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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.
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".