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State Banquet in honour of the President of China

Federal President Fran-Walter Steinmeier holds a speech at a State Banquet in honour of the President of China Schloss Bellevue, 5 July 2017 Federal President Fran-Walter Steinmeier holds a speech at a State Banquet in honour of the President of China © Jens Gyarmaty

欢迎来到德国! Welcome to Germany – and welcome to Schloss Bellevue. Tonight, you are guests of friends of China.

You have come to a city whose citizens are currently greatly looking forward to a Chinese attraction, indeed to one of your country’s most important emblems. Two large pandas – Mengmeng and Jiao Qing – are set to find a new home at the historic Berlin Zoological Garden.

This is a wonderful gesture by the Chinese Government, and also an expression of the close and friendly ties between our countries. Never in the 45 years of our relations have the dialogue and cooperation between our two countries been as close as they are today.

Another example of this is our close cooperation in the presidency of the G20 – China held the presidency last year and it is Germany’s turn in 2017. Germany is able to build on foundations already laid by China in many areas, such as the sustainable growth agenda and climate protection. In these areas in particular, we are hopeful that clear signals will sent by a successful summit in Hamburg and that Germany’s presidency will enjoy China’s active support.

There is no doubt that our countries have a special responsibility with regard to climate issues – this rings even truer in view of the announcement by the US to withdraw from the Paris Climate Agreement, which was probably the biggest success story of international cooperation in recent years. China and Germany, on the other hand, stand firmly by their promises made in the context of the Agreement that you, Mr President, rightly said had been "hard fought". And it goes without saying that we are aware of the fact that the fight against environmental pollution has become a decisive social issue in China’s metropolises.

Cooperation on international and global issues presents many opportunities for continuing to develop Chinese-European relations and bringing the same to bear in the service of a peaceful and cooperative world order. As major trading nations, China and Germany are particularly dependent on such an international order.

In your speeches in Davos and Geneva at the beginning of the year, you clearly expressed your commitment to multilateralism and to open and fair trade and just globalisation. We are also united by this commitment. We have achieved much together. I would be delighted if German business were able to continue its positive work in China on a fair basis. Our efforts to be a force for good should also inform our perception of the new paths between China and Europe that could emerge as a result of the Belt and Road Initiative, which you yourself are driving forward with great energy.

The Silk Road was always more than a trade route. It was a network that also helped to bring ideas, even religions, to other regions of the world. Thanks to this exchange, China became a centre of Buddhism and even of the Nestorian Church during the Tang dynasty. Islam also made its way to China via this route. The then capital Chang’an was a cosmopolitan hub for people from all over Asia and China. It was especially open to foreign influences and was thus a model for many Asian countries at that time.

Credibility and acceptance are indispensable for anyone who intends to take global responsibility. The world expects major countries in particular to conduct themselves in compliance with international law and the rules of peaceful international interaction. These rules can only be determined in concert, and not unilaterally. And major countries in particular have a special responsibility to ensure that these common rules are actually complied with. It should therefore be our common objective to oppose any attempts to weaken international law and international organisations.

The open and liberal societies of Europe have developed especially successfully on the basis of the rule of law and democratic participation over the past seventy years. The successes of our system have made us strong and prosperous in a peaceful manner. This state of affairs is by no means guaranteed for all time, however. We cannot deny that we in Europe are having to grapple with substantial crises and forces of disintegration in society. However, the capacity for self-criticism, peaceful change and advancement that lies in democracy will help us to overcome these crises.

The Chinese philosopher Mencius gave expression to the essence of good governance over two thousand years ago when he declared that "the people are most valuable (…) and the ruler is least valuable".

I am not sure whether this clear-sighted observation was to the liking of the Chinese rulers of the time. This wise warning has endured the passage of centuries and has steadily gained in importance and significance here in Europe. In a nutshell, a government must serve the people and not itself. Inalienable human rights and the rule of law give this ancient insight firm and reliable foundations.

Mr President,

The Chinese-German partnership is so wide-ranging and developing in such a dynamic way that differences of opinion will necessarily arise every so often. Let us talk about these in a spirit of trust. We want to preserve and strengthen what unites us – this is also my most personal wish. I would be delighted if, during my term as Federal President, we were both able to play our part in fostering friendship and cooperation between China and Germany.

Please join me now in a toast to the health of President Xi Jinping and his wife, as well as to the future of the Chinese people and the Chinese-German friendship!