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Hamburg Summit 2016

Cooperation rather than confrontation: China meets Europe at the "Hamburg Summit"

Hamburg Summit 2016, 23 to 24 November 2016

For two days in November, Hamburg became the center of a productive Sino-European exchange: Around 550 economic leaders, entrepreneurs and representatives of economic and political institutions from China, Germany and other EU states gathered at the Chamber of Commerce for the Hamburg summit: “China meets Europe”. High-ranking representatives travelled to the business meeting: China was represented by vice premier, Liu Yandong. She met with German foreign minister, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, and the vice president of the EU Commission, Jyrki Katainen. MERICS acted as academic partner of the conference for the second time.

In his keynote address, former German chancellor, Gerhard Schröder, called for an open exchange: "Cooperation rather than confrontation should characterize the relationship between our countries, even if the systems differ," said Schröder, who acted as honorary chairman of the Hamburg summit for the first time.

The many panel discussions and keynote speeches focused on China's economic development and the impact on European companies engaged in business with China. The agenda consisted of a wide array of topics: China's efforts to modernize and digitize its industry, the internationalization of the Renminbi, and the flow of investment between China and Europe. How globalization has shaped the world and how the Chinese economic and political model could possibly be an example for other countries to follow was up for discussion on the MERICS think tank panel, moderated by MERICS’ president Sebastian Heilmann, with Rolf J. Langhammer from the Kiel Institute for the World Economy, and "Financial Times" journalist James Kynge. "Western countries shouldn't be complacent," Heilmann stressed.

The conference took place in a difficult year for both Europe and China. That became very clear in the panel discussions and conversations on the sidelines: Europe is struggling with Brexit, the continuing shift to the Right in many member states, and an ongoing refugee crisis. China, on the other hand, is having to deal with slowing economic growth. The government is under pressure to bring about a fundamental structural change. 

Get-together in the Hall of Commerce at the HK Hamburg. Source: Hamburg Chamber of Commerce, Photographers: Roland Magunia / Krafft Angerer
Guo Jie, CFO, Chengdu Zhongde Techcent Investment Co. Ltd., Gordon Riske, CEO, KION GROUP AG, Sun Yi, Head of China Business, EY, and moderator Mikko Huotari, Head of Programme Foreign Relations, MERICS, at the panel: EU – China investment cooperation – a European era of Chinese capital? Source: Hamburg Chamber of Commerce, Photographers: Roland Magunia / Krafft Angerer
Prof. Sebastian Heilmann, President, MERICS and Prof. Mao Zhenhua, Chairman, China Chengxin Credit Management Co. Ltd. at the panel: China's economic transition - a challenge for a fragile global economy? Source: Hamburg Chamber of Commerce, Photographers: Roland Magunia / Krafft Angerer
Björn Conrad, Vice President Research, MERICS greets Prof. Mao Zhenhua, Chairman, China Chengxin Credit Management Co. Ltd. at the panel: A new global trade order shaped by regional trade agreements – what’s in it for China and the EU? Source: Hamburg Chamber of Commerce, Photographers: Roland Magunia / Krafft Angerer

The surge of Chinese investment in Europe also made for intense debate at the Hamburg summit. Some speakers were skeptical as to whether Europe would profit from Chinese investments in European high-tech firms like German robot maker Kuka and warned against an unwanted transfer of technology. Others advocated more cooperation as this would stimulate the economy in both China and Europe.

In an online survey conducted at the conference, participants said they were optimistic about the ever-increasing Chinese investments in Europe: More than two-thirds saw the trend as an "opportunity" for European business, whereas 32 per cent considered it a risk. The President of the Hamburg Chamber of Commerce, Fritz Horst Melsheimer, called for an investment treaty between the EU and China in 2017 "in order to put bilateral economic relations swiftly onto a more solid legal basis".

Donald Trump's victory in the US elections was a recuring subject in the discussions. Should the president-elect put his campaign promises into practice, apply protectionist measures and pursue a gradual withdrawal of the United States from multilateral treaties, both China and the EU would face serious challenges. "With Donald Trump’s victory, China is being pushed ever more into a leading role on the international stage," said the former foreign minister of Germany, Joschka Fischer, in a panel discussion with journalist Jochen Bittner from the German weekly "Die Zeit". "China will be the major power of the 21st century." Therefore, the EU would have to define itself as a "power with strategic interests". "We cannot blame China for being there," he said.

At the end of the day, there was a clear vote for more cooperation in Sino-European relations. MERICS’ president, Sebastian Heilmann, also spoke in favor of looking for common ground: "China's economy today is a mixed picture, but strategies like 'Made in China 2025' and 'Belt and Road' might be starting points for more collaboration." His conclusion is: "There must be a fresh start for more European and Chinese economic cooperation."

The Hamburg Summit is a biannual business meeting organized by the Hamburg Chamber of Commerce. This year's conference was co-hosted by the Chinese industrial organization, CFIE, and the service association, CATIS. MERICS acted as an academic partner. At the conference, MERICS researchers also gave a preview of the upcoming study: "Made in China 2025 The making of a high-tech superpower and its implications for industrial countries"

Jost Wübbeke, Head of Programme Economy & Technology, MERICS and Jaqueline Ives, Research Assiciate, MERICS present first findings of the study "Made in China 2025 The making of a high-tech superpower and its implications for industrial countries". Source: Hamburg Chamber of Commerce, Photographers: Roland Magunia / Krafft Angerer
Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier and Vice Premier Liu Yandong engaged in conversation in the Börsensaal at the HK Hamburg. Source: Hamburg Chamber of Commerce, Photographers: Roland Magunia / Krafft Angerer
Dr. Richard Weber, President, EUROCHAMBRES, Nathalie Errard, Senior Vice President, Airbus Group and Björn Conrad, Vice President Research, MERICS immersed in the discussion of the panel: A new global trade order shaped by regional trade agreements – what’s in it for China and the EU? Source: Hamburg Chamber of Commerce, Photographers: Roland Magunia / Krafft Angerer
Prof. Sebastian Heilmann, President, MERICS and James Kynge, Emerging Markets Editor, Financial Times at the MERICS Think - Tank Panel: China’s economic policy - what can we
expect? Source: Hamburg Chamber of Commerce, Photographers: Roland Magunia / Krafft Angerer
Jost Wübbeke, Head of Programme Economy & Technology, MERICS and Björn Conrad, Vice President Research, MERICS at a press conference on the study "Made in China 2025 The making of a high-tech superpower and its implications for industrial countries". Source: Hamburg Chamber of Commerce, Photographers: Roland Magunia / Krafft Angerer
Researcher of the MERICS exchanging their views with guests of the Hamburg Summit. Source: Hamburg Chamber of Commerce, Photographers: Roland Magunia / Krafft Angerer

More fotos of the Hamburg Summit 2016 are available here.

The  Mercator Institute for China Studies (MERICS)is a Stiftung Mercatorinitiative. Established in 2013, MERICS is a Berlin-based institute for contemporary and practical research into China.

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