Saturday November 28, 2020
China appears to be realigning its internal and external policies – and doing so increasingly aggressively. Experts from the Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung urge the EU to stand up to economic power together with the USA.
“What happens when a sack of rice falls over in China” has been a popular comparison for decades for absolute irrelevance. A saying that seems completely out of date, given the headlines that the People’s Republic produces internationally today. If Chinese demand for pork declines, German farmers fear ruin. German doctors can only work safely if the Chinese manufacturers supply medical protective equipment. And on Tuesday, China sent an unmanned rocket to the moon – as one of the leading space travel nations.
China is pairing its weight as a driver of global economic growth with growing aggressiveness. In the middle of the year, the US Department of Justice even accused it of an “economic blitzkrieg”. But it is becoming more and more clear how massive Beijing is now trying to put its stamp on international politics, that of an authoritarian system that violently violates human rights for the good of the state.
It cannot be stopped by international treaties, as state and party leader Xi Jinping proves in Hong Kong: The state security law introduced there actually means the erosion of the liberal social order, the existence of which China had contractually guaranteed when Great Britain returned its former colony to Beijing in 1997 .
The People’s Republic “wants to change our international order based on values and rules into a world order determined by China”, is an alarming finding of a still unpublished paper by the CDU-affiliated Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung (KAS) on China’s striving for power and the possibilities of the western world, to react to it, maybe even contain it. After that, it uses Asian power very effectively when European countries fail in an attempt to face difficult challenges together.
China presents itself as a partner
When northern Italy stood with their backs to the wall in view of the number of infections with Sars-CoV-2 in the spring, Chinese cargo planes landed there with protective masks and ventilators. European partners such as Germany and France had stopped the export of medical protective masks. Although it turned out in the following weeks that parts of the deliveries were defective, a purchase price was due for others. Nevertheless, China managed to use its “mask diplomacy” to overwrite the catastrophic impression that the country had previously created – with overburdened health systems and attempts to cover up by the authorities. According to the paper by the CDU-affiliated think tank, “China as a responsible partner and innovative health power” was the narrative from Beijing that is increasingly being used in Western social media.
And the country is also selling its current success in fighting the corona virus as a result of its state system. With authority and repression, China sees itself as far superior to the liberal democracies. But this Chinese narrative is nothing more than propaganda because it shows “a manipulative tendency” and suppresses facts, according to the KAS experts. And China finds many ways to spread its self-image, to pursue its interests.
As the economic power on other continents such as Africa or in Latin America is increasingly acting as an investor and lender, for example for digital infrastructure but also for transport and energy routes, it is making itself increasingly indispensable for the development of countries there. It presents itself as an “equal partner among rising powers”, potent, generous and without complex administrative requirements, as it – so it is suggested – the EU would require.
In addition to the economic advantages of such cooperation, China wants to benefit from its involvement in emerging and developing countries on a political level as well. For example, when the country expects the “partners” of the People’s Republic to argue and vote in their interests when it comes to disputes in international bodies.
There is no criticism from the UN
The six authors of the paper meanwhile see China in a “leading role” in multilateral institutions, where “massive pressure is exerted on institutions and member states in order to prevent proposals that run contrary to China’s interests or that act in a bad light” . In this way, the People’s Republic can ensure that no critical statements come from forums such as the UN Human Rights Council, for example on the imprisonment of Uyghurs in re-education camps or the situation in Hong Kong.
As one of five veto powers in the UN Security Council, Beijing, together with Russia, prevented ten resolutions on Syria alone last year, and a draft resolution on the Covid-19 pandemic, which was supposed to send a common signal in the fight against viruses, was not received China’s resistance over. The UN cannot achieve a lot politically with China, and at the same time it cannot do without it – Beijing currently pays 12 percent of the UN budget and is therefore the largest donor behind the USA.
The experts see a “comprehensive change from a purely economically motivated presence to that of a central development and security actor”. An actor whose standards of value are far removed from those of democratic states on many issues. With its own initiatives, China is building parallel structures that it offers to cooperating states as alternatives – a kind of counter-proposal to the United Nations.
The more dangerous and comprehensive China’s claim to power in the world appears, the more urgently the authors of the paper urge Europe not to stand idly by. The countries of the South in particular must be offered “credible alternatives to Chinese support”. The media there would also need European support. It is “extremely important” to strengthen societies in developing countries with high-quality and independent journalism.
A core recommendation of the government-affiliated foundation is a common line between Europe and the USA in order to stand up to China. In situations in which China “says one thing but does the other”, one should not be afraid to find clear words in order to be able to paint a realistic picture of China as a “multilateral actor”. Such recommendations for action could be a cautious harbinger of a rethinking in German China policy, which so far has tended to find a kind of middle ground between the escalating conflict between the two great powers, the USA and China, and to counterbalance the confrontational course of the USA.