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The Beijing–Berlin Connection

How China and Europe Forged Stronger Ties

German Chancellor Angela Merkel in front of a painting of the Great Wall of China during a media conference at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, August 30, 2012. David Gray / Reuters

It is peak tourist season in China for European leaders. Shortly after the first bailout package to Greece in 2010, German Chancellor Angela Merkel celebrated her 56th birthday with Xi’an’s famous terra cotta warriors. She was accompanied by the usual coterie of German industry leaders who inked contracts in the tens of billions and has since cajoled her entire cabinet to join the annual pilgrimage to Beijing. Merkel took her eighth multiday tour this summer just weeks after the latest chapter in the financial crisis.

Chinese President Xi Jinping last visited Merkel on her home turf in 2014 during a high-profile visit to Berlin, where he sought to strengthen what is perhaps China’s strongest partnership in Europe. Speaking at one of Germany’s leading think tanks, he expressed his thanks for the country’s role in helping “Made in China” become more like “Made in Germany,” touting the widely recognized quality and craftsmanship of German goods, and praised the ties that bind Berlin and Beijing together as “two pillars of growth in Asia and Europe.” Trade with China helped Germany weather the global financial crisis and solidify its dominant position within the eurozone. During the course of only a few years, China has transitioned from an average export destination to Europe’s second most important trading partner after the United States.

Washington, however, has been slow to recognize these developments. In 2004, U.S. officials were surprised by a French and German bid to lift an arms export ban to China that was put in place after the Tiananmen Square massacre. More recently, the United States has blamed Berlin for maintaining a large trade surplus and keeping the euro undervalued—accusing Germany, in short, of acting like the China of Europe. This year, European enthusiasm for the Chinese-dominated Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) again caught U.S. policymakers flatfooted, which left U.S. President Barack Obama backtracking from his alleged initial opposition to the institution.

Yet after four decades of steady

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