Western society is too cautious
"Western dominance is an anomaly"
The coronavirus pandemic has so far not hit any other country harder than the United States, China's arch-rival. Do you consider the People's Republic to be the winner of the crisis?
At this point, I would be very cautious, because the fight against Covid-19 is far from over. So far, it appears that China has handled the virus outbreak much better. But if a US university came around the corner tomorrow with a miracle vaccine, the whole world would applaud the US. Let's wait and see for now.
Nevertheless, you speak of a paradigm shift away from Western dominance towards the Asian century. Has the pandemic accelerated this process?
The acceleration took place before Covid-19. You see, until 1820, the largest economies in the world were always China and India. Only in the last 200 years have Europe and the United States started their triumphant advance. Compared to the 2000 years before, the western dominance is an anomaly. Of course, this will come to an end at some point.
Nevertheless: If you look at the virus deaths per million inhabitants, then this is in the mid three-digit range for the USA and some European countries. In the Asian countries the value is less than ten. There is a pattern of competence in handling the crisis in East Asia - at least so far.
Many European countries have actually tried to learn from the example of South Korea and Taiwan in the past few weeks. China, on the other hand, is seen as a chilling example in parts: In the first few weeks after the virus outbreak, the government destroyed virus samples and silenced scientists.
The big mistake I think the West is making is to categorize societies in black and white, with reality running in all sorts of shades of gray. Of course, China made mistakes - for example, silencing scientists like whistleblower Li Wenliang.
But my friends, who are doctors and scientists themselves, tell me: If a new virus appears with initially seemingly harmless cold symptoms, how can you be sure that this pathogen will ultimately kill hundreds of thousands of people? There was a lot of confusion in the early days. However, when China realized that a serious problem was emerging, the reaction was absolutely unique: they sealed off an entire province of 60 million people two days before the Chinese New Year. The US would certainly not have been able to do something like that two days before Thanksgiving.
For its part, however, the Chinese government is propaganda in black and white: it denies any errors to the outside world and presents itself as the savior of the world with its mask deliveries.
It is best not to confront the Chinese in a public debate. My experience with Chinese diplomats and government officials is that they are very informed and thoughtful in private. I have no doubt that you will also admit mistakes in face-to-face discussions. It's just a different system. We have to live with a China that exists - not a China that we wish would exist.
So also a China that will adopt a more self-confident stance in the future. Are the demonstrations of force in the conflict over the South China Sea or the protest movement in Hong Kong a first foretaste of the new world order?
I think there is a fundamental difference between China and the US: America believes that it is the best society in the world and that every other country would be better off if it copied the US. However, we should have learned from the last few years how difficult it is to transform a society. When the US tried to export democracy to Iraq, it ended in disaster. China has a different point of view, which, to put it simply, is: Only we Chinese can be Chinese. You choose your system that is good for you, and we do that for us. But when you criticize China, and especially now, they are very sensitive. You know: there is no benevolent hegemon in Realpolitik. Every powerful state pursues its interests first. Now that China is getting stronger, it is of course also becoming more assertive. That is simply the reality.
What role should Europe play in relation to China? Above all, the crisis has shown how divided the EU member states are about the Middle Kingdom.
Europe currently has a great opportunity to position itself as a geopolitical player for the world of tomorrow: because while the conflict between China and the USA is escalating, the international community needs a counterforce strong enough to mediate between the two world powers. At the moment, it would actually be only logical that we would fight the virus together. Instead, the United States has chosen - unfortunately and against its own interests - to use the virus as a political weapon against China.
Europe has the strength for the multilateral leadership role represented, for example, by French President Emmanuel Macron. At the same time, however, Europe has become very respectful of the US. That still made sense during the Cold War, when the main threat came from the Soviet Union. In today's world, however, geopolitical interests are no longer the same.
The biggest challenge for Europe comes from the population explosion in Africa! It is in the European interest to promote the economic development of Africa. After all, the rise in populism and right-wing extremism can be traced back to migration. The largest investor in Africa today is China. If China develops Africa, it will be a geopolitical gift to Europe.
These are remarkable statements for the son of a migrant from India.
Migration is fine, controlled migration is good. The only question is how much a society can absorb.
Let us come back to the relationship between China and the United States. Many of Trump's threats are probably due to the upcoming presidential election. Will the conflict escalate further after that?
Unfortunately, I think relationships will continue to deteriorate over the next few years. This has to do with deep, structural causes - regardless of whether Trump or Joe Biden wins the election, even if the latter would certainly be more respectful of China. For 2000 years there has been the iron rule: If an emerging power is about to overtake the previous number one, then tensions rise - there has been since Sparta and Athens. In addition, there has been "fear of" in the western psyche for centuries the yellow danger «. It is not politically correct to talk about it, but I believe that many decisions by the US government are driven by this unconscious fear.
In retrospect, it was a fallacy for the US to think that if China reforms its economy, as it did in the late 1970s, sooner or later it will open up politically.
That sounds very naive to me. Why should a country like the USA with less than 250 years of history and a quarter of the population think that it can change China - and not the other way around. A certain arrogance comes through.
Sometimes you might think that you are not particularly friendly towards democracy.
I still believe that every society will become democratic at some point. However, the speed and also the way is different in each case. The best way for China to become a democracy is an internal way. The less the world exerts pressure from outside, the better for China.
Conversely, does this mean that the international community of states should watch silently when the Chinese government commits human rights violations such as those against the Muslim minority in Xinjiang?
Of course one should promote human rights. Non-governmental organizations and international institutions should criticize offenses. When states do that, however, they always have double standards. For example, the EU is against torture and criticizes every country for its torture offenses except one - the United States. See Guantanamo!
Who do you think should decide when a country is ripe for democracy? Taiwan has got rid of its autocratic leadership, and South Korea is now also a lively democracy.
Which country was the greatest supporter of the former South Korean dictator? The USA! Of course, South Korea has changed - from within. And why? Because the then dictator Park Chung-hee provided education and prosperity for its population. If there is a large middle class, it will also bring about change.
But now you sound naive if you forecast this scenario for China as well. The population is enjoying an economic boom and excellent education, while freedoms and expressions of opinion have fallen significantly under President Xi Jinping.
I visited China for the first time in 1980. At that time there were no high-rise buildings in Beijing, not even really cars. People couldn't choose their clothes, much less where they lived or where they studied. And no Chinese could travel abroad. Now look at what is now China: every year around 300,000 Chinese students go to American universities. From the perspective of the Chinese people, the past 40 years have brought greater improvement in quality of life than the past 4,000 years.
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