Archive for February 17th, 2012

Friday, February 17, 2012

Deutschlandradio Interview with J.-M. Rudolph: can Universities keep Confucius Institutes and Science Apart?

The following is a translation of a Deutschlandradio Kultur interview with Jörg-Meinhard Rudolph – or a translation of most of the interview. The questions were asked by Dieter Kassel, and the interview was published on the Deutschlandradio website on February 6.

Kassel: The Germans have their Goethe Institute, the English have the British Council, and the Spaniards have the Instituto Cervantes. And the Chinese? They have the Confucius Institute. It hasn’t been around for too long; the first one was founded in South Korea, in 2004. But there have been Confucius Institutes in Germany since 2006, and by now, there are thirteen of them. Eleven reside at German universities, and another one at a university of applied science. This practice, [the Confucius Institute’s] cooperation with domestic universities, has led to criticism, everywhere in the world. In Germany, too, some experts are asking what the whole purpose of these Confucius Institutes is. Jörg-Meinhard Rudolph is a sinologist, he is a college lecturer at the University of Ludwigshafen’s East Asia Institute, and joins us on the line from Frankfurt/Main. Hello, Mr. Rudolph!

Rudolph: Hello, Mr. Kassel!

Kassel: This comparison, that the Confucius Institute in China is exactly the same thing, as the Goethe Institute is within Germany’s foreign- and cultural policy – is that an appropriate comparison?

Rudolph: It is not. When you are referring to the Chinese and to the Germans, one needs to ask who is standing behind it. After all, it isn’t the 1.3 billion Chinese people or 80 million Germans who operate them. The Goethe Institutes are state-run institutes, paid for by the foreign office, with tax money. The German Bundestag’s budget committee decides about the funding, and everyone here in this country can scrutinize that, and find out what’s going on there, and the employees abroad are appointed after an invitation to apply.

That’s completely different when it comes to the Confucius Institutes. In the People’s Republic of China, there’s a state, too, but there is also someone who rules that state, the Communist Party of China, who  confirm that on their website: we are the only governing party here. And behind the Confucius Institutes, there are top party departments, up to number five in the hierarchy, who welcomes the institutes’ delegates when they have a conference. The man is also in charge of ideology and propaganda, for suppression of diversity of opinion, and similar issues. Further down, there’s a huge apparat, made up by many departments of the Chinese central government, including those in charge of censorship, and similar ones. You can’t compare that. Nobody can look inside, it’s not transparent. That’s the issue – this is a political party, an interest group, which launches all these institutes here, which can’t be scrutinized by anyone in the People’s Republic of China. That’s a big, crucial difference.

Kassel: Alright, that’s the crucial difference between the two states, of course. The Federal Republic of Germany is a parliamentary democracy, and the People’s Republic of China surely isn’t.

Rudolph: No, in China, you don’t even have elections as you have them in Belorussia, or in Iran. […] If you want to stick to this comparison, one could at best say that both of these institutes are meant to promote the states they come from, for those who finance them. They are meant to create a good atmosphere, put positive things across, etc. That’s what the Chinese say, too. We have the China Cultural Year here in Germany right now, with the Confucius Institutes being involved. The Chinese party leadership talks about exerting soft power abroad, and the Confucius Institutes are to help  with that. This soft power has been defined for this cultural year, too. A new image of the People’s Republic of China is to be conveyed, as open, progressive, tolerant, and bustling.

The issue isn’t that the Confucius Institutes do that – that’s alright, and I have no problem with that. But that German universities, or universities at all, which are meant to be free and independent, are taking part in it, and get paid for it, that’s the issue. The Chinese want to do their propaganda, the Germans, too, for all I care, and let’s see who’s doing better, but that universities and professors provide their reputation to this end, that, in my view, is not acceptable.

Kassel: The university in question say, almost in unison, that they are able to keep these things separate. The Confucius Institutes are located within the universities – you mentioned that, some of them are renowned universities, Freie Universität Berlin, Düsseldorf University, Nürnberg-Erlangen and many others -, but they all say that they keep this separate: we have the Confucius Institute on the campus, there are language courses there, and cultural events, but our sinology institute is still free and independent.

