China Centre Tübingen (CCT)

Trust and Cooperation between China and Europe: Civil Society Perspectives

Since Xi Jinping came to power as General Secretary of the Chinese Communist Party in 2012, the PRC has followed new paths at the national and international level. This has included recentralization of party and state, renewed ideologization and reinforced social control, in addition to further strengthening China’s position internationally. This has entailed major structural changes for civil society. The Party-state has for many years treated NGOs principally as service providers which fulfil needs the state has been unable to meet. While their roles, activities and dialogues are now being more clearly defined and regulated under new legal and institutional arrangements, their spheres of action are being more closely monitored and constrained, especially where foreign NGOs are involved.

For seven years, Stiftung Asienhaus has been running an EU-China NGO Twinning Programme, which brings Chinese and European civil society actors together to share knowledge, experience and best practices. Joanna Klabisch and Christian Straube outline the goals and outcomes of their programme, discussing different understandings and concepts of civil society and its role in Europe and China, and the ways in which they and their partners have worked together to foster dialogue, cooperation and trust.

Joanna Klabisch has worked for the China Programme at Stiftung Asienhaus since 2016, where she has been responsible for supervising the EU-China NGO Twinning Programme. She has an academic background in Intercultural Communication and East Asian Studies, focusing on China, and has studied at Ruprecht Karls University Heidelberg, Nankai University in Tianjin and National Taiwan Normal University in Taipei. Her principal area of expertise concerns the work of environmental groups. She has worked for GIZ in Beijing, on the Public Policy Dialogue Fund, which focuses on civil society activities related to migrant workers.

Christian Straube joined the China Programme at Stiftung Asienhaus in April 2019. He studied Modern China and Southeast Asian Economics and Politics at Ruprecht Karls University Heidelberg and Tsinghua University in Beijing, and is currently a PhD candidate in Ethnology at Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg/Max Planck Institute for Ethnological Research, working on post-colonial and post-industrial processes of disintegration in the context of Chinese investments in Zambia’s copper belt. Christian has lived in Malaysia, China and Zambia and has done voluntary work in India and Zimbabwe. His core areas of expertise are Chinese infrastructure projects, Sino-African relations, and the impact of digitalization on Chinese society.

Stiftung Asienhaus supports the promotion of human rights and the strengthening of social and political participation, as well as social justice and environmental protection. It calls for the implementation of social and environmental standards and human rights by and in the political and economic spheres.

Founded in 1992 as ‘Asienstiftung’ by Prof. Guenther Freudenberg, Asienstiftung and several other Asia-focused groups merged to form ‘Asienhaus’ in 1995 in Essen, moving in October 2012 to Cologne.

The foundation’s China Programme is principally concerned with promoting dialogue between Chinese and European civil society, the sustainability of China’s “One Belt, One Road Initiative,” and social change in the PRC.