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Foreign Policy

Values-Based China Policy Has No Value

Jan 21, 2022
  • John Gong

    Professor at University of International Business and Economics and China Forum Expert

Sino-German relations may find some stormy seas ahead, as the new German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock seems to be bent on departing from Angela Merkel’s longtime China policy and leaning toward the “systemic rivalry” school. Baerbock recently characterized Sino-German relations using Joe Biden’s rhetoric about “systemic competition with authoritarian regimes like China.”

The new regime in Berlin is a coalition government formed by the Social Democrats (SPD), the Green Party and the Liberal Democrats (FDP). Baerbock, who comes from the Green Party, leads the Foreign Ministry. So even though Chancellor Olaf Scholz of the SPD reportedly assured Beijing that Merkel’s policy model on China will continue, it is not at all clear that things will actually unfold that way.

Baerbock’s vision is elaborated in more detail in a recent interview published by the German newspaper Die Tageszeitung on Dec. 1, in which she pledged a China policy that is “values-based.”

“In the long run, eloquent silence is not a form of diplomacy, even if it has been seen that way by some in recent years,” Baerbock said. “Dialogue is a central component of international politics, but that does not mean that one has to gloss over issues or keep quiet.” A values-based foreign policy must always be an interplay of dialogue and rigor, Baerbock said.

The problem is that Baerbock’s values-based China policy lacks rigor, and as such is valueless. This is because her call for an assertion of values lays a hollow and shaky foundation, one riddled with disinformation and falsehoods perpetrated by Western propaganda campaigns.

Essentially there are three issues involved here. First are the alleged human rights violations in China’s Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region — claims such as forced sterilization and labor. Washington calls it genocide, by the way, which is total nonsense. If one digs deeper into the original sources of these wild allegations, they can be traced invariably to a few questionable entities, including the German religious zealot Adrian Zenz. His analyses of population trends in several prefectures in Xinjiang, based on limited information and peppered with sheer fabrications, are as laughable as they are bizarre. Yet they serve as foundational materials that have been quoted and promulgated in many Western media outlets to sustain a ludicrous genocide narrative.

The forced labor claim has been exposed as a scandalous hoax perpetrated by the Better Cotton Initiative (BCI), an international NGO that purports to promote better standards in cotton farming by certifying companies that comply with its principles and criteria. But the BCI commissioned a study of Xinjiang cotton with a team (Verite) that has never once set foot in Xinjiang, yet they wrote a report repeating questionable Googled information and fabricated stories. The BCI is also complicit in feeding the authors of the report questionable material and deliberately guiding the authors to skew the narrative in the direction it desired. The bottom line: The BCI sponsored a supposedly impartial third-party report that was partially manufactured by the BCI itself.

I have been calling for the criminal prosecution of some of the BCI executives involved based on the People’s Republic of China Criminal Code, Article 246, regarding libel — in particular, libel concerning national security. A libel conviction carries a possible sentence of up to three years in prison. The whole slander has been thoroughly investigated by China’s Ministry of State Security as reported by the Global Times. So there should be ample factual information and solid evidence to win a conviction.

The second issue concerns the so-called curtailment of civil liberties in Hong Kong, particularly related to the National Security Law enacted in June. This narrative turns a violence-filled insurrection completely on its head. There are striking similarities between the insurrection in Hong Kong in this case and the insurrection in Washington on Jan. 6 last year, although the Hong Kong incident was even more violent, destroyed more public property, killed more innocent people and resulted in a more vicious assault on democracy. 

Finally, let’s talk about Taiwan. The immediate issue has to do with China’s ramping-up of military flights into what Taiwan has designated as its air defense zone — which is something Beijing has never recognized, nor ever will. The Taiwan issue, of course, concerns China’s core interest in protecting its sovereignty and territorial integrity. The lawful flights serve as a deterrent to Taipei’s sliding further into the abyss of attempted independence, which would be a total disaster for the island and its people. When Spain sends in police to combat the Catalan independence movement, what values-based policy is Berlin going to utter in response?

Beijing remains firmly committed to peace and peaceful unification when it comes to the cross-strait matter, as evidenced by the words of President Xi Jinping during his recent virtual summit meeting with U.S. President Joe Biden.

Aside from the hollow and shaky foundation of what Baerbock calls a values-based China policy, she may also consider the real value of Sino-German relations, particularly from an economic perspective. Sino-German trade was well over 200 billion euros last year. Many German companies operating in China are hugely successful. In some markets — automobiles, for example — German companies like Volkswagen and BMW are dominant players. Does Baerbock want to put these commercial interests, which involve hundreds of billions of euros, on the chopping block?

Germany is currently risking a slide into recession. The Bundesbank has cut its German growth forecasts for this year from 3.7 percent to 2.5 percent, and for next year from 5.2 percent to 4.2 percent. Its forecast for inflation has increased from 3.2 percent to 3.6 percent. The pandemic era shows no signs of ending after two years. This is a time for the international community to cooperate to weather the difficult challenges together. As the foreign minister of European Union’s largest country, Baerbock would be fooling herself if she believes she can win a values fight that is totally valueless. 

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