From the economic high-flyer to the world’s despised relegation? President Xi Jingping has turned China into a dictatorship – this will have consequences for international political and economic cooperation. While the People’s Republic’s violent course has increasingly deterred Western countries, relations between China and warmongering Russia are thriving.
Barack Obama and John Paul II could not be more dissimilar. But one thing connects the two: The President and the Pope, for different reasons, called the 21st century the Pacific or the Asian century. The fact that the rapid changes in that part of the world that Europeans and Americans call the “Far East” alike are putting the rest of the world in the shade is primarily the result of the immense changes in the People’s Republic of China.
Alexander Görlach is a Senior Fellow at the Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs in New York. The PhD linguist and theologian teaches democratic theory in Germany, Austria and Spain as an honorary professor at Leuphana University. In the 2017-18 academic year, he was at National Taiwan University and City University Hong Kong to conduct research on China’s rise. He is currently researching new technologies at the University of Oxford’s Internet Institute and how they are used in democracies and abused in dictatorships.
The country, which is currently led by ruler Xi Jinping, is expected to overtake the US economy as the world’s largest economy in the foreseeable future. On the one hand, as the world’s workbench, the 1.4 billion Chinese produce many goods cheaply that are needed all over the world. On the other hand, the Chinese market is attractive as an import market because people in the People’s Republic can afford more and more: cars, refrigerators, machines, designer clothing and accessories. Access to the Chinese market promises increased sales for any company that is active in China. The Chinese market kept the German economy afloat during the 2008 financial crisis. Even today, many German companies cannot do without it: Volkswagen, for example, sells 40 percent of its vehicles in China.
But the joy over the great reibach has more or less died down all over the world, because the People’s Republic of China is a dictatorship whose leadership clique has used the increasing income and the economic interest in the country to control their own population more and more, Harasses minorities and militarily threatens all their neighbors over border conflicts.
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With India, there were already skirmishes between the armies in 2020, in which soldiers on both sides lost their lives. In the north-west of the country, leader Xi Jinping has imprisoned more than a million Muslim Uyghurs in concentration camps where they are to be “transformed” into the Han Chinese way of life. At the same time, Chinese soldiers move into their homes to control the families. Rapes are said to be the order of the day, women sterilized to prevent the continued existence of this ethnic minority. Supported by the young tech sector of the People’s Republic, people are checked in every way, genetic samples are taken from them and their voices are recorded. The United States Congress has already called the Communist Party’s horrific crackdown on the Uyghurs a genocide.
The German economy, above all VW and BASF, remains active in the doomed province, despite the terrible evidence of the genocide that the “Xinjiang Police Files” brought to light. The federal government has at least reacted to the shocking revelations and is now refusing guarantees to Volkswagen for further investments in the region.
The people in Tibet, Inner Mongolia and Hong Kong are also having their rights severely curtailed in one way or another, so that, unfortunately, one has to state that the People’s Republic has become a great threat to security and peace in the world today . This is one man’s responsibility: Xi Jinping. When the flagship cadre was given the highest offices in the People’s Republic, General Secretary of the Communist Party, Commander-in-Chief of the Army and President of the country in 2012, the world was still full of hope that he would continue the opening course of his predecessors.
Xi, however, had other things in mind: he used a campaign against corruption to eliminate opponents in the party that he did not like. From then on, he made it clear that his great role model was not the reformer Deng Xiaoping, but Mao Tse Dong. Under Mao, millions of people died of starvation or in camps. He was China’s last terrible dictator. After him, the terms of office for Chinese presidents were limited to a maximum of two periods, ten years. Xi Jinping, who pushed Deng out of public discourse, wants to be anointed president for life in October 2022 by means of a third term.
China has become an outsider in the international community because of this tough, violent and aggressive course set by Xi Jinping. Companies are leaving the People’s Republic and decoupling their production and supply chains in the country, which just a few years ago was still the great and declared hope for the whole world. In 2019, at the height of the peaceful demonstrations by the people of Hong Kong against the repression from the People’s Republic, it was none other than the Federation of German Industries who characterized China as a systematic opponent. Due to the permanent violations of patent law, industrial espionage, but also the increasing repressive environment, the representatives of German business saw no prospects for continued good work in the People’s Republic.
On the other hand, the Chinese model is popular with other dictators: Russian leader Vladimir Putin in particular sees Xi Jinping as an ally, whose vision of a Chinese society brought into line and ruled by one ideology serves as a template for his “Holy Russia”. met the ruler Putin and Xi for the first time since the outbreak of the corona pandemic in person and on the big stage. Putin had been invited as a guest of honor to the opening of the Olympic Games in Beijing. At the ominous banquet on the opening night, the two concluded the dictatorial dance, applauded including military-backed Egyptian President Abdel al-Sisi and Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan, a self-proclaimed supporter of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan.
Beijing refuses to call the Russian war of aggression, which violates international law, an invasion. At the same time, the People’s Republic was the only country to support a Russian resolution on Ukraine in the Security Council, thereby declaring itself to the international community as Russia’s protecting power. Beijing does not support the western sanctions against Moscow, but at the same time does not support Russia economically either. Because the only thing that interests Xi Jinping more than world history is world trade. And here Beijing’s rulers fear nothing more than economic losses.
The situation of the 82 million Chinese who survive on less than one US dollar a day is already becoming more precarious. As a result of the Chinese government’s “zero Covid” strategy, the city of Shanghai, including its port, which is important for world trade, was practically cut off from the world for around two months. Ships could not be loaded and unloaded, global supply chains were disrupted. In addition, due to its rapid economic development, China is now too expensive as a production location for one or the other industry, which is why companies are moving to Cambodia or Vietnam.
The free world has braced itself for increasing confrontation with Xi’s empire in the coming years. In a fall 2021 survey conducted in 17 countries (sixteen democracies and Singapore) by the Washington-based PEW Institute, up to over ninety percent of respondents said they left China because of the country’s human rights record in a see bad light. Majorities throughout the democratic world also wanted greater cooperation among democracies — led by the United States. Only in Singapore, where the Han Chinese make up the largest population group, did these findings look different. In turn, the other populations in the city-state shared the views of the people of the free world.
For Germany, developments in China and in Russia alike mean that the coordinates of a foreign and security policy guided by values must be reassessed. During the sixteen years of Angela Merkel’s chancellorship, the idea of “change through trade” prevailed: economic cooperation, it was believed, would gradually lead to the opening of non-democratic nations. In this way, Germany has particularly advocated for Russia, the United States of America, under whose patronage the country was admitted to the World Trade Organization, for the People’s Republic of China. Both now have to state that this approach is obsolete.
The quick and united reaction of the world community to Putin’s war against Ukraine, which violates international law, could be a blueprint for how the free world and with it the Federal Republic of Germany can help democratic Taiwan in the event of an invasion from mainland China. China’s stubborn aggression in the western Pacific has already prompted a number of neighboring countries, most notably Japan, to decouple their economies from China’s. In a paper published in 2020, the Bertelsmann Foundation calculated that in the democratic world 15 percent of GDP is generated through trade with non-democracies. Germany is currently learning from the Putin trap into which it has fallen that the costs will ultimately be higher if the idea of doing business with dictators is not abandoned in good time.