Chinese dissidents living in Germany wrote an open letter to Germany’s federal parliament, the Bundestag, on September 13. They complained about Germany’s international radio station Deutsche Welle (Voice of Germany) and its China coverage.
Their criticism targeted the station’s Chinese service and its then deputy department manager Zhang Danhong. Signed by a number of people from organizations that I haven’t heard of before, plus Zheng Donghong of the Epoch Times (a paper I obviously have heard of before), the letter said that the Chinese editorial staff was to a large extent isolated from German society and was functioning like an island. The open letter refers to the overall concept of the station that wants to promote democracy and human rights.
A substantial share of the German press and at least one leading member of parliament were supportive of the open letter, and the management apparently took the allegations against Zhang Danhong serious enough to suspend her from work initially. She was confirmed as a member of the editorial department within the same month but lost her position as its deputy department manager.
From what I have heard and read from Zhang, she is what the Chinese Communist Party might call a friend of the Chinese people. That said, I can see nothing that would violate our constitution – and if or how she supported democracy and human rights with her work isn’t easy to decide. I see nothing that would really speak against her for that matter.
But I’m no great fan of my country’s international radio station anyway. I feel that there is too much emphasis on praising Germany’s industry, it’s R&D, and its universities. I’m a regular listener to the BBC, to All India Radio, and to several East Asian stations. As far as I can think back, the last time I heard something on the Welle that involved China and that I found really interesting was an interview with Lee Teng-hui, then Taiwan’s president. In that interview, he defined Taiwan’s relations with China as state-to-state relations. With programs as boring as many of the station are now, changes in its programs – not necessarily its staff – would seem to make sense to me. I would also prefer a much more aggressive way in promoting democracy and human rights by the station – but that is part of my personal wish list, and not a question of how much the station is in line with its public mandate.
The CCP isn’t necessarily in love with the Chinese programs. Frank Sieren, Die Zeit correspondent in China, pointed out that the Deutsche Welle’s website is or was regularly blocked in China. But then, there is a lot of stuff that is blocked by the paranoid Great Firewall. Zhou Derong, formerly the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung‘s cultural correspondent living in Shanghai, even suggested that if criticism of the Chinese service was justified, the CCP had no reason to censor the Deutsche Welle’s webpages. Zhou apparently believes that the paranoid Great Firewall makes rational choices.
There is another factor in this discussion, and that is the Chinese leadership itself. This is how Xinhuanet reacted to Zhang Danhong’s suspension:
Before this incident1), multiple pro-China articles were dismissed, proving that Germany’s freedom of expression was merely a joke. What is more worrying is that anti-China sentiment may be hiding in the shadow of Nazi racism.
Nothing that Xinhua writes can be considered a slip of the tongue. Huanqiu Net offered even more scientific insights:
Recent years have seen a resurgence of Nazi Skinheads in some places in Germany. Attacks on foreigners occur from time to time. The unhealthy trend of racism is also the background to a series of anti-China moves of some German media.
The logical problem within this argumentation: the brawl about Zhang Danhong wasn’t about race. Many of those who complained about her work were actually Chinese people.
The way they criticized Zhang Danhong may be questionable, and the way the radio station reacted was quite probably wrong. Still, Zhang Danhong can take her case to the courts. And the way Xinhua criticises Germany tells more about China’s leadership than about my country. On the one hand, Xinhua’s and Huanqiu’s criticism shows a remarkable disdain for the victims of the Nazis. And on the other hand, it equates rejections of China’s political system with racism. That kind of logic may apply under the CCP’s jurisdiction. But Beijing can’t realistically expect people outside China to adopt the same view.
December 20, 2010
1) the link used to be http://en.chinaelections.org/NewsInfo.asp?NewsID=19207 but is no longer valid.
February 6, 2012
2) Now here: http://chinaelectionsblog.net/?p=13092