Rudolph: That’s not quite right. The [censoring] scissors are at work in the heads of these people. They know exactly that, if they are sinologists, for example, having cooperations or research, field research in China, they can’t do it the way Chinese, for example, can do it here. They have to cooperate with Chinese bodies. In many cases, these, too, are sub-departments of the central committee. And everyone knows what happens if you attend a talk by the Dalai Lama, for example. There are university boards who don’t go there, and they will tell you why: because they fear that their cooperations will suffer. That, in my view, is not in order. This is where you have to safeguard your independence. After all, that’s how universities came into being in Europe, during the 12th century – as independent institutions.

Kassel: I’d like to quote Michael Lackner, sinologist in Nürnberg-Erlangen, at the sinology department there, and also deputy chairman of the Confucius Institute there. He doesn’t contest what you say. You mentioned the Dalai Lama, and Michael Lackner once said, analogously, that for him, too, the Confucius Institute isn’t the right place to “discuss Tibet, Taiwan, and the Tian An Men massacre”, but added within the same reply that he’s not doing it there, but he’ll walk over to the sinology institute, and  can discuss these things freely there. Don’t you think that this works?

Rudolph: If this is what he does, let’s see what’s going to happen at the Confucius Institute this year, once the material, announced by the Chinese state agency, about Tibet will be published, and which the Confucius will explicitly be provided with, too. That, and other cultural procurement we’ve touched upon. It will all be on display there, it all comes from the People’s Republic of China. Let’s see what they will say about Tibet, or Xinjiang, or other issues. It seems to me that it would be the right time then to discuss one or another of these issues after all. If that should be possible at the institutes, that would certainly spell progress.


Kassel: Has the presence of the Confucius Institutes, and cooperation with them, really led to tangible consequences, in your view? There is this criticism, in the media, that German sinologists don’t get frequently involved in discussions in Germany, about the way the People’s Republic deals with dissidents.

Rudolph: Yes, they contain themselves in this field, that’s true. I’ve seen this myself, when the Nobel Peace Prize was given to Liu Xiaobo, when Liu…

Kassel: … when it went to Liu Xiaobo, yes, …

Rudolph: … and at the time, I was contacted by some of your colleagues, and often, when I said yes, and glad to discuss this with you, there was this interjection: at last someone who’s willing to discuss this! – Yes, you could say that there is some reservation. It is, of course, an issue what German sinology is doing here, as to how they provide information, and it isn’t a real lot, I believe. What annoys me, for example – but I’m not quite innocent there, either -, is that the big China bestsellers in this country have all been written by people who can’t even read a Chinese newspaper. And yes, I’d blame a certain failure of sinology.

Kassel: Then I won’t keep you from getting down to work and write the next bestseller!

Rudolph: Okay!


Deutschlandradio added a disclaimer, saying that interviewees’ statements reflect their own views, and that the station doesn’t adopt such statements as its own.



» He Who Pays the Piper, Jan. 30, 2012
» Come on, Let’s Twist Again, May 26, 2011

Friday, February 17, 2012

Christian Wulff: another President throws in the Towel

If you had asked six- or eight-year-old JR what a chancellor is, he’d probably have said that a chancellor is something like a parson. A parson speaks from a pulpit;  the German word for pulpit is Kanzel, and a chancellor is a Kanzler(in).

I didn’t know then what a chancellor is, and I didn’t really know what a parson is, either – I only knew that our local parson (I had no idea that there were many other parsons, in other places) commanded respect.
If you’d asked me what a president is, I’d have had no idea, anyway.

