Chinese Communist leader Hua Guofeng took time out today from his continuing travels through one of the world's great pockets of capitalist wealth, technology and materialism to pay his respects here at the place where the philosopher-founder of world communism, Karl Marx, was born 161 years ago.
It is doubtful whether Marx would recognize the old neighborhood. The family house, a rather ample one at 10 Brueckenstrasse, is sandwiched these days between a unisex hair salon and a tobacco store with Playboy magazines in the window. Down the street are half a dozen show bars.
Marx undoubtedly would have been proud to have as a guest in his home the leader of 960 million modern-day communists. But he might be chagrined to find that when Hua leaves here he will be guest of business interests that can be traced back to the Hitler era:
The huge Thyssen steel works at Krefeld; the Hamburg production line of Messerschmidt-Boelkow-Blohm, where European Airbus jetliners are turned out; the Stuttgart plant of Daimler-Benz., where Mercedes cars are built, and the sprawling Siemens electronic company in Munich.
At the start of his eight-day stay in West Germany, Hua stirred up some political mischief by warning against Soviet aggression and suggesting a divided Germany should some day reunite. The Chinese want a strong West Germany to keep the Soviets from focusing more military strength on their border with China.
The Bonn government has made clear that it will not jeopardize its relations with Moscow, so the main area of cooperation with China is economic.
China needs Western goods and technology to modernize, and it needs to restore confidence in its political stability among Western businesmen.
That effort and the general goal of cementing good will explain this first trip by a Chinese Communist Party chairman to the West.
Peking's ambitious plans of recent years have had some setbacks. Although West Germany is China's biggest trading partner after Japan and Hong Kong, a number of potentially huge West German contracts for steel plants and mining equipment have been postponed because of Peking's fiscal uncertainties.
Combined trade has quadrupled since 1972 and is expected to top $1.7 billion this year. But the West Germans export to China about three times as much as they import. And while the trade is of great importance to Peking, for Bonn it amounts to about the same as that with tiny Luxembourg -- as the West German foreign minister pointed out this week. Nevertheless, over the long term there are significant mutual interests at stake.
Today, Hua met with Otto Wolf von Amerongen, head of the West German Federation of Industry and Trade, who gave a suggestion that energy must be developed first, since it feeds all other sectors. Second priority should go to agriculture, with the import of modern machinery eventually to be followed perhaps by licensed Chinese production of the same machines.
Third came light industry, desperately needed for consumer goods to improve living standards and widen the choice of goods. He recommended heavy use of plastics and said that for this, as well as for agriculture, a petrochemical industry was a necessity.
Finally came heavy industry, which could only grow if steel producton is expanded.
Bonn happens to have most of those things for sale.