(Editor’s notes)The conference “Defending Freedom, Democracy and Human Rights — 2022 International Media Symposium on China’s Democratic Future“ was held at the Ku’Damm 101 Hotel in Berlin, Germany from September 29th to October 1st, 2022. It was hosted by Sino Euro Voices e.V. and the Federation for a Democratic China. We will publish gradually the original conference papers and the Chinese translations at this website.
Thank you for inviting me to this important conference.
Berlin has become a place where dissidents not only from China but also from many other countries meet and organise resistance.
Today, it is important that the voice of the Chinese critical diaspora is also heard, especially when China is often reduced to the voice of one man named Xi Jinping….
But there is another reason why it is important to gather here:
The Russian war of aggression against Ukraine not only let us wake up in a different world on the morning of 24 February – as our Foreign Minister said…
It also signalled the end of an era in which we all hoped that not only Russia but also China would gradually but irreversibly turn towards democracy and liberalism.
Instead: It is common knowledge now that China and Russia have become revisionist powers with domestic repression and nationalist expansion as a common feature.
Not everyone here in Germany has heard or understood this wake-up call yet, especially when it comes to China: Many still believe or hope that appeasement or muddling through is possible when confronted with the reality of aggression and war. And we have to be aware of the many deep seated ideological convictions regarding the role of Western powers in the world, many of forms of self-hate of the West seem to exist in particular in German media and cultural circles.
But we are also seeing progress: established certainties in political discourse have been shaken, new fundamental questions about the political self-image of a democracy, not least regarding its resilience, have been raised and are up for debate.
Ivan Krastev – a very important public intellectual from eastern Europe – rightly speaks of the need for Western societies to move from the ‘age of soft power’ to the ‘age of resilience’.
I quote: ‘Soft power’ was the West’s strategy of using its attractiveness as a weapon. Resilience is the ability of liberal democratic societies to prevent others from using their vulnerability as a weapon.’
To make this transition towards a better awareness of the new threats for the international order we need to involve all sectors and subsystems of our society. This will be a slow and difficult process and – basically – a generational task, but I see a lot of the positive signs.
In the following, just a few ideas on which level a new China – and Taiwan for that matter – competence needs to be established.
First let us take a look at the level of politics.
It is undeniable that for several years now, a paradigm shift has been taking place in the public debate about China:
- mistrust and criticism of China’s domestic and foreign policy behaviour is growing:
- whether it is about the repressive measures in Xinjiang, the suppression of the opposition in Hong Kong and in China itself, or the threatening gestures towards Taiwan.
I argue that Russia’s war of aggression has much accelerated this turnaround: it is now clear that China – despite tactical distancing from Putin – is forming a united front with Russia against the liberal democracies of the West.
Likewise, many in German politics have now realised that the principle of hope, also called ‘change through trade’ (Wandel durch Handel) (which can be traced back to a famous article on China’s integration in Foreign Affairs, written by Richard Nixon) has become obsolete as a guiding principle….
As the Economist put it a few years ago: The West’s 25-year bet on China has failed.
In the meantime, the German Foreign Ministry is working on a new China strategy, which – as the Annalena Baerbock, our foreign minister recently said in New York – will be published next year. We should take note that she also said that the China strategy will be ‘very much in line with strategic thinking in the U.S.’ (!!)
But at the same time the fact remains that there is virtually no public debate on that topic. I therefore like to urge the Foreign Office to live up to its progressive, participative claim, by organising a public debate regarding China and Taiwan as new and challenging issues for Germany’s role in the world.
A new China strategy needs to articulate Germany’s interests in a peaceful solution to the Taiwan question more clearly than before: After all, in the last progress report of the Guidelines for the Indo-Pacific (for the first time!) Taiwan – or more precisely the Taiwan Strait – is clearly named as a conflict zone: Just a short quote:
‘Together with its partners, the Federal Government is of the view that the status quo in the Taiwan Strait can only be changed by peaceful means and by mutual agreement.’
Maybe we should ( peaceful means and a change of the status quo only by mutual agreement) define this as OUR ‘red line’ as suggested by Angela Stanzel in a very illuminating online seminar two days ago.
In addition, the further expansion of political, economic and cultural relations – below the level of diplomatic recognition – and last but not least the expansion of contacts with the lively and creative Taiwanese civil society should be massively promoted.
