The corona crisis is putting pressure on the Middle Kingdom, but Beijing is becoming increasingly aggressive, especially economically. Observers like Sinologist Mareike Ohlberg see a violent confrontation looming up.
Holds on Friday Beijing the People’s Congress ab – a staging of the victory over the Coronavirus: In March the pseudo-parliament had to be postponed because of the pandemic, now the empire decides normality. Mareike Ohlberg, one of the most prominent sinologists in the German-speaking world, describes in her new book “Die silent conquest” the self-marketing and increasingly aggressive foreign policy China.
Your co-author’s original text was in Australia Rejected three times by publishers for fear of reprisals China. Was the publication in Germany also so complicated?
Mareike Ohlberg: No, that was surprisingly easy. The German publisher is aware, however, that the book may not go down well with the Chinese side. I could imagine that my next visa application would now be delayed or rejected.
The crisis has dependency Europe from China made as visible as never before. The last knee case was the censored guest contribution by the EU ambassador to China Daily, which after printing the origin of the virus stroke out. Is this normal for a long time?
It was not the first time that you censored or withdrawn yourself. There is always pressure in Brussels and different governments. Most of course happens behind closed doors. The letter also shows an ignorance of the Chinese system: It was said that self-censorship was accepted in order to make the main message accessible to a billion people. The problem: the China Daily is in English and is not read by a wide audience. In the end, that’s how the message was sent abroad – and censored too.
What pressure means does the regime use?
The fear of economic losses is often enough. The Chinese leadership has used a few isolated cases to stir up fear – Norway was awarded to the human rights defender after the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded Liu Xiaobo selectively punished. And there is a mood against critics, you are denounced as “China hater”. In addition, there are restrictions in the media and science sector such as the refusal of visas. Not everyone can be put under pressure, but collectively this has a strong impact. Many people make compromises, the overall picture changes.
A propaganda battle is raging for that virus. The United States say it comes from a laboratory, some EU politicians want clarification. How much is Beijing vacuum?
So much Beijing is also under pressure: I would be very surprised if you allow an investigation that really and independently contributes to the investigation. The government may allow a limited reconnaissance mission, but it will resist more. And she knows that WHO give her backing in case of doubt. When looking for the origin, you don’t want to be looked at in the cards – especially not after you have spread the message internationally that virus maybe not at all China is coming.
Why did the authorities make massive attempts to cover up the extent?
That is the party and state apparatus in action. To SARS structures were set up to prevent an outbreak again. It worked in the beginning, doctors are after Wuhan traveled, decoded the genome in record time. Then the local government stopped it for fear of panic and social instability, and samples were even destroyed. That is a dynamic that is under Xi Jinping has exacerbated: City and provincial governments are under enormous pressure that nothing is allowed to happen. The local authorities have hardly any incentives to publish anything, because the personal consequences are very high in the event of instability. So a lot is covered up – a side effect of increasing control. The Chinese central government has behaved somewhat in a similar way to the world, information has been withheld and hoped to be able to control the outbreak itself.
How does the population view the party’s dealings with the virus?
The chaotic pictures from the United States and Europe, which are shown deliberately, make many think that the Chinese government acted well. There were also these pictures China, but they were quickly suppressed. The message arrives as it should. Only in Wuhan even that doesn’t work, too many people there have experienced the real reality, the complete collapse of the hospitals. The anger is great there: there, high party officials were even insulted by the population and during Xi Jinpings Visiting the city was of great concern that people could openly express their displeasure.
Has authoritarianism increased significantly under Xi?
Yes. There have been repressions before, but they have intensified. Shortly before taking office, a serious civil society developed, people started to organize, especially lawyers. It was precisely against this burgeoning civil society that action was taken.
China claims of itself, the crisis to have mastered. Can that be true?
No. But I believe the trends. If there is an outbreak like in Wuhan there would be noticed. But I don’t think there were actually zero local transmission cases and only more import cases. The import cases may also have been used to report more local cases.
China has the crisis massively used to demonstrate its economic power. Was formerly Beijing reluctant in his foreign policy, now you are more aggressive – why?
There was also own PR and pressure on other countries before, but only very sparsely. That should be a by-product of the crisis mode – the economy has never been so much at stake. However, not everyone in the party machine thinks that’s right – there are voices that say that the more aggressive tone that the Chinese have government has struck backwards.
In some European countries you actually think about withdrawing from the 5G contracts Huawei to. Watch a change in policy China?
Yes, some countries are considering whether China can still be a reliable partner. You notice an annoyance about the pressure – and about the fact that you yourself provided quick and quiet help China But help has to fight back at high prices and every time has to thank the public for protective equipment bought at excessive prices. In the long term, I expect there will be a rethink – the dependencies on China are a problem.
Believe in a new one Cold War between United States and China?
We have been seeing for a long time that there is increasing confrontation – American and European companies have reduced their presence in the Chinese market or are rethinking it completely. We are still with one Cold War, but it actually goes in that direction.
Book tip: Clive Hamilton and Mareike Ohlberg: “The silent conquest”. DVA, 496 pages, 26 euros.