A long-standing partnership connects Germany and the People’s Republic of China in research and education, but at the same time China is increasingly becoming a competitor and systemic rival.

Skyline of Shanghai with photovoltaic systems

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The declared goal is to position China as one of the most important science and innovation nations, as well as a military superpower worldwide. Cooperation is becoming increasingly challenging and takes place within very complex framework conditions that affect all levels of cooperation with China.

Against this background, the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) is critically examining, where cooperation with China is still meaningful and possible. Support is only provided for projects that have a clear added value for Germany and Europe. When it comes to global challenges such as climate change, Germany actively engages China as a partner. At the same time, the Federal Ministry of Research draws clear boundaries in sensitive areas. This applies, for example, to cooperation involving particular dual-use risks or to cooperation in the field of artificial intelligence, which can be misused for surveillance purposes and human rights violations.

The freedom of science and teaching has constitutional status in Germany. This entails a special responsibility on the part of the scientific organisations and researchers. The guidelines developed by the science organisations and the review processes initiated for cooperation with China are an important step along this path. These processes must be continuously developed and adapted to the growing challenges. This is an ongoing task for politics and science - and also a responsibility for each individual researcher.

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Political framework

Research cooperation between the two countries is based on an intergovernmental agreement on scientific and technological cooperation dating back to 1978. Since then, future topics of joint cooperation, but above all framework conditions for cooperation, have been discussed at regular meetings attended by representatives of the research ministries of both countries, research, funding and intermediary organizations, and individual scientists.

In the field of education, regular consultations have taken place with the Chinese Ministry of Education since 2004. Topics include the challenges in higher education cooperation, in the mobility of students and scientists, and in vocational training cooperation.

Research and education cooperation was further deepened with the introduction of the Sino-German government consultations, which have so far taken place in 2011, 2012, 2014, 2016, 2018, 2021 and, most recently, 2023 (also see German-Chinese science cooperation: Dialogue in times of limited scope for action - BMBF).

The German government's China strategy, published in July 2023, sets the framework within which the individual federal ministries coherently shape their policies toward China. The strategy also points the way forward for science and research and provides an overarching orientation for dealing with China. The BMBF also focuses on building up and expanding independent China expertise.

Initiatives to expand independent China competence in Germany

In order to meet China as a partner and competitor on an equal footing, it is necessary to expand China competence in Germany. Since 2018, the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF), together with the Federal Foreign Office (AA) and the Standing Conference of the Ministers of Education and Cultural Affairs of the Länder in the Federal Republic of Germany (KMK), has therefore been stepping up its efforts to expand China competence in quantitative and qualitative terms throughout the education and science system within their respective areas of responsibility. The arguments put forward at the time continue to apply to the same extent today: sovereign navigation of the contradiction between cooperation with the PRC on global challenges on the one hand and fundamentally different political systems and values on the other can only succeed if there is intensive engagement on both sides. The focus here is on the development of independent China competence in Germany, which includes Chinese partners (such as cooperating schools or universities), but at the same time ensures that the teaching of competencies meets the demands of our education and science system, and in particular the freedom of research and teaching.

Completed as well as ongoing initiatives of the BMBF to build up and expand a broad China competence are manifold, but can be roughly divided into three fields of action:

  1. creation of a sound and up-to-date knowledge base on
    a) the state of China knowledge and China expertise in Germany and
    b) the Chinese science, research and innovation landscape and its development.
  2. shaping sustainable cooperation and networking between scientists from both countries.
  3. supporting measures for the targeted acquisition of China-related knowledge and Chinese language skills for actors at schools, universities and science in Germany.

In the following, selected measures of the BMBF are presented, whose implementation is significantly accompanied by the International Bureau.

Selected BMBFmeasures

Role of the International Bureau

On behalf of the BMBF, the International Bureau pursues the goal of expanding the international networking of German universities, research institutions and companies so that German science and industry can gain competencies and achieve innovative advantages. In this way, the International Bureau contributes to the implementation of the international dimension in the BMBF's specialist programmes and also provides project funding for this purpose on behalf of the BMBF. The current project funding in the context of China, which is managed by the International Bureau, focuses on subject-oriented alumni networks, concepts for building up China competence at universities and research institutions, and research projects on current developments in the People's Republic of China.