Merkel urged leading Western powers to include China in their multilateral system and treat Beijing as an equal partner, instead of freezing relations with the Asian nation and risking slipping into a Cold War-style bipolar order.
For Wang Yiwei from the Renmin University of China, the fact that the German Chancellor points to China as an equal partner to the West characterises Merkel as a responsible politician, capable of drawing the correct conclusions from the lessons of history.
"The US is pursuing a strategic offensive on China; the trade war is just a manifestation of it. Passions run high on the threat of new dividing lines, a new Cold War. A long-term chancellor, Merkel takes into account the lessons of German history during the Cold War. In her speech, she expressed hope that the world would prevent another Cold War, which characterises Merkel as a responsible politician".
"This responsibility reflects the correct attitude of the Germans to the lessons of history. Personally, I believe that this is a rather rare quality for modern politicians. Her famous statement is that China's growth depends on hard work and the wisdom of the Chinese. Of course, as Merkel said this time, China's rise has indeed created new challenges. But solving problems through multilateral negotiations, rather than confrontation, is highly consistent with China's position", the expert said.
For Vladislav Belov, Director of the Center for German Studies of IE RAS, Merkel wanted to highlight that China is a global actor like any other, and this is something that must be taken into account first of all in relations with the country, despite any problem.
"Merkel indirectly criticised the United States, which is trying to pressure China. Her words are a true message to the United States that China should be treated as an equal, without assuming that it has less weight or has secondary importance. China is already an equal player in all aspects: such as the size of GDP, the armed forces, its status of leading space and nuclear power. What Merkel did was to draw the attention of her partners to the fact that China has long been like that.
"Therefore, those who are in their right mind shouldn't underestimate China's political-military and socio-economic power. By 2050, China will be a leading world power, at least in economic terms. Having chosen this place and this time for her statement, Merkel showed her intelligence and competence", Belov said.
Both experts pointed to the German Chancellor’s initiative to hold a China-EU summit in the 27 + 1 format in autumn. That will be the first such event in the history of bilateral relations. This year marks the 45th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between China and the EU. Both Van Ywei and Vladislav Belov noted the importance of this platform for maintaining dialogue and solving existing problems.
"In September, Germany, as EU President and a non-permanent UN Security Council member, will hold a China-EU summit; Chinese President Xi Jinping and the leaders of all the EU member states are invited to negotiations and dialogue. This is the essence of her initiative. Germany has a lot of claims against China, with access to markets and intellectual property rights".
"Meanwhile, Merkel's attitude toward China's rise and growth clearly doesn't coincide with President Trump's position. In this sense, as a political leader, she can be said to be unique", Van Ywei said.
For his part, Vladislav Belov didn’t rule out that the idea of holding a 27+1 summit could have been born from the success of the China+ format in Central and Eastern Europe.
"China is promoting the 16+1 format – which now 17+1 because Greece was included – and bilateral relations with each of the EU members; therefore Merkel wants to show that there is not only 17+1, but also 27+China. Today, China manages to build multifaceted relations with Italy, Greece, France and Germany".
"No matter how the US and anti-Chinese forces in Europe try to prevent China from doing this, it's keeping its path. China's China + Central and Eastern European countries initiative is very successful, so Merkel believes that it's time for all the EU leaders to demonstrate their unity to China, and solve the existing problems in China-EU relations together", Belov said.
China believes that when the new convocation of EU institutions starts operating, bilateral relations can gain new opportunities for development. Beijing considers this year's conclusion of a bilateral investment agreement one of such areas.
This was pointed out by Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi at a meeting with European Council President Charles Michel in Brussels last December.
Michel, for his part, assured that multilateralism and cooperation are the best ways to respond to a continuous series of global challenges. At the same time, Charles Michel agreed with Wang Yi that the 17+1 format is an important addition to China-EU relations.
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