Germany’s Slow-Motion China Debate

When Mao Zedong died and Hua Guofeng succeeded him, there was much more China coverage on the German media than now – from what I can remember. I was ten years old at the time, but have never forgotten how the newsreaders pronounced the new helmsman’s name: Hu-ah Ku-oh Fang. The muscles in their faces were working hard during the two or three seconds it took to read his name out. The rather intense coverage probably lasted until 1979 at least.

China came back, bigtime, in Germany’s news coverage during 2008 (and, I’m sure, in 1989, too, but I hardly remember that time in the news). By that time, China was no longer a faraway country, with a few blurred television pictures “received in Hong Kong”, but more like news from an uncannily close neighbor.

Meantime, to use a cuisinary term, the clash with China – or the CCP – keeps simmering over low heat in the German press. On March 10 – twenty days ago -, a radio essay by Sabine Pamperrien, the source of many or most of the coverage on the Zhang Danhong affair at Germany’s foreign broadcaster Deutsche Welle  in 2008, was aired by Deutschlandfunk, one of Germany’s two nationwide radio broadcasters. She criticized the views of former German chancellor Helmut Schmidt on non-interference, arguing that in terms of international law, Schmidt’s opinion was a minority opinion, even if Schmidt argued as if his opinion was apodictic. Non-interference wasn’t codified, but derived from customary international law – just as human rights widely were. Pamperrien argues that the “international responsibility to protect (R2P) had been drafted, more than ten years ago, to define the concept of sovereignty within the UN Charter anew. This wasn’t codified either, but was becoming more and more customary:

Deshalb wurde vor über zehn Jahren mit dem Begriff der “internationalen Schutzverantwortung” eine Neudefinition des Souveränitätsbegriffs der Charta der Vereinten Nationen entworfen. Danach sind Menschenrechte nicht innere Angelegenheiten von Staaten, sondern supranationales Recht. Auch das ist nicht kodifiziert, setzt sich gewohnheitsrechtlich aber immer mehr durch.

It should not be forgotten, Pamperrien adds, that non-interference had been the central defense club (Abwehrkeule) of communist potentates during the Entspannungspolitik (détente), whenever dissidents in their countries – or expelled by their governments – became a topic.

Coincidentally or not, Wolf Biermann, a former East German citizen, expelled by the East German government in 1976, wrote an open letter to Liao Yiwu (published on March 27). Biermann expressed anger about Helmut Schmidt (in his capacity as the co-editor of German weekly Die Zeit, which had been speading stinking news lately. Stinking news, that is, about Liao Yiwu.

For sure, German sinologist Wolfgang Kubin had alluded to the topic of Liao Yiwu, and to a chance that Liao’s descriptions might require verification. Friends who had visited Liao in prison had told him (Kubin) that the conditions of Liao’s imprisonment hadn’t been as harsh as he [later] described them, that much what he couldn’t publish here  [in China, apparently] wasn’t documentation, but fiction, and that the case deserved closer investigation (“Der Fall lohnte einer genaueren Untersuchung”).

But that was in October 2012, and Biermann doesn’t state explicitly which comments about Liao Yiwu in Die Zeit caused his anger – Kubin’s, or anyone else’s. In another article, nine days ago, Die Zeit stated that Kubin hadn’t been able to prove his accusation against Liao.

I wrote an article on Biermann’s and Pamperrien’s criticism on “my” German blog – on a platform provided by German weekly Der Freitag – on Wednesday, with a reference to the Zhang Danhong affair and the events that unfolded at Deutsche Welle, It dawned on me that I hadn’t asked myself too many questions about all those events for a long time, and that I hadn’t asked any stakeholders questions for a long time. The thread that followed my post on my German blog was actually instructive – it has given me several ideas on how to do some more research. That may require time, once again, and will inevitably reduce my blogging frequency further – at least for a while.

The funny bit about that is that I’m under no time pressure. No big newsagency, no big paper, no broadcaster is likely to pick up the Deutsche-Welle issues any time soon. But as time passes, more and more information is trickling down – not least from Li Qi‘s Deutsche Welle’s China Nightmare. The book remained available – as far as I can see, no judicial steps have been taken against the publishing house, and apparently, no counterstatements have been made.

The anti-CCP mill, too, is grinding its way rather slowly. Biermann’s reaction to the coverage of Die Zeit seems to suggest that, and so does Pamperrien’s: Helmut Schmidt had made his remarks about non-interference and other issues more than one years earlier, on January 31, 2012.

Back then, Tai De took issue with Schmidt’s remarks about the Korean War.

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Related

» Deutsche Welle Link Collection, Febr 3, 2012
» Xu Pei and the Dirty Old Men, May 17, 2010

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One Comment to “Germany’s Slow-Motion China Debate”

  1. Take your time! Interesting insights. Biermann is missing the point. Koeckritz has not found any proof or any verification for the cruelty desribed by Liao Yiwu. She states that Kubin should not doubt details in the story of Liao Yiwu? Why not? I am quite sure that he had a hard time but I and I do not really care about the truthfulness in every detail. But just like Ai Weiwei it would be no harm to see them as real human beings with shortcomings. I think Germans tend to think too much in simple victim-offender categories that do not allow the whole story.

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