German Chancellor Angela Merkel told an audience of Chinese students today that an open and free society is necessary to shape development, and that young people should learn from history to avoid mistakes of previous generations.
“You need an open, pluralistic and free society in order to shape the future successfully,” Merkel said in a speech at Tsinghua University in Beijing, following on from comments about Germany’s social order. “And I think all these principles form the basis for the success of a society in the future.”
Merkel’s remarks came at the end of a three-day visit that saw the signing of several business agreements. It also coincided with an escalation of historical tensions between China and Japan, two countries embroiled in a territorial dispute in the East China Sea. President Xi Jinping attended an official commemoration of the start of the Sino-Japanese war that was shown live on state television yesterday, as Merkel arrived in Beijing for meetings.
Merkel was asked for her views on Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe after today’s speech. Abe has moved to reinterpret his country’s pacifist constitution to allow it to defend allies.
Germany’s experience in World War II made it difficult for the country to reflect on its history under Nazism, Merkel responded, declining to speak directly about Japan. It is important for young people to reflect on history so mistakes can be avoided by future generations, she said.
“I think Merkel conveyed an important message at a public occasion on how to treat historical issues and how to distill strength from learning lessons,” said Liu Jiansheng, a research fellow at the European division of the China Institute of International Studies. “Previously Germany and the E.U. were ambiguous and trying their best to distance themselves from China-Japan territorial disputes. Merkel’s message was: learning from history was the only way to move on and grow.”
Europe learned lessons from the two world wars and had overcome difficulties, Merkel said earlier in the speech. Conflicts need peaceful solutions through dialogue and the engagement of international organizations, she said. Global problems cannot be solved without China, she said.
The visit is Merkel’s seventh since she took office in 2005. She enjoys a good rapport with Xi, who visited Germany earlier this year. Xi wished the German soccer team good luck in the World Cup as he met Merkel yesterday, calling Germany an “important strategic partner.”
The two sides signed several agreements yesterday including a memorandum of understanding between Air China Ltd. and Deutsche Lufthansa AG, a deal for a new car plant in China for FAW Volkswagen Automobile Co., as well as a helicopter order with Airbus Group NV. China agreed to grant Germany an 80 billion yuan ($12.9 billion) quota under its RQFII program, which allows foreign entities to invest Chinese yuan in the domestic capital markets.
Drawing on her past growing up in communist East Germany, Merkel said a good legal and socially just system is required for sustainable development, and it’s “important for citizens to believe in the power of law rather than law of the powerful.”
The 1989 fall of the Berlin Wall and end of communist East Germany enabled Germans to have free dialog which is also important for China, she said. This is reflected in the fact that China and Germany have a series of talks on human rights and laws, she said.
“Merkel’s plea for an open, pluralistic and free society is in line with Germany’s attempt to separate economic relations from basic political issues,” said François Godement, a Paris-based senior policy fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations. “On the whole she has been more consistent about this than most other European governments. It seems to be taken in stride by the Chinese government which prioritizes its access to the German and European market.”