What continent is China

His professional home has been Beijing for decades, last week he was in Washington, today in Berlin. No wonder that China Lounge presenter Kerstin-Lohse describes Friedrich Jörg Wuttke as a “man who never sleeps”. The head of BASF-China actually always seems to be electrified - online and offline.

At the evening event, Wuttke will speak about his work in China, opportunities and obstacles for companies from Europe and his upcoming candidacy for the presidency of the European Chamber of Commerce in Beijing. It would be his third term. He held the office from 2007 to 2010 and most recently from 2014 to 2017. Nevertheless, he does not want to compare himself to Xi Jinping - the Chinese president changed the constitution in 2018 and thus created the possibility of a third term. "I'm more like Deng Xiaoping from the Chamber of Commerce - I'll come back twice," says Wuttke with a wink. And it comes highly decorated: A few weeks ago he was awarded the unofficial Lei Feng Medal by the US Chamber of Commerce, as a pioneer of lobbying, for his “tireless fight for better market access in China”. At the beginning of the year he was awarded the Federal Cross of Merit at the German Embassy in Beijing.

It's a moody Tuesday evening. There are almost 150 visitors, many of whom know Jörg Wuttke. And he knows her: “I have to make out through the crowd first,” he laughs at the entrance. After the friendly welcome marathon, he also strikes a more serious tone on stage in a conversation with MERICS director Frank Pieke and communications manager Kerstin Lohse-Friedrich. For example, when it comes to the closure of factories in China's industrial province of Jiangsu. The Chinese government decided to put an end to thousands of locations after serious accidents and persistent environmental pollution in the region. “A short circuit reaction,” says Wuttke. "The closings have massive consequences for agriculture and the pharmaceutical industry around the world." Because of the shutdowns, Chinese companies are increasingly dependent on products from Germany or they can no longer make deliveries to German companies. Wuttke even assumes that medicines could soon become scarce here. "Meat products could also be missing in Germany," says the lobbyist, alluding to the African swine fever, which raised the fear of domestic products in China.

Wuttke wants to show that the regions influence each other: China "the West" and vice versa. This becomes particularly clear in the example of the ongoing trade war with the USA. The audience and guest alike were busy this evening. When asked whether the dispute could have positive effects for the EU, Wuttke replied ambiguously: "The mechanical engineering industry in this country benefits because the US is now buying in Germany."

Overall, however, the whole thing is a zero-sum game: "Here you win something, there you lose again." Jörg Wuttke has not yet found a solution either. This whole "game" has become too fast moving. His own company only signed a framework agreement on a huge investment package for China at the beginning of the year: BASF plans to invest ten billion US dollars in a new Verbund site in the southern Chinese province of Guangdong.

The special thing about it: BASF is allowed to implement a major project in China for the first time without a joint venture partner. “Signs of further opening in China?” Asks the moderator. China is gaining international prestige through a respected partner such as the world's largest chemical company and can keep the supply chains in the country in times of its rapidly growing demand for chemical products, says Wuttke and adds: "We have simply realized the changes here faster than colleagues There is currently market access in China “.

In any case, China should not be seen as a single country when it comes to economic business. "China is as diverse as a continent," says the BASF China managing director. He seems a bit bored with the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), but his eyes light up when he talks about China's booming cities in the south of the country such as Shenzhen or Guangzhou. Wuttke is enthusiastic about how many new things have been created there in recent years. He is personally more of an "old-school guy". He has not downloaded WhatsApp to this day, he has only been using WeChat for three weeks and he only uses his credit card to pay. Alipay is not installed on the smartphone. But Facebook. And there he is also regularly online. What he posts about the evening, he will be asked at the end. "Now I'm broken," he replies. So yes: Even a Jörg Wuttke is exhausted at some point.

Event report by Mario Büscher

You can listen to a recording of the event here (in English):