The Chinese may write “Europe,” but they read “Germany.” Beijing has an aversion for uncertainty, it doesn’t appreciate ambiguous values; it prefers pragmatism to conjecture, and the convenience of bureaucracy’s inherent reputation. For these reasons it favors Berlin over Brussels. China believes in Angela Merkel’s politics and adapts itself to her policies that Germany is central to European economics and nothing can be decided without its approval. China is well aware that the Teutonic power has used its economy to fill a political void. If Kissinger ever wondered whom to call in Europe in case of emergency, China has erased any doubts: call Berlin, doing otherwise would be futile. China’s leaders visit the German capital, they treat European leaders with diplomatic courtesy, and they negotiate with whoever is most powerful to the point of risking blunders along the way. Novel impositions of excise tariffs on Chinese products are emblematic of this situation. The European commissioner for trade, Karl De Gucht, has proposed measures that would penalize the import of solar panels from China, which has been accused of providing state funding for its renewable energy industry. In a move as dramatic as it was unprecedented, Angela Merkel contradicted the EU and affirmed Germany’s opposition to this measure in front of China’s prime minister, Li Keqiang. China’s reaction was symbolic and appreciative: Beijing is considering imposing duties on the import of wine to strike France and other Mediterranean countries, certainly not Germany.
This small and awkward skirmish reflects a well-organized situation. Germany has been China’s premier European commercial partner for a long time. In 2012, its exports to China reached 92 million dollars (source: Chinese data custom), attesting to its position as the 5th highest among supplier nations. The ranking towers over other European countries’: France is 17th, The UK is 25th, and Italy is 26th. Germany enjoys a 5% market share on imports, almost six times larger than Italy’s. In addition, Germany can take pride in its trade surplus with Beijing, undermining the fear that Chinese imports lead to the demise of manufacture, which has been the case in other countries. Investments in both directions are strong and flourishing: Shanghai’s sole German Center will count 1,600 businesses, while Chinese purchase of German ventures are escalating rapidly. In reality, the two economies are integrating themselves and political authorities are working to consolidate this prospect. Germany—like Italy in the 80s and 90s—has industrialized China, intercepting its need for rapid modernization. Sophisticated technologies, governmental support and financial assistance have sustained the flow of goods. Now, China turns to Germany to directly acquire quality, indispensible for escaping an accounting conception of development and the obsession with growing its GDP. Once again, Berlin answers this call with China’s gratitude. The proof is in the pudding. Perhaps it’s insensitive in respect Old Europe, but the new relationship between China and Germany would not have been possible if the rest of the continent had proved more courageous and forward thinking.