China – Cooperation on an equal footing

China is a strategic partner for Germany. The two countries work closely together in research and education. Priority areas include environment and sustainability as well as the life sciences.

The Chinese government has been investing massively in research and innovation for many years: Its declared aim is to position China as one of the world’s leading nations in science and innovation. This is also of great relevance for German science. Together, German and Chinese researchers can find innovative solutions for global challenges and create the basis for our future prosperity.

Basis of cooperation

The Federal Ministry of Education and Research has been supporting cooperation between German and Chinese scientists for more than 40 years. The intergovernmental agreement on scientific and technological cooperation signed in 1978 laid the foundations for research cooperation between the two countries. Since then, representatives of the Chinese and German research ministries, research institutions, funding agencies and intermediaries as well as unaffiliated researchers have met on a regular basis. These meetings have served to discuss and decide future topics of cooperation.

The cooperation on education between the two countries is driven by the German-Chinese Steering Group for Education. This is concerned primarily with cooperation between higher education institutions, student and academic mobility, and vocational training.

Germany and China have been holding intergovernmental consultations since 2011 to develop cooperation in numerous policy fields. The joint action plan “Shaping innovation together!” which was adopted in 2014, confirms the strategic partnership between the two countries. During the fifth German-Chinese intergovernmental consultations in the summer of 2018, the focus was on cooperation in climate research, in Industry 4.0, in vocational education and training, and in the humanities and social sciences.

For the period 2015-2019, the China Strategy of the Federal Ministry of Education and Research represented a coherent and systematic framework for cooperation with China in the fields of education, research and innovation.

Key areas of cooperation

Topics of German-Chinese cooperation for which the Federal Ministry of Education and Research has responsibility on the German side focus on common interests in basic research and on solving global health and environment challenges. Established fields of cooperation include environmental technologies, marine research, the life sciences and education and training. New areas of cooperation, for example in climate research, are being developed all the time.

The aim is to ensure that cooperation is based on a partnership of equals and that it benefits both sides evenly. As China’s importance grows at an international level, there is an increase in the opportunities, but also the challenges, involved in cooperation – including in the science sector. In order to meet these challenges, continuous efforts are being made to improve the general conditions and the understanding of each other’s funding structures and processes.

Initiatives for the development and expansion of China expertise in Germany

An expansion of expertise about China in Germany is necessary in order to be able to deal with China as a partner and competitor on an equal footing. This is why the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) has been increasing its efforts together with the Federal Foreign Office and the Standing Conference of the Ministers of Education and Cultural Affairs of the Länder in the Federal Republic of Germany (KMK) since 2018 to quantitatively and qualitatively develop and expand expertise about China throughout the whole education and research system within the respective areas covered by each of these bodies.

The scope of previous and ongoing BMBF initiatives on developing and expanding expertise about China is therefore very diverse, but can be split into three broad fields of action:

1. Creating a well-founded and up-to-date knowledge base regarding

a) the current state of knowledge and expertise about China within Germany

b) China’s science, research and innovation landscape and its development

2. Establishing long-term structures for cooperation and networking between scientists and researchers in both countries

3. Support measures for the targeted acquisition of China-related knowledge and Chinese language skills for key stakeholders at schools and universities (insofar as this falls under the remit of the BMBF)

The BMBF has earmarked nearly €12 million for ongoing activities related to developing and expanding expertise about China for the period 2017-2024. Due to the special importance attached to increasing expertise about China within Germany – as also documented in the 2020 report by the Commission of Experts for Research and Innovation – the BMBF has planned to introduce new measures and build on existing ones over the next few years with an additional budget of €12 million.

Creating a well-founded and up-to-date knowledge base regarding the current state of knowledge and expertise about China within Germany and China’s science, research and innovation landscape

A well-founded and up-to-date knowledge base is a key prerequisite for making informed decisions and enabling a balanced partnership with China. In this context, the BMBF supports activities that serve to assess current levels of knowledge and expertise about China within Germany as well as ones which aim to expand knowledge about China’s science, research and innovation landscape as well as overall political and social developments in China.

Mapping China-related expertise in Germany

Cover-Illustration MERICS-Studie „China kennen, China können“
Cover-Illustration MERICS-Studie „China kennen, China können“ © Mercator Institute for China Studies, MERICS gGmbH

China kennen, China können: An analysis of the current level of expertise about China within Germany

China kennen, China können”, a 2018 analysis of expertise about China funded by the BMBF and conducted by the Mercator Institute for China Studies (MERICS), provides an overview of the current state of knowledge regarding China within secondary schools, vocational schools and institutions of higher education in Germany and makes a number of recommendations for action. The MERICS report highlights the progress made during the analysis period with regard to promoting and fostering expertise about China. At the same time, the report also identifies the continued need to catch up in several areas.

