eIt was a bit strange. For half an hour, Angela Merkel drove through the central Chinese city of Wuhan on Saturday morning, through a sometimes brighter, sometimes denser forest both inhabited and under construction steel and concrete skyscrapers with ten to 20 floors or more, so that in view of the Housing shortage in Berlin could have become jealous; and then she recommended Chinese students to build wooden houses. Admittedly, this was not about combating the housing shortage, but about the binding of CO2 in the wood. Who builds a wooden house, make sure that the harmful gas does not get into the air, Merkel said at the "forest university" of Wuhan, which is actually surrounded by trees and thus stands out from the rest of the cityscape.
The Chancellor likes to discuss and experience a wide range of challenges. Recently in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern she was confronted by a questioner with the assertion that there is no freedom of expression in Germany. That was not nice, but she could easily counter that by pointing out that that was not true because she should be asked such a question. On foreign trips, the panelists are less rude, but at least Merkel must expect critical questions.
In Wuhan this danger was now zero. The Chinese students were kind, praising the Chancellor for their less than ten-minute speech and thanking them for asking a question. One of these was unsurprising on climate policy. Merkel shined in this part of the discussion with detailed knowledge of the energy production by the Three Gorges dam on the Yangtze River – 22 gigawatts – and warned the Chinese society of an excess consumption of beef with the dry reference, "the cows are very methanausstoßend". In any case, she left no doubt that climate change is also man-made and must therefore contribute to tackling it.
The Huazhong University of Science and Technology (HUST) is directly under the Chinese Ministry of Education. It offers about a hundred bachelor programs and about twice as many master and doctoral programs. The focus is on the fields of mechanical engineering, optics and biomedicine, but the wide range of subjects ranges from the fields of medicine, economics and engineering to philosophy. There is also a small German Department and a language learning center of the Goethe-Institut. Merkel was thus asked questions from different disciplines.
Some questions were very special. For example, whether the Chancellor could imagine a robot competition between China and Germany. This is not Merkel's specialty, but she is experienced enough to answer all sorts of questions. So she reminded them that there are already robots playing soccer against each other. Robots could also screw, in fact they are capable of too much. Much more she did not say to German-Chinese robot competitions, only so much that that was probably more a matter of colleges and in Germany were a matter of country. But she has a tip: The technical universities in Berlin and Munich are very good in the field of robots.
So the discussion, which took place at the end of Merkel's short trip to China, rippled nicely. It was easy to answer the question of why she had just come to Wuhan, though first – was there a hint of criticism? – during her twelfth visit as Chancellor in China. After all, with its eleven million inhabitants, Wuhan, located two hours southwest of Beijing, is the sixth largest city in China, located on the Chang Jiang River (formerly Yangtze River). When Merkel's predecessor Helmut Kohl was in Wuhan in the mid-eighties, there were three million people living there. It has the largest Chinese inland port and is the most important location of the automotive industry in Central China. As an education center, Wuhan comes to Beijing and Shanghai with well over a million students.
Reason enough to stop by. Twice, Merkel told the student, she flew over the city in recent years and saw the Yangtze River "and that many waters". So she thought she had to come here. The river seems to have done to the Chancellor. On the way to the university she had the column on a large bridge (which was closed for traffic so long) and got out. She wanted to see the spot where Mao Zedong swam across the river at the age of 73 to demonstrate his claim to power.