German and Chinese governments: acknowledging differences and emphasizing cooperation

The sixth round of German-Chinese government consultations was held by videoconference on April 28, according to a news release on the official website of the German federal government. German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Chinese Premier Li Keqiang presided over the meeting, and ministers from both governments discussed a wide range of topics on bilateral cooperation between the two countries.

The meeting was the last round of consultations between the two governments, as Merkel had previously announced that she would step down as chancellor after the German elections this fall. According to a statement by government spokesman Steffen Seibert, both sides stressed the importance of international cooperation in the fight against the new crown epidemic, especially in areas such as global supply of vaccines, mutual vaccine certification and thus easing travel restrictions. In her talks, Merkel called for “frank and transparent discussions on vaccine production” between the two countries and, as far as possible, two-way vaccine certification, at least under the framework of the WHO.

In addition to international cooperation issues such as the fight against epidemics and climate protection, Merkel also mentioned human rights during her meeting with Li. She said that there are still differences of opinion in this area and cited the case of Hong Kong as an example.” I hope that the dialogue on human rights between Germany and China can be restarted as soon as possible.” Merkel noted that some topics should also be the subject of more in-depth consultations between the two countries’ justice ministers.

The current round of intergovernmental consultations between the two countries, which was supposed to take place in Beijing last year, was postponed to this year due to the epidemic and held online instead. In his opening remarks, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang also acknowledged that “it is an objective fact that China and Germany have different views on some issues.” He stressed that “as long as both sides respect each other’s core interests and major concerns, communicate and exchange views on the basis of equal treatment and non-interference in each other’s internal affairs, increase trust and clear doubts, narrow differences and focus on cooperation, favorable conditions can be created for dialogue and cooperation to proceed further smoothly.”

According to an analysis by Agence France-Presse, Beijing’s “core interests” include the Taiwan issue, the sovereignty dispute over the South China Sea, Hong Kong and Xinjiang. The Chinese government has dismissed all criticism and accusations of the human rights situation of the Uyghur community and the suppression of democracy in Hong Kong as “interference in internal affairs”.

Chancellor Merkel is also reported to have mentioned the China-EU investment agreement during the talks, arguing that

This will be a cornerstone for a transparent economic cooperation, two-way market access and mutually beneficial relations between the two sides. The investment agreement was agreed at a high level between the Chinese Communist Party and the EU late last year, with Germany being the main driving force on the EU side. Some analysts believe that the Chinese Communist Party has only made some rather ambiguous commitments. However, the agreement has not yet been finalized and must be approved by the EU Parliament before it can take effect.

According to the German federal government’s website, at Wednesday’s German-Chinese government consultation, the foreign ministers issued a joint announcement that included several statements of intent on cooperation in areas such as climate protection, human resources and social security, health, food security, and international development assistance.