By Lu Qiutian
Confucius remarked: "At 30, I had planted my feet firm upon the ground. At 40, I no longer suffered from perplexities." The 35-year-old relationship between China and Germany is now poised between that process of maturing and being free from perplexity and disorientation. Now it is time for us to take stock of the past, chart the path for the future and open up a new vista for bilateral relations.
The establishment of diplomatic relations between China and Germany in 1972 marked the opening of a new chapter of bilateral ties. Thirty-five years have passed and the two sides have forged a partnership within the framework of the China-EU strategic partnership, bearing global responsibilities. China is Germany's most important trade partner in Asia, and Germany China's primary trade companion in Europe.
In addition, the two countries' cooperation in the fields of culture, education, science and technology, environmental protection and legal affairs has yielded rich fruits.
Also, China and Germany have kept close consultation on many important international issues, such as fighting terrorism, nuclear non-proliferation and global climate change.
The Sino-German relationship is currently at its best, both in scope and in depth.
Dramatic changes have taken place in the international arena over the past 35 years, and both countries have traveled different paths of development. However, China-Germany relations have withstood the test of time and have progressed smoothly.
Several important factors help explain all this and are, therefore, worth noting.
First, the importance the leaders of the two countries attach to bilateral ties is a prerequisite for the development of Sino-German relations.
The Chinese government has always approached Sino-German ties from a strategic perspective, paid great attention to the important position Germany occupies in Europe and in the world at large.
Meanwhile, the German government has also over the past 35 years given priority to developing relations with China. As early as 1974, Helmut Schmidt, the first German chancellor to visit China, said in Beijing that he viewed German-Chinese ties from the perspective of grand world politics.
Following in his footsteps, Helmut Kohl visited China four times and Gerhard Schroeder six during their tenures as chancellor. Their actual deeds demonstrated that they cared very much about China.
Second, having a sound political foundation is indispensable to the advancement of China-Germany relations. China always supported Germany's reunification. Germany, for its part, has always stuck to the "one-China" principle and has been supporting China's peaceful reunification, opposing "Taiwan independence" and refraining from approving arms sales to the island.
It is this kind of mutual understanding and mutual support on matters involving both countries' core interests, such as reunification, that have helped lay down the solid political foundation for bilateral ties.
Third, the progress of Sino-German relations must be rooted in pragmatic cooperation that benefits both sides. This kind of cooperation takes farsightedness, wisdom and a pioneering spirit. Volkswagen, for example, first entered the Chinese auto-making market in the early 1980s and set up joint venture projects with Chinese partners.
Inspired by the "Volkswagen spirit", China-German cooperation has seen impressive accomplishments.
Evidence abounds. For instance, Germany is the first Western developed country to sign a legal exchange pact with China. It has helped set up joint science centers, recognizes China's higher-education credentials and has opened its tourism market to Chinese citizens. The maglev-train line jointly built by Germany and China is the first commercially operated maglev line in the world.
In 2006, bilateral trade between the two countries hit US$78.2 billion, 286 times the amount in 1972 when diplomatic relations are established.
Such cooperation brings substantial benefits to the Chinese and German people, installing a "safety valve" for the development of bilateral ties.
Fourth, properly handling disputes is crucial to the progress of Chinese-German bilateral ties.
The world is diverse, and no two leaves look exactly the same. China and Germany have different points of view toward some issues, owning to their widely different histories and experiences. This is quite normal. But these disputes should not be allowed to become obstacles to bilateral cooperation. Instead, the two sides should reinforce communication and dialogue.
Experience shows that bilateral ties move ahead smoothly when two countries properly handle their disputes through communication, dialogue and cooperation, instead of moralizing, finger pointing and confrontation. Otherwise, bilateral ties would suffer from setbacks and be subject to twists and turns.
The China-Germany legal dialogue offers a good example for how the two sides address their disputes over human rights issues, for example.
Humankind faces challenges posed by terrorism, proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, global warming, energy and resource shortages and infectious diseases.
China and Germany have great influence in their own regions and in the world at large as well. We have no haunting problems left over by history, nor conflicts of interest. Both countries are pushing forward reform and developing their economies. Internationally, China and Germany are both doing their best to safeguard world peace and promote common development among countries. In short, the two countries share a wide range of common interests that constitute a solid foundation for the progress of the China-Germany relations in future.
The author is the former Chinese ambassador to Germany. The article is an excerpt from the speech he gave at the German-Chinese Dialogue held last month.
(China Daily August 27, 2007)