The publication was used as a basis for discussion at the “Expertise about China in Germany” conference that was held in May 2018. Around 200 experts from schools, higher education, vocational education and training, continuing education, research, industry and politics met to discuss how to cultivate more widespread expertise about China. The results of this event have been used by the BMBF, the KMK and the Federal Foreign Office to devise and implement further measures. MERICS: China kennen, China können (In German)

Analysis of current developments in China

Skyline Shanghai
© Adobe Stock / moofushi

1. Monitoring research trends in China (APRA-PM)

In 2018, the BMBF launched a performance monitoring programme focussing on the Asia-Pacific research area (APRA-PM) with the aim of establishing an evidence base to be used in the strategic development of cooperation with China. In this context, an evidence-based, target group specific monitoring report is prepared and published on a regular basis. This document highlights current developments and trends in the research policies of twelve countries in the Asia-Pacific region. The programme places special emphasis on China – the first report includes a chapter on the restructuring of China’s science, technology and innovation system and the second report includes a chapter on European research cooperation with China.

First APRA monitoring report (published on 14 May 2019; in German)

Second APRA monitoring report (published on 24 July 2020; in German)

2. Call for proposals on modern China studies

The BMBF call for proposals for “Research on current societal, social, economic and innovation policy developments in the People’s Republic of China” attracted a great deal of interest from Germany’s research community. The projects are scheduled to launch in 2021 and will be funded for three years. These research projects aim to investigate open questions in the field of modern China studies that are particularly relevant for Germany and Europe. They will generate knowledge that can be used to support evidence-based research and innovation policies that focus on or are developed in cooperation with China.

3. Project “Worldmaking”: A Dialogue with China

The consortium project of the FU Berlin, Göttingen University and Heidelberg University deals with developments within conceptions of world order in China, in Western countries and in other regions of the world between the late 19th century and the present day. Among other questions, the researchers aim to work together with Chinese scientists to explore the extent to which interconnected patterns and rhythms of changes in prevailing thinking about world order can be identified in parts of China and Europe. In addition to economic and political constellations of power at a global level, studies will also look at the role played by cultural hegemonies and social movements in concepts of world order. The project will not only take a comparative approach, but will also investigate the thinking of transnationally linked groups in particular. Within the scope of this project, fellowships and tandem fellowships for both German and Chinese researchers from a wide range of disciplines as well as research stays in China are to be awarded in order to strengthen German-Chinese cooperation in the field of humanities and social sciences.

Establishing long-term structures for cooperation and networking between scientists and researchers in both countries

Research collaborations between German and Chinese universities play a key role in increasing knowledge and expertise about China among German students and researchers. The BMBF is funding the establishment of new research structures in China and new networks between key players in the research community in order to generate additional expertise about China and to pool this knowledge for the long term. Alumni networks connect German (and, where possible, European) experts on matters relating to China and establish links with Chinese scientists and researchers. Funding the establishment of joint research sites in the Asia-Pacific research area also increases the visibility of German research in China, thereby making an important contribution to the ongoing expansion of cooperative relations with China.

German-Chinese Alumni Networks

DCHAN-Workhsop in Peking
DCHAN-Workhsop in Peking © DAAD Außenstelle Peking

Establishing German-Chinese Alumni Networks (DCHAN)

The German-Chinese Alumni Networks (DCHAN) were established under a BMBF funding measure aimed at fostering subject-specific networks between German and Chinese alumni. DCHAN comprises seven alumni networks that all aim to establish contact between alumni from all over Germany and China to support joint research projects related to China. The networks cover the following fields: mechanical engineering, logistics, urbanization and urban development, neuroscience, psychosomatic medicine and psychotherapy, entrepreneurship, and humanities and social sciences.

The German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) is responsible for maintaining links between the alumni networks and promoting them as part of the DCHAN support programme German-Chinese Alumni Network website (in German/Chinese)

Increasing visibility of German research in China

WATCH-Labor innen
WATCH laboratory inside. © Dr. Yang LIU, Prof. Bo LAI / WATCH-Team an der Sichuan Universität

BMBF funding of German research activities in the Asia-Pacific region

Today, the Asia-Pacific research area (APRA) is the third biggest research and education area in the world after Europe and North America. The region’s growing significance means that it is important for the German research community to increase its activities in these partner countries. The BMBF funding measure “Conceptual and preparatory measures to establish joint research centres with partners in the Asia-Pacific research area” aims to support the development of long-term joint research activities together with cutting-edge research institutions in twelve target countries. Four projects are being funded in cooperation with China. These will explore the topics of health, water research and sustainable urban development.

Establishing joint research sites will improve the visibility and longevity of German scientific excellence in the partner country and will also help to strengthen innovation systems in Germany and the partner country, which will benefit both countries. Website of the BMBF funding programme to establish joint research centres with partners in the APRA

Sino-German University (CDH)

CDH mit Kirschblüte
CDH with cherry blossom © QIN Wei

Sino-German University (CDH) at Tongji University in Shanghai

The biggest German university project in China is the Sino-German University (CDH) at Tongji University in Shanghai, which is financed by the BMBF and the Federal Foreign Office via the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD). The Sino-German College for Applied Sciences (CDHAW) and the Sino-German School for Postgraduate Studies (CDHK) form part of the CDH.

