On 8 December 2021, the Sino-German Center for Sustainable Development (CSD) hosted the Sino-German Forum on Sustainable Development 2021. The event was co-organised by GIZ and the Institute of International Development Cooperation of the Chinese Academy of International Trade and Economic Cooperation (CAITEC). As the belated 3rd Sino-German Forum, the event was postponed for nearly two years due to the Covid-19 pandemic, and eventually took place in a hybrid format of online and offline participation. The topic of the Forum focused on development cooperation system reforms in Germany and China, their implications for Sino-German cooperation and what Sino-German cooperation can contribute to reform agendas and new strategies.
The Chinese Ministry of Commerce (MofCom) represented by Mr. Wang Tianruo, and the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), represented by Mr. Klaus Supp, jointly opened the Forum. The two ministries set-up the Sino-German Center for Sustainable Development together and jointly steer its work.
The system of modern development cooperation, since its birth after World War II, has been evolving over decades in countries of the global north and south and is still changing now. The first session of the Forum gathered policy makers and researchers from Germany and China for a review of the origins and evolution of development cooperation systems in the context of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), in China and Germany.
Dr. Stephan Klingebiel from German Development Institute (GDI/DIE) and one of the editors of the comprehensive study “Origins, Origins, Evolution and Future of Global Development Cooperation. The Role of the DAC” started with a look back. The OECD Development Assistance Committee (DAC) was set up in 1961 and has since been propping up and driving reforms and innovations in international development cooperation. Today, the context for global development cooperation is highly dynamic. The role of the OECD-DAC has been challenged. Uncertainties and a dense sequence of crisis such as the Covid-19 pandemic, climate change, migration make it difficult to find strategic approaches and drive shifts from country/regional allocation patterns to thematic ones. The return of geopolitical confrontation and changing donor motivations with more pronounced self-interests affect development cooperation systems, too.
As a member of the OECD-DAC and the world’s second largest bilateral donor, Germany achieved the 0.7 % target for official development assistance (ODA, measured as a percentage of gross national income) in 2021 with a budget of 13.4 billion Euros. It’s aid programmes date back to 1952. Since then, four stages of evolution, both at strategic level and at implementation level, have been identified as Dr. Yu Haomiao from Foreign Economic Cooperation Center, Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs of China, PhD of China Agriculture University (CAU), pointed out in her contribution. Established in 1961, the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation (BMZ, now Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development), has geared the system and policy reforms of Germany for the past 60 years. In 2020, it announced the comprehensive reform package “BMZ 2030” as a major strategic realignment of German development policy to tackle global challenges.
Dr. Frank Hofmann, Head of the Division for Sectoral and Bilateral Policy Issues of German Cooperation in BMZ, outlined how BMZ strengthens steering capacity and effectiveness through a clear focus on themes and partner countries and through new planning and strategy processes. Alignment of German development policy with the 2030 Agenda is ensured through the definition of five core thematic areas, six quality criteria and ten initiative areas. The new partnership model with three country categories – bilateral, global as well as nexus and peace partners – addresses framework conditions on the ground, takes into account cooperation interests of partners, and provides better support in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. Cooperation with China as a global partner focusses on joint solutions to achieve global goals for sustainable and climate-neutral development. Triangular cooperation in the form of joint projects plays an important role in the cooperation with global partners like China.
In China, as Ms. Guo Yu from Institute of International Development Cooperation in CAITEC illustrated in her presentation, the evolution of the concept and practice of “development” and “aid” was a result of both the economic development and changing international political relationships. Foreign assistance, either provided by China to other countries or to China from other countries, has held various economic and diplomatic significance in different stages. The concept of foreign assistance evolved in three stages. During the first period covering the timespan from 1950 until 1978, proletarian internationalism and supremacy of political goals are characteristic treats. During the second era from 1979 to 2012, the concept of South-South Cooperation with the mentality of pragmatism and equality are in the center. In the current “new era” which started in 2012, reference to “international development cooperation” plays an increasing role which can also be observed in the title of the competent authority in the Chinese government, the China International Development Cooperation Agency (CIDCA) established in 2018.
