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World badly needs leaders like Angela Merkel

By Chen Weihua | | Updated: 2021-09-29 15:32
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German Chancellor Angela Merkel leaves the plenary hall of the lower house of Parliament, or Bundestag, during one of the last sessions before the federal elections in Berlin, Germany, September 7, 2021. [Photo/Agencies]

As Angela Merkel prepares to step down as German chancellor after 16 years in office, anecdotes about her, and her achievements as a leader of Germany, the European Union and the world have been doing the rounds. Which is hardly surprising given that surveys by Pew Research Center, YouGov and other organizations in the past years have shown that she is the most popular global leader and most trusted to do the right things on global stage.

It's a measure of her capability and vision that she has achieved so much despite the outsized US influence in almost every aspect in Europe and the growing geopolitical tensions in the world.

Merkel has been a cool-headed, rational and pragmatic leader willing to listen and reach out to even those leaders she wasn't eye to eye on certain issues. She has her principles, but she is also flexible and willing to compromise — by no means is she a dogmatic ideologue.

Having spent half of her life in erstwhile East Germany, where she became a quantum chemistry scientist and later entered politics, she has a better perspective of, and the analytical ability to understand, the diverse world. And she does not see everything in terms of black and white as many US politicians do.

In the case of China, her 12 visits to the country, more than any foreign leader, helped her better understand the complexity of a nation with one-fifth of the global population and a history of 5,000 years.

That is why even on issues of sharp differences such as human rights, she placed faith in dialogue, rather than resorting to US-style smear campaigns, to address those issues.

As a leader, she understood well the mutual benefits of constructive engagement with China and Russia despite the heavy pressure from the United States. That is why she played a pivotal role in concluding the negotiations on the China-EU Comprehensive Agreement on Investment last December. And during her tenure, China became the largest trade partner of Germany as well as the EU.

The huge benefits of such win-win cooperation were seen early this month at the International Mobility Show (IAA) in Munich, where I listened to Merkel talking about the critical role of the auto sector in reducing carbon emissions. Chinese and German companies, many through their joint ventures, showcased their latest innovations in electromobility, which could help build a more sustainable world.

At the World Economic Forum in Davos in late January — held via video link — Merkel firmly opposed the US' efforts to decouple the Chinese economy from the global economy and trigger a new Cold War against China, saying: "I would very much wish to avoid the building of blocs ... I don't think it would do justice to many societies if we were to say this is the United States and over there is China and we are grouping around either the one or the other. This is not my understanding of how things ought to be."

That is also why she has been firm on the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline project in cooperation with Russia despite coercion by consecutive US administrations and despite Germany's strong disagreement with Russia on some other issues.

Like her predecessor Gerhard Schroder who strongly opposed the US-led war in Iraq in 2003, Merkel refused to participate in the military intervention in Libya in 2011 which turned out to be another epic disaster by the US and some its NATO allies.

Her compassionate decision to welcome some 1 million refugees in 2015, mostly from the Middle East, will forever be remembered as will her simple but famous remark, "we can do it".

Besides, her rational and scientific approach to the COVID-19 pandemic has helped not just Germany, but the EU and the world in tackling the crisis.

In a world of mostly male leaders, she has excelled and inspired women around the world to take on important roles in their country as well as the global arena.

Merkel is a brilliant leader, but not a saint. She also made mistakes but her scientist-background enabled her to correct many of them. Aside from her great political achievements, Merkel has impressed people with her humble style such as by frequently shopping for groceries in the supermarket.

And when asked by a journalist about her wearing the same dress time and again, she replied: "My mission is to serve the Germans, not be a fashion model."

It is sad to see Merkel leave Germany's leadership at a time when the world faces great uncertainties. Many hope she will continue to play a role in the EU or the United Nations, while others wonder who will fill her big shoes in Germany. So far, there is some comfort that Olaf Scholz or Armin Laschet, the two leaders most likely to succeed her, have both campaigned as a continuity candidate for Merkel.

The author is chief of China Daily EU Bureau based in Brussels. 

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