Angela Merkel: a good example for Western leaders dealing with China

  • In her 13 years as German chancellor, Merkel has set a good example for other Western leaders to follow in relations with Beijing, Chinese analysts say
PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 30 October, 2018, 11:34pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 31 October, 2018, 1:03pm

Angela Merkel has set a pragmatic example for Western leaders in their dealings with China during her decade as chancellor of Germany, Chinese observers said.

Merkel, who has said she will set down as chancellor in 2021, had managed to balance the need to do business with Beijing and uphold western political values, analysts said.

“She is a rare case of a European leader who can be steady and pragmatic,” Tsinghua University international relations professor Shi Zhiqin said.

Merkel has made a great personal effort to promote German business in China, making 11 trips to the country in the past 13 years, including visits to second-tier cities at the forefront of German investment.

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In that time, trade between Germany and China has tripled from 61.1 billion (US$69.6 billion) in 2005 to 186.6 billion last year, with Germany’s exports to China quadrupling from 21.3 billion to 86.1 billion.

In addition, income from China now accounts for over 15 per cent of the revenue of German companies with branches or joint ventures in the country. For example, Chinese buyers account for about two-thirds of carmaker Volkswagen’s overall profit.

Her cabinet and the Chinese government also declared a “strategic partnership” in 2010, and has since launched a series of high-level intergovernmental consultation mechanisms and industrial cooperation projects from health care to cars and robotics.

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Shi said Merkel had established personal friendships with Chinese leaders, helping to advance the trade and economic relationship.

But there were tensions. In Berlin in 2007, she met the Dalai Lama, the Tibetan spiritual leader labelled by Beijing as a separatist. As Merkel defended her decision and China protested over the meeting, relations between the two countries remained strained for months.

Ties improved when she offered her condolences over natural disasters in China in 2008, and later made another visit.

Cui Hongjian, a research fellow on European issues at the China Institute of International Studies, said Merkel was well aware of her country’s needs.

“She knows very clearly that Germany’s interests lies in a cooperative relationship with China and what she has done has further boosted common interests,” Cui said.

In recent years, Merkel has been criticised as not been tough enough on Beijing about issues such as human rights and international law.

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But on her last visit in May this year, she met the wives of two detained Chinese human rights lawyers, and negotiated the release of Liu Xia, the widow of late Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo who died in prison. Liu Xia has since settled in Germany.

“Chancellor Angela Merkel raised the case with President Xi Jinping during her visit in May,” said Katrin Kinzelbach, associate director of the Berlin-based Global Public Policy Institute.

Cui said that, overall, Merkel “has set a good example to the Western leaders on how to work with China”.

Additional reporting by Wendy Wu