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Merkel leaves positive legacy to build on: China Daily editorial | Updated: 2021-12-08 19:43
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Angela Merkel. [Photo/Agencies]

With Olaf Scholz becoming the new chancellor of Germany on Wednesday, the curtain falls on the leadership of Angela Merkel, who has been at the helm of the country for 16 years, serving four consecutive terms.

What she did for the country and beyond during her chancellorship will be long remembered, especially the exemplary role she played during the difficult times of the global financial crisis, Europe's sovereign debt crisis and the 2015-16 influx of refugees to Europe.

European Council President Charles Michel was certainly forthcoming in his praise for her contributions when he told Merkel, "you are a monument", at her final European Union summit in Brussels in October, saying a summit without her would be like "Rome without the Vatican or Paris without the Eiffel Tower". Indeed, Merkel has gained many labels throughout the years including "a compromise machine", "a crisis manager" and "the world's most powerful woman". All of them pay tribute to her forceful character.

In China, she will forever be called "an old friend of the Chinese people", for the contributions she made to promoting Sino-German and Sino-EU relations. "We will always keep the door open for you," President Xi Jinping told Merkel via video link in October. Never has any other contemporary Western leader attached so much importance to building a pragmatic partnership with China than Merkel. She visited the country 12 times during her tenure, leaving her footprint in almost all the major cities and regions of China. Merkel also co-chaired all the six rounds of intergovernmental consultations initiated in 2011 to expand and strengthen cooperation between China and Germany; talks that also covered thorny issues such as the rule of law and human rights, on which the two sides have their differences.

Her commitment to engagement was based on her realization that China is playing an irreplaceable role in economic globalization and other major international affairs. "We will neither be able to cope with climate change nor solve WTO (World Trade Organization) issues or other global issues without or against China," she rightly said.

And she pushed hard for the signing of the China-EU Comprehensive Agreement on Investment in December last year because she appreciated that China is indispensable as an economic partner to Germany and Europe, even though the agreement, unfortunately, was later frozen by the European Parliament.

Yet even after being constantly criticized over her "soft approach" to China, Merkel insisted that Germany, and more broadly the EU, should continue to cooperate with China. "Total decoupling wouldn't be right in my view, it would be damaging for us," she said.

Now that a new German government is in office and Sino-German relations are set to enter a new chapter, there are reasons for optimism so long as Merkel's legacy is inherited.

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