After 16 years at the helm of Europe's largest economy, Angela Merkel is stepping down as German chancellor, ending a political era that has seen her leading Germany and Europe through several crises. A flashback to her five-hour whirlwind visit to Shenzhen in 2018 provides an interesting and revealing look at her legacy.
*At 11:40 a.m., May 25, 2018, Merkel's plane landed at the Shenzhen airport after she wrapped up a visit to Beijing.
*At 12:30 p.m. she met with Guangdong's top leader, Party chief Li Xi, at Futian Shangri-La.
*At 12:40 p.m., she attended the opening ceremony for the Shenzhen Innovation Hub of the German Chamber of Commerce.
*At 2:20 p.m., she visited Siemens Shenzhen Magnetic Resonance Ltd.
*At 3:35 p.m., she experienced intelligent health products at tech startup iCarbonX.
*At 4:50 p.m. her plane left the Shenzhen airport for Germany.
Before visiting Shenzhen, Merkel had met President Xi Jinping in Beijing during her 11th visit to China. Her tight itinerary in Shenzhen was dominated by interactions with tech companies that were regarded as key players or potential players in the cooperation between the two countries. Even if the two sides did not see eye to eye in certain issues during the high-level talks, Merkel managed to focus on the common goals, such as gaining greater access into each other's markets and deepening technology cooperation in areas like driverless cars and artificial intelligence.
The places Merkel visited during those five hours in Shenzhen highlighted the pragmatism that underscored her 16-year chancellorship.
Merkel's pragmatism should be applauded for steering German foreign policy away from ideology and focusing instead on creating win-win situations. China and Germany have maintained friendly cooperation relationship throughout Merkel's premiership.
During a video meeting with Merkel last Wednesday, President Xi hailed her contributions to promoting China-German and China-EU relations during her tenure.
As the Chinese people put a premium on friendship, said Xi, China will not forget old friends and will always keep the door open for Merkel.
More notably, Merkel has always refused to be drawn into the China-U.S. discord, making it clear that Germany does not perceive China as an enemy.
Speaking at a press conference after a meeting with U.S. President Joe Biden on July 15 this year, Merkel showed her frankness and pragmatism. While defending civic rights, Merkel stressed that she valued the "many facets of cooperation and also of competition with China, be it in the economic area, be it on climate protection, be it in the military sector and on security."
Contrary to divisive politicians like Donald Trump, Merkel has always been a unifier, trying to form consensus through negotiations. "Angela Merkel's style is to talk and talk and talk and talk," said Ursula Weidenfeld, author of the Merkel biography "Die Kanzlerin" ("The Chancellor").
"Angela Merkel from the start tried to find a new role for Germany in the 21st century. [She] always tried to be the moderator, to be the facilitator, and even to be the one who pays the bill at the end," Weidenfeld told VOA last month.
Despite criticism over some polarizing issues such as immigrants, Merkel remains a revered figure. In an August poll by YouGov, Angela Merkel's approval ratings were higher than those of any other current world leader in five major European countries and the United States.
Her popularity derives from her rational and pragmatic approach in diplomacy. She has always called for multilateralism and opposed confrontation, refusing to let ideological differences stand in the way of cooperation.
Her down-to-earth approach has won the hearts of many Chinese. As German chancellor, Merkel paid visits to many Chinese cities, including Beijing, Shanghai, Shenzhen, Nanjing, Xi'an, Guangzhou, Tianjin, Chengdu, Hefei, Hangzhou, Shenyang and Wuhan, revealing her efforts to know China better.
She learned how to cook a local dish, Kung Pao Chicken, or spicy diced chicken, and went to a wet market during a visit to Chengdu in 2014. During her visit to the tech startup iCarbonX in Shenzhen in 2018, she burst into laughter when she looked at herself in front of an intelligent mirror that instantly displays a person's health data.
Her short visit in Shenzhen will be remembered fondly by the people of the city. That visit paved the way for more cooperation between the Silicon Valley of China and Europe's tech hub Germany.
After Merkel's visit, Shenzhen Party chief Wang Weizhong led a delegation to visit Germany in June 2019, where Shenzhen Energy Group signed a deal with the European recycling company ALBA Group on cooperation in waste treatment and recycling, and Shenzhen Capital Group Co. Ltd. teamed up with Germany's Codasip GmbH.
These are part of the fruits of the friendly bilateral cooperation that has benefited much from Merkel's pragmatism, which should remain a cornerstone for future Chinese-German relationships.
(The author is a deputy editor-in-chief of Shenzhen Daily.)