In 2013 the members of the Körber Network Foreign Policy went on a field trip to China. They travelled to three different cities, and within a short period of time were able to acquire an in-depth insight into the current situation in the country. The first stop was Hong Kong, where the participants of the field trip were able to talk to a representative of Human Rights Watch, and to Han Dongfang, the founder and director of China Labour Bulletin, about the human rights situation in China. Han explained that the situation of Chinese employees continued to be rather difficult, and that it was still not possible to implement minimum standards throughout the country. Yet at the same time he pointed out that there were now numerous protests, and that this was a positive sign. Employees were increasingly prepared to stand up for their rights. Thus conflicts could be dealt with by employers and employees and did not have to become a political issue. And this makes it possible for civil society actors such as China Labour Bulletin to play a mediator role.
At the invitation of Ronnie C. Chan the field trip participants then visited the Asia Society Hong Kong Center. In the historic buildings in which the distinguished organization is located, the members of the Körber Network Foreign Policy had the opportunity to discuss current political and social issues with the well-known entrepreneur Ronnie C. Chan. They also talked to Shiu Sin-por, the head of the Central Policy Unit. He knows the Hong Kong political system inside out, played an important role in the transfer of Hong Kong to China, and currently reports to the Chief Executive of the Special Administrative Region. Shiu Sin-por succinctly explained the unique challenges associated with the “One Country, Two Systems” principle.
The visit to Beijing started with a meeting with Professor Zhang Yansheng, Secretary General of the Academic Committee of the National Development and Reform Commission. Professor Zhang provided a comprehensive account of China’s economic situation, and described the development of the country after the inception of the reform and opening-up policies. Afterwards the participants had a first-hand opportunity to learn something about the training of party cadres. Professor Han Jiugen, who is deputy director of the Party School of the city of Beijing, then met with the participants and fielded a number of questions relating to both the recruitment and the education and training of members of the Communist Party of China. He pointed out that at the moment the main issues were the fight against corruption and good governance.
A meeting with Professor Wang Canfa, founder and director of the Center for Legal Assistance to Pollution Victims at the China University of Political Science and Law, and Feng Yongfeng, a journalist who works for the Guangming Daily newspaper and is the founder of the Green Beagle Environmental Institute, was organized in conjunction with the Heinrich Böll Stiftung. The speakers approached environmental protection issues from different angles. They painted a rather bleak picture of the current situation, and agreed that air, soil and water pollution was currently the greatest challenge to China’s future.
Yu Keping, who is deputy director of the Central Compilation & Translation Bureau of the Communist Party and one of China’s most influential intellectuals, talked to the participants about the prospects for political reform in China. Professor Yu pointed out that it was difficult to imagine the existence and the prevalence of the rule of law without political liberalization. Feng Zhongping, Vice President of the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations (CICIR), fielded questions from the participants about various aspects of Chinese foreign policy and talked in some detail about Chinese-US relations in the wake of America’s so-called “pivot to Asia.”
The International Department of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China then invited the participants to take part in the Chinese-European Young Diplomats Dialogue. This gave them an opportunity to talk to officials from various different ministries, and to delegates from the business world and civil society organizations. The participants focused on what China and Europe thought about each other, and emphasized that there was a need for greater openness on both sides.
The next morning the participants travelled on a high-speed bullet train from Beijing to Tianjin, where they visited the Airbus factory. In a meeting with Andreas Ockel, head of the Final Assembly Line in Tianjin, the members of the Körber Network Foreign Policy received a vivid impression of the challenges and opportunities of Chinese-European economic cooperation.
A meeting with the government of the municipality of Tianjin underlined the significance of swift economic growth for the development of large Chinese cities. Housing and infrastructure projects have to take into account the fact that the population is growing at a rapid pace. Tianjian now has the fourth-largest port in the world, and has developed within a short space of time into one of the main economic hubs in the north of China.
The field trip came to an end with a meeting with Dr. Michael Schaefer, the outgoing German ambassador to China. Shortly before the end of his six-year spell in Beijing, Schaefer shared some of his impressions of and experiences in China with the members of the Körber Network Foreign Policy.