“The image of China as a technology thief and imitator no longer applies, and we will need to engage with the country in future.” With this assessment, Björn Conrad, CEO of Sinolytics, corrected an assumption that still lingers in many people’s minds. Speaking from experience, the former Deputy Director for Research at China think tank MERICS, explained that “in terms of quality, China is very close to us". He added that the Chinese government is driving this progress with a remarkable degree of foresight – which poses a problem for Europe: “For good reason, we set ourselves strict rules to encourage free markets and prevent the distortion of competition. At the same time, however, we need to be able to react to the fact that China does not play by the same rules, otherwise we will not make any progress.” Conrad said that we are now in systemic competition with China – and the Chinese government is being increasingly open about the fact that their system is more efficient compared to the liberal market economy.
Prof. Dr. Rüdiger Grube,Chairman of the Supervisory Board of the Hamburg harbour and logistics group HHLA and former chairman of the board of Deutsche Bahn AG, confirmed this view, adding that this competition involves a number of unfair practices. “We need to change a couple of things,” Grube argued. He expressed his disbelief that research spending in Germany is not tax deductible, citing research, development and innovation as among the country's most important competitive strengths. Grube also proposed that European competition law be adapted to reflect the global reality, arguing that it is unacceptable that companies such as Siemens and Alstom were not allowed to merge even though their Chinese competitor would still generate twice the revenue of the merged entity. Last but not least, Grube suggested that “if we don't want to lose touch as an export and logistics nation, we need a growth agenda.”
“Europe must be willing to innovate if it is to stand its ground,” said Prof. Dr. Andreas Rödder, Professor of Contemporary History at the Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz. He explained that China illustrates that democracy and capitalism do not belong together automatically, and that this poses a fundamental challenge for the West’s economic system. According to Rödder, the European principle of a “value-driven foreign policy” makes little sense to China, whose government considers the political conditions of its economic partners to be irrelevant. “The European way of life is not the measure of all things,” he emphasised. He stressed this point further by adding: “We must shake off our sense of self-assurance and superiority. As Europe, we can no longer be arrogant enough to assume that everyone else is worse off than us.” He said that if Europe is to continue playing any role in the world at all, it must play to its political strengths. “Germany and France must form a foreign policy alliance with soon-to-be-ex-EU member the United Kingdom.”