China and the Munich Security Conference

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.”

 

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Germany and China surpass the USA in global leadership approval

An interesting survey from Gallup, based on interviews and telephone conversations with 1,000 people in each country.

The result: the global approval of US leadership in 2017 dropped to 30%, behind Germany on 41% and China on 31%. Both Germany and China remained at the same level from the previous year, indicating stability.

Some graphs tell the story:

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Notably, Russia and the USA are quite close to one another. Now for the disapproval rating, which for the USA sits at 43%:

In the Americas it has shot up to 58%:

I am most intrigued by the last graph, which indicates how much the approval/disapproval rates have shifted in different parts of the globe:

 

In much of Europe, the Americas, central and southern Africa, south and south-eastern Asia (including Australia in this last group), it has plummeted, while parts of northern Africa, eastern Europe and Russia have seen an increase! Not sure it will make much difference in Russia.

However, the danger of such graphs is to enhance the idea that Trump’s USA is an anomaly, in contrast to the ‘golden age’ of Obama et al. All manner of concerted efforts are underway to generate this impression, whether blaming the Russians for meddling, questioning Trump’s mental stability, or indeed asserting that his election victory was the result of purely racist elements. Instead, Trump is merely a symptom of a much longer trajectory.

 

Why do Chinese people like Angela Merkel?

This one came as a surprise to me, although it shouldn’t really. Many Chinese people are rather fond of Angela Merkel, whom they call Moke’er dama (dama being a term of respectful affection for an older woman, especially one’s father’s elder brother’s wife).

Why? As one person put it: ‘Merkel grew up in a socialist country. She looks and plans in a long-term way’. And another: ‘Among Western leaders, she understands the Chinese theory “seeking truth from facts” the best’.

Of course, it helps that China-German relations have steadily improved since she became chancellor in 2005.

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Mao on the differences between studying China, Japan and Germany

The burden of growing up in China. A youthful Mao reflects:

The study of how to be a citizen is the study of the history, geography, political doctrine, and artistic climate of one’s country … Certainly, the study of being a person or a citizen is easy, while the study of being a Chinese is difficult. There are five thousand years of history, the land extends over seven thousand li, political doctrine is extremely complex, and human feelings and customs are broad and complex. How can we approach all this? If we were Japan, with only three islands within our borders, or Germany, with a history of only half a century and land equivalent in size to our two provinces of Guangxi and Guangdong alone, how easy things would be! (Mao’s Road to Power, vol. 1, p. 79)

Pølser vs Würste: How the Danes Outdo the Germans

The Germans may have their Würste, in all manner of intriguing formations, as I have noted earlier. But on one thing at least the Danes comprehensively beat the Germans – in the grossness of their sausages. To wit:

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They call this a Fransk Hotdog, but it looks more like a dog’s dick. Note the ring of mayonnaise at the base.

Even more inventive is:

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Correct me if I am wrong, but that bun looks remarkably like a pair of bum cheeks.

P.S. Given the popularity of these items and given the obvious fact that they are decidedly bad for you, I am struggling to see how the infamous homo economicus fits into this picture. Isn’t he supposed to determine, rationally, what is to his own benefit?

Those crazy Germans

On a long ride today I passed through the Czech Republic and then back into Germany. As I neared the border, the Czechs shook their heads in bewilderment, as if to say, ‘why would you want to go there?’

I soon realised why. First, the award for Captain Obvious would have to go to this sign:

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Then, a clear statement of the German government’s policy regarding immigrants, visitors and any other country in Europe:

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Finally, the real reason the Czechs were shaking their heads:

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Rockin’ Accordions? Only in Germany.