Mr. Chen Pengfei from the Policy and Planning Department in CIDCA provided insights into recent governance reform aspects. The issuance of the Measures for the Administration of Foreign Aid in 2021 was one of the major steps China took towards a more coordinated foreign aid administration and legal system. However, the mixed usage of both “development” and “aid” in China’s official documents still exists.
The discussion illustrated that the transition from aid to development is already underway, but that there are still gaps between different terms, concepts, and practices which require further clarification. Another discussion point was the coordination between thematic/sectoral allocation on one hand and country/regional on the other.
In the context of the reform processes, practices of Sino-German cooperation and Sino-German triangular cooperation not only adapt to the changing policy environment, but also contribute to the reform implementation by providing new topics, models, and innovations. The second session of the Forum illustrated what Sino-German triangular cooperation can look like and where it may head to by presentation of different practical examples.
Academic cooperation with Chinese and German think tanks can provide a good basis for better mutual understanding and increased awareness for sustainability topics and development cooperation. In 2020, the CSD initiated a scoping study on Sino-German triangular cooperation with Africa with the University of International Business and Economics (UIBE), to inform Chinese and German partners on opportunities and challenges of joint triangular cooperation with Africa. Recommendations derived from this study were presented by Prof. Zhang Haisen, Deputy Dean of School for International Development Cooperation in UIBE: deeper political dialogue on triangular cooperation with Africa, stronger triangular technical exchange, local stakeholder networks for more informal communication as well as independent funding sources.
Prof. Xu Xiuli, Dean of College of International Development and Global Agriculture in CAU introduced the pilot young academics programme “1+1+1 Transnational Youth Study Group” which encouraged exchanges among young university students on international development and the transferability of development experiences in different country contexts. The programme generated ideas and creative approaches how to share China’s experience on poverty alleviation with other developing countries, how to work together in international groups and what framework conditions have to be taken into account when talking about transfer of successful development models.
Considered as an innovation of China’s foreign assistance approaches, the South-South Cooperation Assistance Fund has implemented more than 100 projects through UN agencies and international organizations in more than 50 countries on a variety of topics. Triangular cooperation is a topic that China has experiences on and is open to discuss explore opportunities with developed countries such as Germany, to create synergies and maximize impact, Ms. Liu Bingyang from International Cooperation Department in CIDCA pointed out.
Mr. Yan Jinjiang from the Industrial Development Organization of the United Nations (UNIDO) introduced the triangular cooperation project “Sustainable Textile Investment and Operation in Ethiopia” as a successful example illustrating how Germany, China, and a multilateral organization, UNIDO, can combine resources and work under a common goal for the sustainable textile development of Ethiopia.
For the past four years since the establishment of the Sino-German Center for Sustainable Development, innovations on cooperation modalities have been generated and valuable lessons collected, as Mr. Hagen Ettner, the German Director of the Sino-German Center for Development Cooperation, introduced. In the end of 2020, the Fund for Triangular Cooperation with Asia was set up to better mobilize funding on the German side for projects with Asian pivotal partners like China, facilitate regional knowledge exchange in Asia, develop capacities for the implementation of triangular projects, and identify triangular projects through a call-for-proposals. Strategic cooperation with industry associations has become the cornerstone for the CSD to establish partnerships with economic actors in key sectors such as infrastructure, mineral resources, textile, and others. Multi-stakeholder cooperation enables an international partnership with several leverage points and maximizes development impact in third countries.
Mr. Thorsten Giehler, GIZ Country Director China, Ms. Wang Luo, Director of the Institute of International Development Cooperation in CAITEC, and Dr. Jochen Weikert, Coordinator of the GIZ Cluster “China in the World” moderated the sessions.
The Sino-German Fora on Sustainable Development provide a platform for open discussions on international development cooperation in an inclusive manner. The Sino-German Center for Sustainable Development hosts the Fora in cooperation with various governmental bodies, research institutions, implementing organizations, business associations from China, Germany, and internationally.