But if my little parson analogy back then made any sense at all, it would have been in that presidential context. German federal presidents don’t have great powers, but they are, more commonly than “active” politicians, expected to be impeccable. It’s noteworthy that there was probably never a majority of Germans who wanted Christian Wulff to resign, even if he had – as he himself put it time and again – “made mistakes”. A majority didn’t seem to believe that Wulff was telling them the entire  truth about his conduct as Lower Saxony’s former minister-president – but then, many of them didn’t trust the press either. There were reasons to distrust the press – but there is no reason to comdemn the press. Some reporters did their research, and helped to make sure that every public servant remains accountable.

And either way, it’s good that Wulff has resigned. He kept leaving questions open, and a president who is under investigation would be a distracted president at the very least. Wulff’s resignation statement is touching, but not entirely convincing. He had “made mistakes”, he said today, but he had “always been sincere”. That’s hard to agree with, and an apology for his own share in the mess – after all, mistakes spell no admission of guilt – might have been much more impressive.

On the other hand, his troubles with his Lower Saxonian past pose questions about how to find a successor, too. It would be wrong to suggest that every politician were  uncomfortably close to business or buddies – it’s hard to think of Angela Merkel getting into similar straits as Wulff, for example. But Wulff’s successor will, in all likelihood, be another party politician, with knowns and unknowns in his or her records. The good thing about this story is that no candidate can expect to be shielded from his or her own past by the office’s prestige.

The safest bet now might be an emeritus constitutional judge. A certain parson might be a great choice, too – but it’s not easy to tell if he would communicate effectively and successfully with the public, and as we have seen two resignations from the presidential office in less than two years now, this may not be a good time for daring experiments.

Or is it? Is there still much to lose?



» Wulff steps down, Der Spiegel, Febr 17, 2012
» Wulff and his small-minded Fans, December 23, 2012
» Germany’s Special Relationship, Oct 20, 2010
» A Hate-Filled Press Campaign, June 2, 2010
» Politician Wanted, May 31, 2010
» Mass Media, losing Relevance, Febr 26, 2009

Friday, February 17, 2012

“Lonely Figure”: What Does the Syrian Opposition’s Visit to China mean?

China’s veto at the UN security council must have come as a disappointment for Syria’s opposition, wrote Shan Ren (壮图山人的人民博客 – Hermit, or lonely figure, or fortune-teller, living on a mountain), a People’s Daily “blogger”1), in a post on February 9.

But despite the veto, the reception of a Syrian opposition2) delegation by deputy foreign minister Zhai Jun (in charge of Mideastern and African affairs) had still shown China’s flexibility, and had done away with a long-standing misunderstanding (or a misleading neutralism, 中立主义误区):

One could say that China has become smarter by the Libyan experience, and has learned – on the wheel – to steer more flexibly. China’s diplomacy wasn’t forceful enough, and owing to a rigid neutralist position, it didn’t communicate well and in time with Libya’s opposition, even if it didn’t provide any help to Gaddafi, either. This didn’t only put Western countries into a position to make use of early opportunities, and didn’t only leave a positive impression on Libya’s opposition parties, but when interests were distributed in Libya after the war, they firmly kept the initiative in rebuilding the country, and China scored rather poorly, politically. Apart from not gaining the new political power’s protection of the benefits gained during the Gaddafi era, it didn’t also correspondingly lost the right to speak in the reconstruction of Libya, and gained only few benefits.

In the new situation, China paid a high tuition fee for this painful lesson. On the Syrian issue, China adjusted its traditionally predominant method, and showed more initiative and involvement, actively guiding the international community to produce correct plans which are conducive for a solution of the Syrian problem. In its contacts with the Syrian opposition, not only Chinese high-ranking officials communicated with the opposition, but when the Syrian opposition visited China, China broke with convention and sent the deputy foreign minister, to give them a high-level reception. This move made the Syrian opposition feel the importance attached to them by the Chinese side, and helped China to score substantially, in political terms.

Having demonstrated China’s principled stance to the Syrian opposition (of averting harm to the civilian population, among others) had made the opposition hear the real meaning of China’s stance, which was that China neither supported the Syrian authorities’ violent methods, and that China had no doubts about the Syrian opposition’s sincerity. A basis for mutual trust and and communication had thus been built. This created conditions that would allow China to be listened to by future Syrian political power, according to the “blogpost”.