The BMBF funds the following institutions:

The Sino-German College for Applied Sciences at Tongji University in Shanghai was founded in 2004 in a joint initiative between the BMBF and the Chinese Ministry of Education (MOE). On the German side, it is governed by a consortium of German universities of applied science and offers four-year bachelor's degree programmes in mechatronics, automotive engineering, building services engineering and industrial engineering.

The Sino-German Campus (CDC) serves as a hub for all the German language activities on the university campus with the aim of boosting the visibility of these activities and exploiting the full potential of the special, long-standing partnership between Germany and China. The Campus’ primary activities include holding events (lectures, round table discussions, German Week etc.), maintaining an online presence and publishing an annual report covering all participating projects with a connection to Germany. Sino-German University website (in German/Chinese)

Support measures for the targeted acquisition of China-related knowledge and Chinese language skills for key stakeholders at schools and universities

China’s role as a partner and competitor for Germany is becoming increasingly significant. In light of this, there is a continuously growing need for people with expert knowledge regarding China. Mutual understanding and cultural sensitivity are essential for ensuring successful cooperation with international partners. In addition to language skills, intercultural competence is also a key part of expertise about China. Furthermore, expert knowledge also includes understanding underlying legal conditions and political, economic, cultural and historical relationships. The BMBF is working to promote the development of China-related expertise among school pupils, students, scientists and academics.

China expertise for stakeholders in German schools

© Adobe Stock / michaeljung

1. BMBF project “China School Academy”

Currently, China is only dealt with sporadically as a topic for school lessons in Germany. The “China School Academy” project run by Heidelberg University aims to develop high quality teaching materials about China and to train teaching staff to use these materials. This project will help teachers to integrate the topic of China in various school subjects such as history, geography and politics. As part of the China School Academy project, teaching modules are being developed for use in upper and lower secondary education. When using the teaching modules, teachers receive support in various forms such as teacher training, mentorships and guided school experiments. The School Academy also aims to set up “ChinaPerspectives”, an online platform that provides access to teaching materials and offers interactive learning opportunities.

China School Academy project website (in German)

2. Bildungsnetzwerk China – promoting China-related exchange and skills in school education

A Stiftung Mercator and Goethe Institute initiative, the education network Bildungsnetzwerk China is run in close cooperation with the KMK and the Pädagogischer Austauschdienst (PAD), a department of the KMK Secretariat. Founded in 2020, the Bildungsnetzwerk China pursues a number of goals: to increase the number of children learning Chinese at school, to devote more attention to China in school subjects other than language learning and to support direct exchanges in order to give German and Chinese pupils the chance to experience first-hand how their contemporaries live. To this end, the education network supports schools as they strive to become key education and meeting centres for developing skills for dealing with China.

The network’s goals are expressly welcomed and supported by the BMBF, which is represented on the network’s advisory board. 

Bildungsnetzwerk China website

China expertise for students

© Gorodenkoff Productions OU

China expertise for scholarship holders from Germany’s organizations for the promotion of young talent

In the CHIN-KoBe project, the BMBF promotes improving expertise about China among students who have won scholarships from Germany’s thirteen organizations for the promotion of young talent (Begabtenförderungswerke). The programme is aimed at students enrolled to study STEM subjects and economic sciences as well as students training to be teachers. In a series of seven successive modules, students delve deep into China’s history, culture, economy and society as well as learning the language and acquiring intercultural skills. The students also have the chance to gain valuable experience abroad by studying or doing internships in China. CHIN-KoBe is run by the Hans Böckler Foundation and the Stiftung der Deutschen Wirtschaft. 

CHIN-KoBe project website (in German)

China expertise for stakeholders in German higher education institutions

Vorlesung im Hörsaal
© Adobe Stock / kasto

BMBF funding measure “Expansion of China expertise at German universities”

Following on from the funding call “Expanding China expertise at German universities”, a total of eleven projects, each with a funding duration of three years, have been selected for funding during the period 2017-2022. This funding measure aims to enhance the involvement of German stakeholders in academic and economic relations with China across all subjects. In turn, this will help strengthen and stabilize German-Chinese cooperation in education and research in the long-term, to the benefit of both countries.

The projects cover a wide range of disciplines including engineering and economic sciences, natural and life sciences as well as cultural studies and law. Expertise relating to China are taught to various different groups of people at universities, above all to students, researchers and administrative staff. Expertise-building activities include language and cultural skills classes, workshops and training sessions, student mobility measures, joint study programmes or courses with Chinese partner universities, interdisciplinary study programmes or courses and collaborative PhD projects. 

Overview of projects funded under the “Expansion of China expertise” programme