Much happened at the recently concluded Munich Security conference, but I am particularly interested in the speech by the outgoing foreign minister of Germany, Sigmar Gabriel. Some interpreted the speech as an attack on China and its Belt and Road Initiative, seeing the speech an accusation that China is trying to take over the world. However, if you actually look at the text of the speech, you will see that he has relatively little to say about China or Russia, or indeed the Korean peninsula – except to frame the speech in terms of a substantially changed world. Instead, he is most concerned about the way the United States is disappearing from the scene (as someone else pointed out, it is like watching the collapse of the Roman Empire). Gabriel worries about the fragmentation of the ‘liberal’ – that is, bourgeois – world order, imploring the USA to get involved again and suggesting that Europe as a whole needs to step up. All of this was far more accurately reported by Deutsche Welle.
But what did Gabriel say about China? He does say that China (implicitly Chinese Marxism) has a very different approach to the world, which is not a bourgeois liberal one focused on ‘freedom’, (bourgeois) ‘democracy’ and ‘the individual’. True enough, and I too am against this kind of world ‘order’. However, Gabriel also observes that China is the only global superpower that has a ‘truly global, geo-strategic’ idea, which it pursues consistently. Most importantly, he says that he is certainly not reproaching China for this project, for it is China’s perfect right (das gute Recht) to develop it.
The problem, however, is that Europe does not have a coherent answer. What type of answer? An alternative to China? No, what is needed is a new approach of shared values and global balance rather than a zero-sum game. Sounds remarkably like Xi Jinping’s ‘community of shared future for all’. (Another piece in DW indicates how China and the EU are already moving closer).
On this note, it is worth noting that Fu Ying (chair of the Foreign Relations Committee of the National People’s Congress) made it clear at the conference that China is not interested in a ‘competition of systems’. While she pointed out that the ‘Western’ system so beloved by Sigmar Gabriel (and others) has raised as many problems as it has solved, China is not interested in replacing it. To quote the article further:
But as China becomes stronger, questions and worries outside of China emerged.
What does it mean when China vows to “move closer to center stage”? Does it mean China is prepared to replace the United States and playing a “leading role”? When China offers “Chinese wisdom and a Chinese approach”, is that tantamount to China exporting its development model?
Fu answered to these worries by saying “We wish to play a role in world affairs and make an even greater contribution to mankind. But it must be done within our means and in a manner consistent with our values.”
She emphasized that China has only offered a new option to countries that seek rapid development while retaining their independence, “but this does not mean that China’s model and ideology are to be exported.”