Chang Ping, September 4, 2020
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi met with German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas in Berlin [on September 1], marking a successful end to the former’s multi-country visit to Europe. However, the way the visit was concluded was not determined by Wang Yi, nor the Chinese government he represents, but in line with the human rights valued by Germany and other democratic nations.
At the press conference, Foreign Minister Maas presented a rare tough stance by the German government, calling on China to withdraw its Hong Kong “national security law” and demanding that the city be allowed to hold legislative council elections as soon as possible.
Maas also spoke bluntly about human rights abuses in Xinjiang, and expressed hope that China would allow a UN observation team to inspect the autonomous region. Maas further announced that the German-Chinese human rights dialogue to be held next week will touch upon the Chinese government’s suppression of ethnic minorities in Xinjiang.
Wang Yi condemned “interference in China’s internal affairs,” inclusive of Hong Kong and Xinjiang. Obviously, Maas decided this kind of worn-out rhetoric was not worth refuting. The German government has decided not only that it must intervene in China’s internal affairs when it comes to human rights violations, but also when Beijing wields diplomacy to bully small countries. President of the Czech Senate, Miloš Vystrčil, led an 89-member delegation to visit Taiwan, following which Wang Yi threatened to make him “pay a heavy price.” Maas said that “threats don’t fit in here,” pledging Germany’s solidarity and cooperation with the Czech Republic.
Wang Yi warned Norway in Oslo last week to “cherish healthy and stable” bilateral relations and not to award the Nobel Peace Prize to protesters in Hong Kong. Obviously, Norway will also receive a guarantee of solidarity and cooperation from its fellow European countries. As a comment published this week in the Süddeutsche Zeitung said: “The road to true European sovereignty is very long, but it will certainly not pass through Beijing.” [Der Weg zu echter europäischer Souveränität ist weit. Ganz sicher aber führt er nicht über Peking.]
German Chancellor Angela Merkel has always been cautious in her words and action, and has long been under pressure from the business community to maintain the Chinese market. On the Hong Kong national security law and the Xinjiang “reeducation” camps, Merkel remained inappropriately silent, which offended the many Germans and other Europeans who hold human rights to be basic values. It was not until last week when she finally stated that Europe and China should not only talk about topics on which cooperation is possible, such as climate change, but also take on difficult problems where the two sides do not see eye to eye, such as the Hong Kong issue.
The confrontation between foreign ministers Maas and Wang Yi at the press conference swept away the nebulous stance cultivated by Merkel and regained people’s trust in German values.
Here, I hope Maas will take an additional step and spare some time for a meeting with exiled Hong Kong activist Nathan Law, who is in Berlin carrying out protests and meeting with parliamentarians. If the scheduling doesn’t work out this time, then Maas should take the opportunity to make an appointment to speak with Law on a later date.
The Myth of German Dependence on China
Prior Wang Yi’s visit, the three German parliamentarians had written to Foreign Minister Maas, stating that China was “vigorously spreading malicious propaganda to undermine the democratic system via various channels such as the internet, and trying to spread totalitarian narratives in Europe by distorting facts, false statements, and using financial inducements.”
In the most recent iteration of the totalitarian narrative, China disguised itself as a “model student in the fight against the epidemic” and produced “homework” to let Western countries “copy.” In fact, this disguise only made the Chinese government seem even more suspicious. Moreover, its so-called success in the fight against COVID-19 hinges on putting cities under lockdown regardless of the life and death of the people, strict media controls, and opaque government decision-making. Looking at Wang Yi’s repeated rhetoric on the origin of the virus, as well as the fact that the WHO, which has already bowed down to the Chinese government, has still not been able to send its experts to Wuhan despite being there for three weeks, is enough to demonstrate what horrors China’s “homework” involves.
Of course, Wang Yi did not neglect the old method of commercial temptation. Compared with the achievements of its Greater External Propaganda plan (大外宣), the Chinese market is probably the real reason why many Germans have remained silent on human rights violations in the country. Here, I would like to suggest to Maas and my readers an article titled “How Dependent Is Germany on China?”, which was recently published by Echowall, a website that studies Sino-European relations. Author Zhu Yi, in making a thorough review of the trade data and media reports from China and Germany in recent years, determined that the statement “Germany depends on the Chinese market” is a narrative invented by Chinese propaganda, which completely ignores China’s reliance on Germany. The legend of Volkswagen’s 4-million-vehicle annual China sales does not withstand careful scrutiny—most of those vehicles are made in China and sold in China.
I also recommend the podcast “Poking with Chopsticks“ co-hosted by Qin Liwen and Marcel Grzanna. The two senior reporters and China researchers have aired extensive and in-depth discussions on the various characteristics of the CCP’s authoritarian politics. Foreign Minister Maas, I believe that after listening to their analysis of the distorted information peddled by Chinese propaganda, the huge hidden costs of China’s “efficiency,” and the Chinese leadership’s anxieties and ambitions, you will arrive at a firm understanding that criticizing the CCP does not equate to making racist statements against the Chinese people. Quite the opposite: it is treating the Chinese people as equals, as I believe that the Chinese people deserve the same democracy, liberty, and dignity enjoyed by people in the West.
The Berlin Wall Revisited
Foreign Minister Maas, allow me to explain why I recommend you meet with Nathan Law. First, the fall of Hong Kong allows Westerners to more clearly understand the essence of the CCP’s totalitarianism; second, in this global battle against the Chinese threat, we must not ignore the strength of Hong Kong people and of the resistance in China.
Nathan Law was once elected as the youngest member of the Hong Kong Legislative Council. He is the founder of Demosistō, an opposition party that was forced to disband following the introduction of the national security law. Now he is in exile in the UK. He has been fighting nonstop for freedom and democracy from his new location in the Western free world.
Before Wang Yi arrived in Germany, Law sent you an open letter asking you to establish a “values-based trade policy,” considering “the continuing erosion of Hong Kong’s basic human rights and liberties, the rule of law, and autonomous status.”
After having countered Wang Yi during his stay in Rome, Law now brings the voice of the Hong Kong people to Berlin. He led Hong Kong social activists to gather with him to speak up for their city, meet with and hold dialogues with German parliamentarians, and give interviews with the German media. He has repeatedly emphasized that “the appeasement strategy is useless” and that the fate of Hong Kong should not be repeated in other parts of the world.
Owing to a schedule conflict, I had to cancel my appointment to meet with Nathan Law in Berlin, but I express my unreserved support for him in writing this piece. Just as last year after Foreign Minister Maas met with another outstanding social movement leader in Hong Kong, Joshua Wong, I pointed out in my column that the “Berlin Wall” is not just a piece of past history of a city, it is something growing rapidly on the other side of the earth. The people of Hong Kong have fought hard, not only for their own democracy and freedom, but also for the dignity of all humankind.
The Chinese government represented by Wang Yi controls the fate of the world’s second-largest economy and a quarter of the world’s population. It is of course very important to deal with him. However, I believe that Foreign Minister Maas also understands clearly that the politics of lies and the jungle law promoted by this regime are becoming a thing of the past, while Nathan Law and his young companions are writing a new chapter in history. They remind us that the Berlin Wall is not only a witness to the past, but a harbinger of things to come.
Chang Ping (長平) is a Chinese senior media professional and current affairs commentator. He currently resides in Germany.
Translated from Deutsche Welle column 《长平观察：马斯外长，罗冠聪比王毅更重要》