Hardly anything stated in the open letter published by four former editorial journalists of Deutsche Welle‘s (Voice of Germany) Chinese department can be accepted as a fact right away. Even China Daily Net (中国日报网, via Huanqiu Shibao and many other Chinese papers who republished it) appeared to frown – not at the allegations, but at the four authors’ inability to give a more succinct account of what comes across as a plight under an autocratic (Deutsche-Welle-departmental) regime.
"Kiss, bow, or shake hands" (click picture above for more business etiquette)
From November 2008 until now, I have rarely asked myself how I do feel about the changes that have taken place at Deutsche Welle myself, and whenever I did, I found that my feelings were mixed. Yes, more critical coverage on China was what I had missed during the years between 2000 and 2008, but the way the Welle managed the crisis brought about – apparently – by a few Chinese dissident and several German intellectuals didn’t make me feel exactly happy. That said, given the sluggish first eight years of this century, it was no surprise that a Chinese department which had seemed to have developed a policy of arrogance towards human rights issues, and a policy of chumming up to power (business and CCP alike) had begun to reel once their critics – apparently all of a sudden – began to have an impact on the debate about Deutsche Welle.
Deutsche Welle headquarters, Bonn (Wikimedia Commons, click on the picture for source)
The Welle’s general management didn’t seem to deserve great points of performance, either. It’s ways of interaction with parliament, political parties, the dissidents, and their Chinese audience looked like politics at its worst. The good thing was that, as bad as it was, there wasn’t much porcelain to be destroyed anyway – not from my personal point of view. Boredom would be a nicety to describe my feelings when listening to the Chinese programs. No wonder that Wei Jingsheng wasn’t listening any more.
In recent days, I had a discussion with a sinologist – no discussion that would be available online, and not in the Deutsche-Welle context – who suggested that what mattered, when it came to information from German media, was that Chinese people would actually be interested in reading along. Window-speeches (his referral to what others might call “value-based journalism”) wouldn’t cut it.
Maybe it wouldn’t. But to me, this was an obvious example of how easy you might lose your own way, if you only care about what others (supposedly) want to hear, or if you only care about the terms on which others would be willing to discuss things at all.
So should I feel unhappy about the way China’s press covers the current status at Deutsche Welle? Should those Chinese listeners or readers who want information, rather than propaganda, feel bad about it?
Footnotes to any answer might be plenty. In my view, the Welle shouldn’t target “opinion leaders” first and foremost, as it apparently plans to do. Deutsche Welle should simply inform its listeners and readers accurately – peasants in rural China, and other professionals of all kinds in urban China alike, and without worrying if Anti-CNN might like or dislike what they report.
But I think what encouraged me when reading the – surely not too dependable, – Chinese media coverage on Deutsche Welle was an – alleged – statement by Jörg Rudolph, again allegedly working for the Chinese department as a hired consultant (the Chinese press describes the situation in more colorful ways) which would suggest that Taiwan should be seen as an independent state. It wouldn’t make a huge difference, even if it was correctly attributed to Rudolph, but it might be an encouraging indicator for a more generally changing tide. It may be inconceivable for many Chinese nationals who have never seen Taiwan depicted in a color different from China’s on international maps, but not so inconceivable for Europeans, or in fact for people anywhere else in the world, outside China. Former Estonian foreign minister Kristiina Ojuland, herself an experienced observer of (Russian, in her country’s case) colonialism until the early 1990s, suggested in April that in long-term perspective, the one-China policy is not and cannot be in the interest of the EU.
American decisions will matter much more than European ones – only America can really help to defend Taiwan militarily, if need be. But a change in European policies can provide Taiwan with some of the global political and economic breathing space it has been struggling for during the past two decades, or even longer. Such change may also encourage America to keep seeing Taiwan as what it is: as a democratic country, doing no harm to anyone, but being bullied by an imperialist neighbor. Provided that the EU will maintain its arms embargo as part of its trade relations with China, it may help to end the unworthy status quo, where European countries would deliver arms to all kinds of bandits near and far, officially or indirectly, but refuse to supply diesel-electric submarines to Taiwan, for fear of “angering China”, or – to take the hypocrisy to a maximum level – for fear of aggravating a tense situation in a region of conflict.
It would be illusionary to think that to show respect alone will help to improve relations with China. To be respectful is an obvious duty, but contrary to what is often suggested, it doesn’t work wonders. Many things made me start blogging some three years ago – it was a big bag of different motivations. But one of them was anger. I saw several otherwise respectable Chinese overseas students turn into bullies in Bremen, in 2008, I faced some kind of semi-religious zeal concerning their motherland, and I felt that their demands for “respect” were becoming insatiable. To continue showing respect and nothing else under such conditions can’t work – neither in individual lives, nor within the “global community”.
It seems that many people here began to see things in similar ways. The apparent turnaround at Deutsche Welle is one symptom out of many. Depending on the real Deutsche-Welle story, there will be encouraging and discouraging aspects, to (yet) unknown extents respectively.
But as People’s Daily suggests that Deutsche Welle “still cherishes the legacy of cold war mentality”, I have to say that while personally, I don’t cherish cold-war methods, I do feel that such methods have been used by Beijing all along the way, either since the late 1970s (after all, China profited from the Western-Soviet standoff then), or from 1989, when it began to emphasize the need to be “vigilant” against Western schemes to “subjugate” China. “The West” is the big bad ghost which helps to rally the Chinese nation behind or around the CCP.
In recent months, the Chinese approach to paint North American and European countries as enemies has reached new heights. We can’t afford to see China as a “friend” under such circumstances. And when it comes to those who are bullied most by Beijing, we owe them a minimum of loyalty. Taiwan could become a test case, and for Europe, it would be the most likely one.
There is no need to “defriend” China. Friendship may come naturally, or not at all. Besides, I’m not sure if countries can be friends anyway – friendship seems to be a rather personal concept to me. What should be obvious is that the current status doesn’t amount to friendship at all. The mutual goal of Europe and China might be partnership where it is feasible, “on fields of mutual interest”.
If such fields would turn out to be rather small, this could really result in another cold war. That would be no reason to be happy. But it wouldn’t spell the end of international relations, either.
Tell us how You really Feel, FOARP, April 21, 2011
The Adequate Adversary, August 13, 2010