Cold War – Come on, Let’s Twist Again

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

"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

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

12 Responses to “Cold War – Come on, Let’s Twist Again”

  1. <blockquote"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”."

    Same, in fact, much worse in London in ’08. The atmosphere surrounding the torch rally was like, well, something from the 1930’s.

    The CCP mouthpieces can condemn “Cold War” attitudes all they like. The truth is that during the cold war in Europe we confronted a world-bestriding enemy which sought either to neutralise the rest of the world, or actively subjugate us. The PRC is not an ally either of Britain, or Germany, or any other European nation. It will not be so in the forseeable future, and if it does not wish us harm, then nor does it likely wish us good – at least judging by the pronouncements of its future leaders. A cold war is not necessary, but some of the attitudes of the cold war are not out of place.


  2. Long time no see of so much VERVE on your blog. Beautiful.


  3. A cold war is not necessary, but some of the attitudes of the cold war are not out of place.

    @ FOARP – I’d say a cold war isn’t inevitable, but if it comes or not will depend on several parties – China, too.
    It’s been almost a century since Gustav Amann wrote The Legacy of Sun Yat-sen, but it is still a recommendable read in many ways. Amann argued:
    The ways of popular politics are obscure; their course was lighted up for the foreigners by no star of insight. Even after February 12, 1912, the date of the public abdication of the Manchu Regent, the foreigners in China believed that the proclamation of a republic was the result of chance. To prove that, the English historian J. O. P. Bland filled many pages of his book on the revolution. The foreigners saw nothing but what they could attribute to their own influence on the Manchu government.

    Human rights advocates have frequently been blamed for overestimating the power of their own arguments. I believe that the “understand-China” party is overestimating its opportunities to dialog with China, too. To state pro-CCP arguments if one believes in such arguments would be something understandable in my view (as much as I disagree myself). But China is no child, where you’d have to weigh your arguments so as not to offend or hurt it psychologically. A lot would be gained if we could act just naturally. Having studies – and still studying, I guess – the Chinese language and culture – and liking many aspects of them – shouldn’t keep us from speaking our minds, and making our cases.

    @ Taide – I simply listened to my heart! But I don’t want to write about my feelings too often, but only once in a while, to keep the powder dry.


  4. Thanks for all these interesting thoughts. I have to (re-)think a lot. I takes time. About a lot of topics you where writing on I am embarrassingly bad informed.

    “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.”

    1. Someone in Beijing is flattered to be called a sinologist. He sometimes wishes he had studied sinology but he is in fact at least a little better educated in the field of linguistics.

    2. The term “window journalism” (Schaufensterjournalismus) was meant to criticize journalists that cover a foreign country but exclusively communicate to the audience in their own country. That was alright until the boarders for communication where torn down. But everything that is published on the internet nowadays is available everywhere in the world. At least potentially. Especially pictures do not even need to be translated. Anti-CNN was using a lot of them. And there are a lot more stupid visualizations of extremely complex conflicts out there. (I called that onces “Die Krise der Bilder”).

    The images you are using are great by the way.

    The term “Schaufensterjournalismus” was not meant to be applied to journalism like DW that mostly communicates to the people of another country. And yes, the only way of making their coverage more than burning German fiscal money would be objectively reporting the facts. That could be quite boring sometimes, but it is the only chance they got.

    (Chinese listeners are very much used to boring news. The problem is that they don´t listen to them, too. (Could it be that I really start to think like a teacher))

    And when a lot of your listeners think that what you do is propaganda you have only one chance to prove the opposite. Cut the crap and report only the things that are visible for everyone. Nothing else. Facts are hard to get in modern China, I know. Everything changes so fast and nobody keeps track……..


  5. Never Kiss, never bow!
    Shake hands or wave!


  6. @JR – The Cold War was first and foremost the product of a military stand-off, and secondarily that of an ideological debate between left and right. In the case of the UK, for example, it took the form abroad of military interventionism in the third world, and the garrisoning of West Germany. At home it took the form of a stand-off between anti-communist conservatives and socialists (like Margaret Thatcher and Aneurin Bevan) and fellow-travelling leftists like (then National Union of Miners President, and now British Stalinist Society luminary) Arthur Scargill.

    In the case of China, there is no military stand-off outside of Korea, the Taiwan Strait, and the Himalayas, none of which directly involves European or American countries. China does not represent an ideological threat to democracy, few home-grown communists find confirmation of their views in China. On this basis alone, it is hard to see where a cold war can come from.

    However, there is something of the cold war within China, and also within the Chinese diaspora. Chinese spending on internal policing, and the radicalisation of commentary on the internet shows this.


  7. @ Neru: The Deutsche-Welle concept seems to have been, from the beginning, to inform people abroad (German nationals living abroad above all (sort of a bridge to home), at the beginning, and non-Germans some time later) about what was being reported by other German media. They wouldn’t even need correspondents of their own. One might refer to them as kind of a blog on the airwaves, actually.
    Quite different from the BBC World Service, which belongs to the BBC, with the world’s biggest or second-biggest network of correspondents worldwide.
    I think Hristina Krasteva‘s study of the Welle is quite instructive in this context – it was written about a year and a half before the brawl about the DW Chinese department started.
    Whatever the Welle will become, I believe it can’t become something like the BBC World Service, unless the ARDwill be in charge of foreign broadcasting.

