“A frank and friendly dialogue” –The III German-Chinese Video Symposium

March 25, 2021

The China Institute for International Strategic Studies and Global Bridges continue their respectful exchange based on the trust that was built between the two institution over many years. A panel of high-profile speakers from the diplomatic corps, military leadership and the business community discussed the relationship between the United States, Europe, and China at the beginning of the Presidency of Joe Biden.

Global Bridges Executive Chairman Dr. Beate Lindemann brought together a round of speakers that combined high expertise and tremendous experience from all three countries: Major General Gong Xianfu, Dr. Rudolf Adam (Berlin Global Advisors), Ambassador John C. Kornblum, Senior Colonel Bai Zonglin, Senior Colonel Yu Hanmin and DGAP President Dr. Thomas Enders.

Ambassador Dr. Volker Stanzel moderated the symposium und pointed out in his opening remarks that it did not need a pandemic to prove that in an ever more complex world there is an urgent need for substantial dialogue between civilizations like the one organized by Global Bridges and the CIISS.

The excellent results of the previous symposia were highlighted by Gong Xianfu. The Major General said that short term challenges like the pandemic and long-term challenges like climate change have to be addressed jointly by the global community. The Biden administration is very different to the Trump administration, in the eyes of the Chinese. His government is more experienced, more rational and more professional according to the General. China noticed that President Biden made important adjustments and the Peoples’ Republic heard the message from Biden’s speeches at the G7-summit and at the Munich Security Conference: ”American is back“. Against that background Gong Xianfu said: “Now is the right time for our two institutions CIISS and Global Bridges to continue our frank and friendly dialogue.“

Dr. Rudolf Adam began his remarks by stating: ”China is a super power“. The country is more and more a source of normative power, innovation and capital in the global economy. The fact that China is an authority is of concern for the West, when China says something and does something else, according to the German speaker. Adam provided as examples the territorial disputes in the South China Sea, the Uyghur Human Rights issue and the situation in Hong Kong. Adam expressed his respect to China and pointed out that the West has to learn to understand China better. But at the same time there is an urgent need to agree on rules that are mutually binding. He concluded that without Chinas active participation we cannot tackle global problems.

Ambassador Kornblum said that China is very much on everybody’s mind these days and the country is of tremendous economic importance. The American Democrat said, that President Biden assembled probably the most experienced administration in U.S. history. China is more important for the USA than for Europe, according to the diplomat. He reminded the audience that the U.S. first diplomatic contact ever in the 18th century was with China. Kornblum pointed out that contrary to the title of the symposium there is no trilateral relation between the three countries. The western world combines one billion people (EU plus America) as a community based on values. That brings tremendous advantages: freedom and prosperity. The Western values pay off in particular in the digital economy because it relies on honesty and trust. Society who suppresses freedom will fail on the long run, is Kornblum’s conviction.

The Ambassador is certain that China will soon become the second most important global power. But the country was for 100 years not part of the leading global forces and history proves that every time a new power emerges that leads to frictions. Kornblum described the current challenges as very different to the Cold War because China is deeply integrated in the global economy.

Senior Colonel Bai Zonglin elaborated on Presidents Biden’s attempts to restore the transatlantic relation with a freeze of the troop withdrawal from Germany and returning to value-based diplomacy. China welcomes this development because it reduces uncertainty. The question is how Europe will balance its alliance with America and its goal for strategic autonomy. The Senior Colonel is convinced that the United States will continue to demand burden sharing from Europe. Bai Zonglin remarks showed clearly how carefully China observes the USA and the EU and analysis any attempt to forge an alliance against China.

Ambassador Stanzel closed the first round with the remark that Europe and the USA are bringing their relations back to normal. However, the world changed over the last years and strategic differences towards China become apparent.

Senior Colonel Yu Hanmin analyzed the strategic competition between the USA and China. In his view the United States “try to win over Europe” to strengthen its position but that attempt is limited due to different interests. The US sanctions against China are merely based on lies and disinformation about allegedly human rights violations, said the Senior Colonel. Yu Hanmin is confident that the EU seeks balance and will not dance to the tune of the United States. Part of the reason for that is business: China overtakes the United States as Europe’s most important economic partner. According to Yu Hanmin, the recent EU-China Comprehensive Agreement on Investment is a milestone and should not be regarded by Europeans as a favor or gift. He pointed out that China legitimately seeks prosperity for its own people and is not aiming at expansion or interruption of the international order. China sees the EU as a partner and considers rivalry as harmful for both sides.

The President of the German Council on Foreign Relations, Dr. Tom Enders, said that we are witnessing a geopolitical contest between China and the West that is accelerating. President Biden’s attempt to get the EU on his side explains Chinas’ harsh reaction to the quite limited sanctions. Chancellor Merkel is in favor of a partnership with China but she will be out of office by the end of year. The EU-China Comprehensive Agreement was her attempt to find a third way in dealing with the new super power. Multinational companies rely on China but are more and more alienated by the policy of the Peoples’ Republic. It becomes increasingly difficult to keep business and politics apart. The Chinese aggressive behavior is viewed critically in the West. Enders listed the Xinjiang internment camps, the crack down on the Hong Kong protest, Chinas’ punishment of Australia and the South China Sea issue. All this combined alienated Europe and this makes it easy for President Biden to have Europe allied with the United States. The DGAP President concluded with a call for unity: ”The world is full of problems and we have to solve them together.“

Senior Colonel Yu Hanmin pointed out that different civilizations and cultures should be able to coexist. The West should not attempt to transplant its institutions, values and way of life in other countries. That has failed in the Middle East and will fail in Asia also. China claims its right to unique values and to its own political system.

Major General Gong Xianfu concluded that the Symposium has led to fruitful discussions and he had only wished for more time to debate. The disputes on very important topics like the Uyghurs, Hong Kong and the South China Sea reflect the misunderstanding of China by the West. The EU-China Comprehensive Agreement is of mutual interest and the EU should have strategic autonomy

The Major General ended on the optimistic note that we have much more in common than differences and he sees no conflict of strategic interest between China and the West.