It all started with a gap: Germany lacked research on contemporary China although the country has close economic and political ties with China. To fill that gap, the Mercator Foundation founded the Mercator Institute for China Studies in 2013 in Berlin. The idea was to create a center for research and discussion on contemporary China and help decision makers assess developments in the People’s Republic. Within five years, MERICS has evolved into one of the world’s leading think tanks on China.
Researchers at MERICS examine a wide range of issues: How innovative is China? What is behind the "Made in China 2025” industrial strategy? How secure is Xi Jinping’s position as state and party leader? What opportunities and risks arise from the Chinese Belt and Road Initiative? What does the trade war between China and the United States mean for Germany and Europe? As director Frank N. Pieke proudly states, "MERICS is the first think tank that has looked at China comprehensively."
The independent China experts at MERICS make their analyses and assessments available to members of the German parliament, the Federal Chancellery, federal ministries and diplomats as well as industry associations, NGOs and the media. They publish with a clear view for their different audiences, give lectures and organize press briefings. MERICS experts have been invited to hearings in the German parliament, the British Parliament and the US Congress. As part of its outreach, MERICS also organizes public events, runs a blog and a podcast series, publishes a bi-monthly newsletter and creative graphics.
Nearly 30 permanent staff from Germany, the Netherlands, Austria, Sweden, Italy, Spain and China as well as visiting academics from all over the world work at MERICS in Berlin under the leadership of Pieke and his deputy Mikko Huotari. Pieke is from the Netherlands where he taught contemporary Chinese studies at Leiden University. Founding director Sebastian Heilmann returned to his chair at Trier University in August.
Michael Schwarz, Managing Director of Stiftung Mercator, congratulates MERICS on its achievements: "Over the past five years, MERICS has established itself faster than expected as an authoritative voice of contemporary China research in Germany. China increasingly acts as a competitor and partly as an opponent of Germany and Europe. In this context, specialized, factual and independent analyses of China are of particular importance. Now it is time to consolidate MERICS’ international reputation as a leading think tank.”
In the future, MERICS wants to place a stronger focus on European relations with China. In view of the growing concerns in Brussels and Berlin over China's economic and political moves in Central and Eastern Europe, Pieke wants to better co-ordinate and increase intra-European exchanges about China. "We must make sure that other European voices are heard,” he says, adding that MERICS can contribute to a common European understanding of China's development and global ambitions. Reducing prejudices and understanding China's internal contradictions is part of that process, he says.
Since 2013, Mercator has invested EUR 18.4 million in MERICS. Over the next five years, the foundation will continue its generous financial support for the institute. In the medium term, MERICS' leadership will develop more diversified funding sources to support the institute's work.
MERICS will celebrate its 5th anniversary on November 15 with a conference on “China’s Futures” and an evening reception.