Angela Merkel and Wen Jiabao opened the Hannover Messe (Hanover Fair) last Sunday (April 22).
Wen Jiabao would stay at Kastens Hotel Luisenhof, Hanover’s Neue Presse informed its readers on April 21 (Saturday). There, he would also receive former chancellors Helmut Schmidt and Gerhard Schröder. Neither of the two had to travel very far – Schmidt lives in Hamburg, and Hanover is Schröder’s home town.
The way the Neue Presse presented the Dreikanzlertreffen (Merkel, Schröder, Schmidt) could have been designed by the Chinese propaganda department itself – but no worries, the coverage probably wasn’t even driven by business interests in the first place. Just as – I believe – Schmidt and Schröder (Merkel much less so), the German public in general is quite susceptible to flattery. When a foreign guest shows our old chanclellors (and Schmidt in particular) respect, he must be a good guy, basically.
Besides, if there is something like a (well-performing) soft-power Wunderwaffe for the CCP in Germany, it must be Helmut Schmidt. Less than three months before Wen’s Hanover visit, Schmidt had helped to inaugurate a series of “dialogs” about Chinese-German relations, in the framework of the China Cultural Year 2012, and didn’t shrink from any platitude (“the West must learn to understand today’s China” and “you can’t understand it without knowing China’s past”), any detail (Zheng He’s junks sailed under lateens), or any adulation (“China’s capability to conquer other states and to subordinate was there, but it wasn’t used or misused”). He mentioned Chinese problems, too – pretty much the way Wen Jiabao would describe them, too.
The Wen-Schmidt meeting, Xinhua/People’s Daily (English) covererage suggests, appeared to have the characteristics of a meeting between active statesmen.
I’m not too familiar with Edward Heath, and even if a certain Bruce Anderson – himself no credible man in every field – is right, I still wouldn’t put Schmidt into Heath’s league of useful idiocy*) – a term that struck a chord with me when I heard it on the BBC:
I’m afraid Edward Heath had a monstrous bladder of vanity. He liked going to China, because in China, he was treated not barely as a head of government; he was ratcheted as a head of state. He was treated with flattery, [presumptuousness], as if he was still in power, as if he was a great man. And I’m afraid he doesn’t come out well from this episode. All his critical faculties were overwhelmed. As long as they patted his tummy, he was prepared to roll over like a pet Panda.
Even if Chinese public diplomacy doesn’t work too well on the German public yet, Beijing does have a strong asset in place in this country. The Neue Presse frontpage of last week bears testimony to that. Schmidt may not roll over like a pet Panda – but he is doing a great job anyway.
*) John Sweeney, “Useful Idiots”, BBC, first broadcast on August 11, 2010
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