Full transcript of SCMP’s interview with Michael Clauss, German ambassador to China
Q: Can you tell us more about what’s the agenda the whole visit and the purpose of it, and what kind of agreements or deals German and China is going to sign during the trip?
A: This is the first visit of Xi Jinping as President of the People’s Republic to Germany. Chancellor Merkel and President Xi have met previously and now they have the opportunity to deepen their relationship.
There are lots of issues on the agenda. One topic is the state of reforms in China after the decisions of the Third Plenum last autumn. Ukraine will be another prominent issue. We also expect several agreements to be signed. Just to give you one example: We are confident that there will be an agreement on establishing a Renminbi offshore centre in Frankfurt.
Q: Can you give us a rough estimation of how much these deals are worth?
A: Many German companies will sign agreements, among them car companies and others. But at this point I cannot yet give you the exact value of the agreements.
Q: How do you describe the current relationship between China and Germany?
A: Our relationship has become very strong and close. Up to the highest level of leadership relations are very good and supported by mutual confidence. Our trade relations are excellent. Chinese and German bilateral trade has been soaring. That is especially true for the years 2010 and 2011, when both China and Germany lost markets in Southern Europe due to the effects of the euro debt crisis. At that time we discovered each other even more and bilateral trade increased quite rapidly. Today, China is our biggest trading partner in Asia and Germany is China’s biggest trading partner in Europe. We see bilateral trade increasing even further. The implementation of decisions taken by the Third Plenum will certainly create new market potential for our companies.
Q: How about the political side of the relationship?
A: We obviously have different political systems and values. But our political relations are so close that we can also raise difficult issues such as human rights where our views are different. Yet we are reliable partners for China and this is recognised by the Chinese leadership.
Q: How do you see China’s stance in Ukraine?
A: China seems ambivalent. On the one hand it is trying not to step on (Russian) President (Valdimir) Putin’s toes and on the other hand China openly supporting Russia. Our perception is that it is the most important objective of the Chinese government to prevent further escalation of the conflict. In this respect China is close to our own position. Both our governments are determined to calm down the situation in Ukraine and to deescalate the conflict.
Q: Do you see China’s stance is creating difficulty for China to take a stronger action in Ukraine?
A: Our feeling is that China has no intention to do so. This became clear with China’s voting on Crimea in the UN Security Council. China chose not to take the Russian side, but neither did it join the Western powers in voting in favour of a resolution. Instead it abstained, which was a clear signal, also towards Russia.
Q: Stumbling block for the how the international community dealing with Ukraine?
A: Obviously, we would prefer China to oppose Russia’s policy in Ukraine, but we understand that this is not the case. But this would not change the situation in the UN Security Council, because Russia has a veto anyway. Russia has made use of its veto power and will do this again in the future.
Q: Germany and China co-operate in Ukraine?
A: There has been a lot of contact between Beijing and Berlin on Ukraine. President Xi has called Chancellor Merkel about the Ukraine crisis. They discussed what could be done to deescalate the situation. There have also been several phone calls between our Foreign Ministers Mr. Wang Yi and Mr. Steinmeier. China is an important player and a permanent member of the UN Security Council. That is why we are trying to explore the opportunities for further co-operation in the Ukraine crisis.
Q: What are the options being explored?
A: We are actively communicating with to Russia in order to deescalate the situation. It is important that we prevent the situation in Eastern and Southern Ukraine from deteriorating and to rein in Russian ambitions. But I think we should leave this issue to be discussed by our leaders this Friday in Berlin.
Q: There is sudden interest in China of the WWII. China is constantly comparing between how Germany deal with its wartime past with Japan. How do you feel about Germany being dragged into the dispute between China and Japan?
A: In Germany we have found a way of coping with our wartime history, the legacy of the 20th century, the two world wars and the Holocaust. It is obvious that we have chosen a different approach from Japan. But we feel that we had to confront our past, because it was morally the right thing to do. Today we live peacefully with our neighbours.
At the same time, we do not want to become part of the tensions between Beijing and Tokyo. I think we should make a distinction between two separate issues. We welcome the Chinese interest in the way we have dealt with our history. However, we do not want to see our approach to history exploited in order to stir up tensions between Tokyo and Beijing. That is a different matter.
Germany has good relations with China, but we also have good relations with Japan. I can see no reason why we should be drawn into their bilateral territorial conflict. We believe that China and Japan will have to settle the conflict by entering into a substantial dialogue to deescalate and finally solve it.
Q: Did you convey this idea to Chinese official?
A: I think our position is very well-known here in Beijing.
Q: How do you see the metaphors that the current relationship China and Japan is similar to the UK and Germany before WWI?
A: First of all, history never repeats itself. But of course there are some analogies. Otherwise there would be no discussion. This does not mean that we will see another world war. But we are convinced that all sides need to each other to overcome the tensions. Studying European history might be of help for this. In Europe there has been a thorough process first of reconciliation and then of integration that has led to a situation with no conflicts among nations and with no borders mattering anymore. I am obviously referring to the European Union. After all the catastrophes of the 20th century, Europeans finally realised that they had to find a different way. Germany had to come to terms with its wartime history and at the same time, it was essential that other European nations took steps towards reconciliation and accepted Germany’s sincere apologies. It was clear to European leaders that conflicts should no longer be solved by military means. Instead they created a system of rule of law among European nations. Today disputes are settled before the European Court of Justice or in negotiations among the European leaders. This is how Europe has become a continent of peace after centuries of conflicts and the catastrophic wars of the 20th century with tens of millions of deaths.
