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Gerd Kaminski

Head of the Austrian Institute for China and Southeast Asian Studies and the Austrian-Chinese Society

The fact that Austria and China are celebrating the 50th anniversary of their diplomatic relations this year is also thanks to Gerd Kaminski. “At the time, I demonstrated in terms of international law why it was okay to establish diplomatic relations with China,” says the Austrian legal scholar. His article on the recognition of the government in Beijing appeared in the Austrian Journal of Foreign Policy in 1971. “It was undoubtedly an important contribution,” he says. He still advises the Austrian Foreign Ministry on China issues today.

Gerd Kaminski discovered his enthusiasm for China very early. At the age of about 13, he read his first Chinese poems, at that time still as translations. Since then, he was hooked. While studying law, he learned the Chinese language and traveled there for the first time in 1972 for his habilitation. At that time, however, in the midst of the Cultural Revolution, the mood in Beijing was rather gloomy: “There were no more Chinese professors at the universities because everyone was weeding somewhere,” the 79-year-old says. Science was abolished, so to speak, in the conviction that Mao’s works would be enough to study.

A crash course with Gerd Kaminski

Anyone who talks to Gerd Kaminski about China quickly finds themselves in a crash course on Chinese history. In the meantime, he has been researching and working on the country for more than 60 years. His main focus is the Chinese conception of international law and China’s attitude towards human rights (China.Table reports). However, he is also passionate about Chinese culture and lifestyle. “I’m not the one who goes around with any big-heads, I’m all about contact with ordinary people in the villages”.

He has written or edited more than 80 books on China to date. He is also the director of the Austrian Institute for China and Southeast Asian Studies and the Sino-Austrian Society. With high-level delegation exchanges, which he had already organized in 1973, he was committed to good relations between the two countries. Austria and China are both very old cultures and this connects them, said Gerd Kaminski. The people in China are particularly fond of the New Year’s Concert. In addition, there is an Austrian cable car on almost every tall Chinese mountain. And under certain circumstances, Austria could soon profit from the Silk Road, provided that duty-free goods were distributed in Europe from Carinthia.

From time to time, however, Gerd Kaminski also experiences mistrust from China. For both the followers of Confucius and those of Mao articulate “a certain foreign skepticism”. Thus he would have to submit the manuscript for his lectures at the university in Peking and Wuhan beforehand. “And what especially hurts is that friends from China are becoming more cautious in their dealings“. To overcome that, however, China and Europe would have to break down prejudices and “stop lecturing each other”. Lisa Winter


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