize China."

Merkel has become quieter

The German government has recently become quieter on human rights issues. Angela Merkel's first term in office was marked by a clap of thunder against Beijing. In 2007 she received the Dalai Lama in the Chancellery and thus negotiated a contact ban from the Chinese leadership for several months. Your conservative parliamentary group stepped up again and considered in a strategy paper whether Germany should not turn away from China and turn more towards democratic India. In the meantime, not much has been heard of such considerations. And after a year ago a meeting between Merkel and a critical lawyer in Beijing was prevented by the State Security, the Chancellor refrained from dialogue with opponents of the regime on her last visit last August.

The current federal government also made a break in its relationship with China when it announced that it would phase out development cooperation with Beijing. China itself is now providing large amounts of development aid to poorer countries. Development minister Dirk Niebel said shortly after taking office. This means that many projects in which Germany and China cooperated on a practical level are no longer applicable. Critics like the Green politician von Cramon fear that Germany will lose influence on the development of China. There are still around 200 employees of the state implementing organization, the Community for International Cooperation (GIZ) in China, who are handling the ongoing projects - most of them will expire in 2014. Above all, it is about cooperation in the environmental and energy sectors. The German-Chinese rule of law dialogue, which previous governments have always presented as a model of critical and constructive cooperation with unwieldy partners, is also affected. So far it has been financed to a large extent from development funds.

(Source: Author Mathias Bölinger)