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Germany and China forge closer ties

IT has been a big year for German activities in China with a broad range of events including large scale cultural and educational exchanges, as well as high profile state visits.

In Shanghai, the German presence at World Expo includes its pavilion, one of the most recognizable and popular buildings on the site.

It has also given Expo visitors the German China House, a state-of-the-art bamboo building that looks at several innovative solutions to common urbanization problems.

The latest event in a busy 2010 German program will be marking the 20th anniversary of the reunification of Germany today. The Consulate General of the Federal Republic of Germany in Shanghai will hold an event to mark this watershed moment in the country's modern history on October 11.

Underpinning German activities in Shanghai and its surrounding areas has been the strong growth in trade between the two countries, which has been dominated by the success of businesses in the Yangtze River Delta.

Germany's new Consul General in Shanghai, Wolfgang R?hr, says trade between Germany and China emanating from Shanghai, as well as Jiangsu, Zhejiang and Anhui provinces is worth more than Germany's combined trade with Japan and India.

"A large part of the success of the German economy at the end of the current economic crisis has been attributable to China," R?hr says.

"The Chinese have bought our goods much more than other countries."

German exports to Shanghai are roaring, up 57 percent in the first half of this year, compared to the same period in 2009 and are now worth more than US$6.27 billion.

It is a similar story in neighboring provinces, with German companies - particularly smaller niche machinery and high tech manufacturers - outperforming many European counterparts in the wake of the global financial crisis.

There are more than 3,200 German companies operating in the Yangtze River Delta region and over 11,000 Germans living and working there, many for small and medium-sized manufacturing firms.

"On the one hand we have these large household name companies but these smaller manufacturing companies are the backbone of German industry," R?hr says.

Along with a strong economic relationship, Germany and China have enjoyed an unprecedented level of exchanges in a number of fields over the last three years.

Before returning to Shanghai, he was previously the consul general here from 2002 to 2007, R?hr headed up Germany's biggest cultural and educational cooperative program with China.

The former "special ambassador for German-China relations" spearheaded a three-year project "Germany and China - Moving Ahead Together."

R?hr led the 30-million-euro (US$40.3 million) project since it began in 2007.

It has attracted more than 1.8 million participants in a number of fields including bilateral cooperation in culture, tourism, education, environment and trade.

The largest exchange program of its type conducted by the German government, it included more than 750 activities such as rock concerts, exhibitions, symposia and technical conferences involving Chinese and German artists and experts in their fields.

"What is new is that it is not only German culture and expertise but it is Germany and China together," he says.

"It has always featured German artists and Chinese artists and German and Chinese members of expert panels."

The program started in Beijing in 2007, then toured to Nanjing, Chongqing, Guangzhou, Shenyang and Wuhan, before finishing in Shanghai this year.

One of its most popular events were rock festivals featuring both German and Chinese artists that regularly drew crowds in excess of 20,000. One concert raised funds for the victims of the 2008 Sichuan earthquake. The event raised more than 10 million euros and was seen by 20 million viewers on Chinese television.

The bamboo German China House is one of 20 such structures built in these cities. The buildings are designed to be dismantled and reassembled somewhere else. The Expo building will go to a neighboring province.

Another bamboo structure will go to Shanghai's Tongji University and a further two will be located in new botanical gardens.

The project has been so successful the German government is slating similar cooperative efforts next year in India and subsequently in Brazil.

It is also recognition of the importance these emerging powerhouses will have in Germany not only in economic terms but in how they will shape the cultural and political landscape.

R?hr says that within the internal structure of Germany's foreign service the Shanghai and San Paulo consulates are now on the highest tier of importance as New York. These three consulates are the only ones to be given this ranking.

German leaders have this year been regular visitors to China with the then German President Horst Koehler visiting in May.

In July, German Chancellor Angela Merkel celebrated her birthday visiting Xi'an's famed terra-cotta warriors before taking part in high-level meetings in Beijing.

"We have regular high-ranking exchanges between the two countries," R?hr says of a diplomatic relationship that dates back to the first consulate opening in Shanghai in 1852.

Further links between the countries include the largest overseas business association by German members and the biggest and fastest growing German school abroad that teaches a German curriculum.

R?hr says there are also several local middle schools teaching German, which provide students with a recognized language accreditation that can be used to gain access to tertiary study in Germany.


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