Q: China is also building up its military. Will it trigger tension?
A: We have taken note that China has increased its military spending by 12 per cent. Over the last years there has been an annual increase of roughly 10 per cent in China’s defence budget. China is a large country with a population of 1.4 billion people. Although this is not threatening as such, I think Beijing should understand that its neighbours are closely observing the rise of this giant. China is already the second largest economy in the world and it intends to become the number one. This will significantly alter the power balance in the region in the medium term and naturally not everybody feels completely comfortable with it. This is why we feel that China should try to send out more reassuring signals to its neighbours. I am not only taking about Japan, but also Vietnam, Thailand and the Philippines.
Q: There is increasing presence of Chinese in Europe. How do you see such trend?
A: There are around 6000 German companies here in China. German companies have already invested 40 billion Euros in China. In last year they increased their investment by 50 per cent. There is a growing European and especially German presence on the Chinese market. Vice versa we would also like to see more Chinese companies and investors coming to Germany. Chinese companies have only invested 1.2 billion Euros in Germany to date. We would like to see this number grow and we think it is to the mutual benefit of China and Germany as well as the European Union.
Q: China is buying Europe?
A: Germany is not afraid of foreign investments. I would like to underline that Chinese investments are very welcome in Germany. I know of no reason why we should object to Chinese companies investing in Germany. On the contrary, we have made many good experiences. I am aware of the cautious attitude towards Chinese companies or employers among many Germans, especially on the side of trade unions. They worry about Chinese companies drawing off know-how and technology and then leaving their German employees unemployed. This actually has not happened. Most companies with Chinese investments in Germany are thriving. Trade unions as well as employees see that Chinese investment in most cases has strengthened the companies. In the past we have had similar discussions once Japanese investors came to our country. Initially Germans also worried when American companies started to invest in Germany. But our experience has always been positive. We believe that foreign investors buying up domestic companies is a healthy process and should not be subject to restrictions on either side, neither in Germany nor in China.
Q: China has been demanding the removal of restrictions on exporting high-technology.
A: There are no limitations on high-technology exports from Germany to China. The only exception is the EU arm’s embargo relating to military and dual use goods.
Q: Will Germany press the EU to lift the arms embargo?
A: In our current discussions the arms embargo does not play a prominent role. We do not think it is realistic to get this done in the foreseeable future. It would have to be approved by the European Parliament as well as by the EU’s 28 national parliaments. Lifting the arms embargo would also be connected to the situation in the Taiwan Straits. Although we have seen progress in recent years, there is still a military threat from China against Taiwan. Another factor is the human rights’ situation. Here too, we have seen improvements, but not to a sufficient degree that would allow the European Parliament and national parliaments to lift the embargo.
Q: On human rights, how important is it in Sino-Germany relationship?
A: Human rights have always been an important issue. Since our relations are good, it is possible to discuss human rights openly.
Q: There are people saying that the western countries are less critical of China’s human rights record?
A: I can only speak for Germany. From our perspective the situation remains unchanged. Human Rights are at the core of our constitution. They are an integral part of our policies worldwide. And they are an integral part of our relations with China. We have held annual human rights dialogues with China for eleven years and continue to do so. This dialogue is a very important forum to discuss these issues.
Q: Do you see the human rights record in China deteriorating further?
A: If you look at the past 30 years I think the situation has clearly improved, especially when it comes to social and economic rights. But last year we have seen some worrying developments, in particular with regard to political rights. It is something we observe very closely and also address regularly at the human rights dialogue.
Q: What do you expect the development of China-Germany relationship after the trip of Xi Jinping?
A: This year is going to be a very important year in our relations. First, president Xi will visit Germany at the end of this week. Then we expect Chancellor Merkel to come to China before the summer break. In October Premier Li Keqiang with his full cabinet will participate in the Sino-German government consultations in Berlin. This means that three meetings at the highest level will take place within only six months. This is without precedent in the Sino-German relationship and shows how close our relations have become. Regarding bilateral trade I am very optimistic: Trade will continue to grow significantly and at a fast pace over the coming year.
Q: How do you feel about the air quality here?
A: This is definitely a big problem. We note that the Chinese people and the Chinese leadership are aware of the challenge to clean up the environment and to curb air pollution. Germany wants to support China with this, because we have made similar experiences. In the sixties and seventies Germany had similarly serious environmental pollution problems. Back then we decided to actively fight pollution. Germany managed to do so successfully by introducing new regulations, technology and production methods as well as by raising energy efficiency. German companies have gathered experiences that could also help China in its fight against pollution.
Q: How do you protect the health of your children?
A: On days when we have poor air quality, like today, they have to stay inside the house. When they go to school we urge them to wear masks.