Saturday, November 5, 2016

A Certain Smile

On the street where I live there are two houses of student fraternities one opposite my apartment, the other just neighboring. It is nice to see so many young people around though noise levels sometimes are high when they party in their gardens during warm summer nights. As a sort of compensation and in the spirit of good neighborship we, the adjacent residents, are invited to most of their events. When reading their semester program Red Baron usually finds one or two interesting topics.

The Burschenschaft Teutonia started the winter semester 2016/17 on October 22, with a highlight. For two days the Chinese ambassador was their guest of honor. His Excellency Shi Mingde wanted to learn about the activity of German fraternities. While according just one hour to Freiburg and Mayor Salomon to sign the city's Golden Book he lived together with the fraternity students from Saturday afternoon to Sunday noon. He opened "his" program by speaking at the Teutonia fraternity house about Die Rolle Chinas in der Weltpolitik, Einblicke in die Politik, Wirtschaft und Gesellschaft Chinas (China's role in world politics, Insights into China's politics, economy, and society.

Red Baron entered the neighboring building somewhat early and had lots of time to talk to the Teutonia Aktivitas (students active in the fraternity) and their Alte Herren (former student members). Many of the "old boys" had come to listen to Shi Mingde from far away, e.g., Delmenhorst, a small town near the port city of Bremen.

His Excellency was welcomed by the Erstchargierter der Aktivitas (head of the active fraternity) and by the chairman of the union of former fraternity students with both speakers emphasizing that Teutonians are cosmopolitan and liberal-minded.

Note Teutonia's flag behind the speaker:
Voran und beharrlich für Freiheit, Ehre, Vaterland!
(Ahead and persistent for freedom, honor, fatherland)
And so was Ambassador Shi Mingde. Rumors have it that China sent its best man to Germany in 2012 and indeed: His Excellency was excellent in his presentation and spoke excellent German. In his younger years he was ambassador to East Germany and lived through the disappearance of the GDR. Their way to socialism was doomed because the GDR lacked reforms, he said. Taking this as a bad example China sought and found its own way of integrating market economy into communism, a combination leading to yearly double-digit economic growth rates over the last 35 years. When China started its economic development the average yearly income per capita was U$ 200. It is now around U$ 9000 while for Germany the figure is U$ 43,000. China's gross domestic product presently is 10 billion U$ while that of the States is 18 billion but keep in mind that one-fifth of the world population is Chinese.

Ambassador Mingde did not want to talk about China as a world power. His country had been a world power before it was subdued by the colonial powers in the 19th century, he said, but it became liberated in 1949. When asked about human rights he defined them as the right to eat and to be housed. While Germany has a "wealth problem" China still is a developing country with 40 million people living below the poverty line. For China basic human rights consist in providing enough food and decent housing for all its citizens. The economic situation in China's inland must still be improved while the economic development in China's coastal regions is rapidly moving in the direction of quality rather than of quantity.

The relations between Germany and China are excellent for they have much in common. The two countries rely on growth through innovation, they are against protectionism, and they both cooperate in the development of the world economically. There are currently 2800 German firms active in China and 2000 Chinese enterprises working in Germany.

With respect to energy, Ambassador Mingde admitted, China still depends too much on coal. China produces only 8% of its electricity by renewable energies but will increase the share to 15% while in Germany in 2015 the percentage of electricity produced by wind and sun was 32%. To lower COemissions by 40% and at the same time fight smog in China's cities the country will reduce the burning of coal but increase the present share of only 2% of nuclear energy by building new nuclear power stations. This will certainly not please his audience in Freiburg, Ambassador Mingde said, but the progress of replacing coal by renewable energy alone is too slow to satisfy China's needs for electricity. Although Germany will phase out its nuclear reactors by 2022, he added, it still produces 18% of its electricity by nuclear power compared with 70% in France.

In the discussion Ambassador Mingde said, Chinese firms sometimes find it difficult to demand overtime from their German staff as a consequence of well-being while Chinese people are extremely motivated. At present 35000 ambitious Chinese students are studying in Germany.


When the much applauded ambassador left the lecture hall I tried to get a close-up photo. When I pushed the button on my iPhone I noticed a red distance-measuring flash from another digital camera nearby spoiling my shot. Here is my photo of Ambassador Mingde where the red color is nothing else than a technical artifact.

PS: With respect to mutual investments and settlements of firms it is not all roses between China and Germany, the aforementioned difference in work ethic only being a minor problem. While so far China has used its enormous foreign exchange reserves unhampered investing in German high technology firms German investors in China are facing restrictions when buying Chinese company shares. A few days ago when our minister of economics visiting China touched on the subject China's government representatives were annoyed. Nothing serious. In the era of globalization we all depend on each other,  Ambassador Mingde said in his talk. I cannot imagine how German car manufacturers would do without the Chinese market. Are we open to blackmail?
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