Just a thought: Why not establish something similar to a German Taiwanese Youth Office? (Along the lines of the existing German French, German Polish Youth offices)
In summary, it can be said that a new, intelligent China policy should commit itself more strongly than before to Taiwan. The country is a proof of a living democracy in the Chinese cultural area and belongs to ‘us’ in many senses. There is both: a clear moral obligation to stand with Taiwan as much as a geostrategic necessity as regards our core interests in a peaceful international order
But it should also be clear that a emphasis on Taiwan must not turn into a zero-sum game. It is also important to build up new ‘competence’ with regard to the People’s Republic of China: a field which needs to clearly discuss the geopolitical threats/challenges, but also continue to explore the possible scope in scientific and social contacts.
Finally: let me make two more comments on the challenges for the education system.
To start with a basic idea:
All important initiatives for ‘China competence’ in schools and other educational institutions should systematically include Taiwan as evidence of a living democracy.
Taiwan is still a ‘blind spot’ in the German educational landscape – not least in the landscape of civic or political education here in Germany. We need to take a strategic look at the issue of knowledge and the battle of ideas and narratives. In the case of Ukraine, for example, the lack of knowledge about the history of Ukraine has led to misjudgements and misunderstandings in the public and in politics. The same obviously is true for Taiwan /China.
There is an enormous need to catch up in schools, textbooks and also in extracurricular education. Taiwan’s ‘soft power’, which has grown over the years, can play an important role here – be it on the economic, technological or cultural level, but also in dealing with minorities.
A good example from academia: the project ‘Taiwan as a Pioneer’ at three German universities, funded by the Ministry of Education and Research, will focus on Taiwan’s role as a political and social pioneer in the coming years. The project aims at studying in-depth the historical, socio-political and cultural reasons for Taiwan’s role as a trailblazer.
This highly innovative and interdisciplinary program should be seen as an entry point to a broad based build-up of public knowledge regarding Taiwan its contribution to the world in the 21st century.
Last but not least civic and political education needs – to come back to Ivan Krastev’s point – to discuss the resilience of our societies against the new geopolitical threats and aggressions.
We need new long-term and profound educational processes that take a closer look at the vulnerabilities and strengths of our societies than before.
Taiwan and Ukraine offer important reference points for this – despite all the differences. For both conflicts are – to quote Timothy Snyder’s great essay in a recent issue of Foreign Affairs – ‘about establishing principles for the twenty-first century. It is about policies of mass death and about the meaning of life in politics. It is about the possibility of a democratic future’.
Thank you for your attention.
Christoph Müller-Hofstede is a sinologist and political scientist who has worked in civic education for more than three decades, with a focus on China, Asia, Migration and Democracy among other topics. After moving back to his hometown Berlin, he has started to work with the NGO ‘Dialogue at School’ which promotes democracy learning and civic education in Germany.
正如德國的外交部長所說，俄羅斯對烏克蘭的侵略戰爭不僅讓我們在 2 月 24 日早上在另一個世界中醒來，它也標誌著一個時代的終結，在這個時代裡，我們曾希望俄羅斯和中國能逐漸、並且不可逆轉地步向民主和自由主義。
同時，許多德國政界人士現在已經意識到原來那種樂觀的希望原則——也就是所謂的「以貿易促進改變」（Wandel durch Handel）作為指導原則，已經被顛覆了。其源頭可追溯到美總統尼克松 1967 年關於中國融入外交事務的著名文章。
「（德國）聯邦政府與合作夥伴皆認為，台海現狀只有通過和平方式和雙方同意的情況下，才可以改變。」（摘自9 月 28 日Angela Stanzel博士於在線研討會Chinatable上的發言）
這個高度創新和跨學科的項目應該被視為一個切入點，讓公眾廣泛了解台灣在 21 世紀對世界的貢獻。
台灣和烏克蘭儘管彼此存在很多差異，卻為此提供了重要的參照係數。因為在這兩個地方發生的衝突——引用蒂莫西·斯奈德（Timothy Snyder）在外交事務中的優秀文章——都能為 21 世紀樹立一種原則規範。這是涉及造成大規模傷亡的政策、有關政治生活的意義，以及關於民主未來的諸多可能性。(完）
作者Christoph Müller-Hofstede 是一位漢學家和政治學家，從事公民教育工作超過 30 年，專注於中國、亞洲、移民和民主等主題。他定居於柏林，與非政府組織「學校對話」（Dialogue at School）合作，該組織在德國促進民主學習和公民教育。