    Anyway, I’m not thinking of myself as terribly well-informed, and where that should be the case – it always depends on the issue in question -, it’s not for studying sinology. I know non-Chinese people with a better command of the Chinese language than mine, and I’m wondering if “sinology” should actually continue to exist, as a field of study, unless it is clearly limited to linguistics and literature.

    Never Kiss
    It depends on the situation.

    @ FOARP: I’m not sure about how Arthur Scargill viewed communism at the time (I think his defeat in the NUM strikes possibly did a lot to radicalize him), but I don’t think that the Soviet Union was the Thatcher Revolutionaries’ greatest concern, when it came to class relations at home. (I’m never sure what went on in Thatcher’s very own head, but it wasn’t only her policy.) Restoring a more naked capitalism in Britain was the objective of the exercise – and maybe modernizing Britain, by making it more capitalist again. I guess industrial co-determination in Britain (buzzword shop stewards) didn’t really work too much to the advantage of Britain’s industry (even if I seem to remember that Thatcher appeared to prefer to kill both the industrial unions, and the manufacturing industry itself along with them.

    Anyway, over to a turf I’m more familiar with than recent British history, i. e. Germany. I agree with you that China isn’t communist, and seems to charm entrepreneurs more than union stewards – but I don’t believe that this would make for a completely different international landscape. Let me quote comrade Kurt Schumacher, the first post-war chairman of the good old SPD (Sozialdemokratische Partei Deutschlands):

    Communism as a principle of reorganizing class relations actually exists no longer. Communism today is a national state’s principle for its expansion drive. And therefore, the Communists will, with their actions, won’t be met with an international or German reverberation for their class-struggle ideas, but rather with the rejection for a foreign, national-political principle here.
    (Der Kommunismus als Prinzip der Neuordnung der Klassenbeziehungen existiert ja gar nicht mehr. Der Kommunismus ist ja heute das Prinzip des Expansionsdranges eines Nationalstaates. Und darum werden die Kommunisten für ihre Aktionen ja auch nicht einen internationalen oder deutschen Widerhall für ihre klassenkämpferischen Ideen finden, sondern sie werden stets nur die Abwehr gegen ein fremdes nationalpolitisches Prinzip bei uns finden.)

    Think of this quote as my premature contribution to your German bridge blog, FOARP. When are you going to launch it?

    I agree with you that this is no Cold War (yet), and that there may never be one, under whatever circumstances, unless big business here begins to feel as “threatened” by China as it did feel by the USSR – even if for different reasons. But there were, as you pointed out yourself, reasons to oppose the USSR indeed, and the main difference between the situation then and now – in my view – is that China is by no means as big in this world, as the USSR was in yesterday’s. I see some evidence – not to be confused with “proof” – that China is an empire by design – even if a comparatively “small” one, given that the world at large has grown a lot since the Cold War.


  8. @JR – I was born in a mining town, to what some of the leaders of the miners would have called a bourgeois family, even if, after successive strikes during the seventies, my father, a programmer for Leyland DAF, made less money than a coal miner. As part of the Trotskyist “Militant Tendency” movement, the head teacher of my school was chosen for her ideological purity. The fact that she had only recently been an inmate of a lunatic asylum was of little concern compared to her faith in the cause.

    What was this cause? Well, no-one was ever too sure. The NUM certainly never lacked for money, even as it embezzled money from its members which would have otherwise gone to treating the diseases caused in part by its refusal to countenance automation and greater safety measures.

    What can be said is that it had the money to bus its members from across the country to the locations at which it planned protests. What can be said is that its leaders were committed communists. What can be said is that they regularly went for “fraternal visits” to the communist block. Forgive me if all of this caused and still causes a degree of suspicion on my own part.

    As for British industry, well, for a country with no industry, we seem to be doing OK. Thatcher moulded the modern Britain. For us, she was Adenauer and Brandt rolled into one. No other British leader since WW2 has done as much as she. I hope you’ll forgive me if I don’t quote percentages as to right and wrong, but she got a lot that was right. Moreover, she was not a leader selected from the elite, we are unlikely to see her like in the present era.

    At least the confrontation between Britain and the USSR was not one of big business against communists, for at that stage the big business of the country was controlled in large part by the state. Instead it was one, as hackneyed as it sounds, of freedom against dictatorship. I will not comment on other European countries hear, but it may well be that the same dynamic was at play.

    What I will say is that, given the adversarial tradition which is so cherished in the British judicial and political systems, co-determination was never likely to win too many fans. As a kid I learned new lyrics to the song “the red flag” as to what the working class could do to the posterior of the freshly anointed foreman – “the working class can etc. my etc. I’ve got a foreman’s job at last . . .”


  9. The Iron Lady must have been a close listener to BBC Radio 4. There is a link between your comment there, and your comment here, is there not?


  10. @FOARP
    The new cold war is the war of holier-than-thou. That is, the west is trying to prove that it has superior culture, value and what not. Secondly, the west especially the US needs another cold war, at least the cold war mentality, to justify its military budget.



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