China believes that the Syrian people’s reasonable demands for change and protection of interests should be respected. The Syrian government should conscientiously make its promised reforms happen, and should as soon as possible start a tolerant political process with broad participation, to solve differences and contradictions through dialog and through consultations. Clearly, this is a Chinese attitude which, concerning the Syrian problem, does its best to satisfy the opposition. At least to some extent, China has acknowledged the Syrian opposition’s reasonable and legitimate existence, and also laid out a roadmap for the Syrian authorities, for the realization of a peaceful political solution. If the Syrian authorities can still not fulfill the opposition’s demands, China will have done everything possible, and of course, the opposition has a free hand to work energetically.

Above all, China had made it clear that it was nobody’s protector in Syria, that it wasn’t sedulously opposing anyone there either, but that it was a  friend of the entire Syrian people, writes Shan Ren. Without selfish interests, China protected the Syrian people’s fundamental interests, peace and stability in the Middle East, and the norms of international relations as the starting point and foothold. One can say that China’s voice has clarified its relationship with Syria’s officialdom [another, probably more literal, translation could be “claimed its innocence”, 撇清], and returned to what the international community should see as the core issue, i. e. the protection of the Syrian masses’ interests. However, Syria’s authorities can’t help but acknowledge China’s attitude either, given that it styles itself to represent the entire Syrian people’s interests. In such a way, China has safeguarded a maximum say on the Syrian issue, and effectively protected its existing interests [or benefits] in Syria.


In Shan Ren’s opinion,  it can’t be ruled out that the Libyan’s [sic – should probably be Syrian] opposition group’s visit to China has been a mere formality, or that it was meant to persuade China in taking part in the promotion of regime change. If the visitors haven’t come to some sort of understanding with China, China’s influence on them may still remain without effect. Therefore, one can foresee that China and the opposition came to terms on certain issues, but it would be premature to read a Chinese position on regime change into this. China can’t make such an empty promise.

In future, China will continue to strengthen communications with all Syrian parties involved, to peacefully and appropriately make unremitting efforts to solve the Syrian crisis. There are many variables when it comes to the future direction Syria might take. China respects the Syrian people’s right to make its own decisions, in ways that suit their national conditions best, China opposes interference into Syria’s internal affairs by foreign forces, and this position will not change. This rules out the attempts by Western countries to use military force to the end of regime change, and gives the Syrian parties no reason to disrespect China’s role [or effect] in Syria.

Reportedly, the Syrian opposition delegation, on its China visit, explained its “organization’s”3) position concerning the current Syrian situation, praised the just position China had long upheld in Middle East matters, expressed their desire to strengthen communication with the Chinese side, and their hope that China would play a greater role to promote a path out of the crisis for Syria as soon as possible. This can be seen as an initial result of China’s attitude towards all parties in Syria. As for China’s veto against the security council’s resolution to interfere in Syria, it was the product of the game among great powers, and can’t possibly be regarded by the Syrian opposition as a blow against them.



1) On Ifeng’s  (Phoneix, Hong Kong) website, where the “blog” is also hosted, “Shan Ren”, or Shan Ren’s People’s Blog (壮图山人的人民博客) states her actual name as Zhang Shuigao (张水高 ). Same as some other authors hosted there, she states that she is a patriot with no party affiliations (无党无派,爱国爱家). I’m putting blogger into quotation marks to indicate that all the same, these posts may amount to an official approach to explain Chinese policies to People’s Daily readers. “Shan Ren” covers a wide range of topics, from current affairs back to Chiang Kai-shek. In all likelihood, there will be no official public explanations of the Chinese government’s motivations, beyond stating the usual principles. Frequently, Chinese academics fill such gaps, at home and abroad, and thus play an official or semi-official role. “Bloggers” may do so, too.

2) 反对派 may be translated as opposition or as opposition faction.

3) see this post’s footnote for a more specific description of the visiting delegation.



China’s Car Exports Falling, Aug 19, 2009


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