Rudolf Scharping: “Differences must not lead to confrontation”

Rudolf Scharping, Federal Minister (ret.), Prime Minister (ret.), Chairman of RSBK AG, on German-Chinese.

German companies are present in China, Chinese companies are discovering the German and European markets. What are the prospects for cooperation?

In the 50 years of diplomatic relations between China and Germany, both countries have undergone fundamental changes – this also shapes economic relations. If, for example, after the beginning of the policy of reform and opening, China was initially for Germany a country from which one could obtain goods in large quantities at low prices, things are different today: never before has a country developed as quickly and fundamentally as China has since then; this concerns much more than the economic sphere. But the quality of the products, economic integration and division of labour, the efficiency of the education, health and social systems, even wages and prices have developed – and China wants to continue on this path. So for German companies, China is much more than a sales market; it is a location for research and development, for cooperation with companies, with science and educational institutions. Basically, this also applies to Chinese companies in Germany and Europe.

One should never overlook the fact that the exchange of goods and services, the economic division of labour – on a global scale as well as bilaterally – needs reliable rules, fair competition and access to markets, and much that is an expression of fairness, respect and equality.
And that is still not all. More and more, the exchange will relate to the solution of global challenges – such as climate change or the diversity of nature, bio-diversity or the protection of health, to name three key examples. This means that experience, knowledge and also technology and products in areas such as health care, vocational training, energy and environmental technology and also intercultural competence will become even more important. That is why I also see with concern that there are also tendencies to compartmentalise and to reduce the international division of labour.

What will be the focus of economic cooperation between the two countries in the future?

As already indicated: the great challenges of life and coexistence of now around eight billion people on our small and in many respects limited globe make everything increasingly important that serves the foundations of life and fundamentally improves intelligence and efficiency in the use of resources and energy. China and Germany have experienced a period of rapid growth, albeit for very different reasons. In Germany, this was called the “economic miracle”. So both countries, their societies and companies also have an experience in common, namely that rapid growth due to basic needs such as housing and work was associated with considerable damage to our environment.

Exchanges must be related to solving global challenges.

What advice do you give to Chinese and German companies facing internationalisation in each other’s countries?

Any engagement in a “foreign” country requires careful preparation and consideration; you have to know exactly which partners and competitors you are dealing with. Can one rely on predictable framework conditions – such as fair competition, protection of intellectual property, fairness and respect in the legal system, access to markets and tenders. You need a precise analysis of the economic, legal and also political environment. Not to forget: you need qualified and reliable staff, you should know and be able to assess different cultures and thus also business practices. These are, if you will, some “basics”.
As a long-standing observer of German-Chinese relations, what hopes do you have for further developments?

We are living in times of fundamental change; the German Chancellor has called this a “turning point” because of Russia’s attack on Ukraine. Germany and China can contribute to reducing dangers, managing risks and mastering challenges. For this, Europe must become stronger and China should become more active. From my point of view: none of the major global challenges can be better answered by confrontation and conflict – on the contrary! Yes, we have fundamentally different political systems; we answer questions of human and political freedoms and responsibilities fundamentally differently; we are competitors and rivals – but all these differences must not lead to confrontation. We can only win the future together by working together on the fundamental issues. That is the contribution I also expect from Germany and China.

We are living in times of fundamental change – Germany and China can make a contribution to mitigating dangers, managing risks and mastering challenges


von Editorial Team
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