Posts tagged ‘NATO’

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

German Press Review: Kim’s Sugarcubes, and the “Battle of Opinion”

The actions of the North Korean regime are not incalculable, writes the Süddeutsche Zeitung‘s (Munich) Reymer Klüver, the paper’s U.S. correspondent until summer last year, and now with the foreign-politics department at Süddeutsche Zeitung. The Kim clan’s provocations were actually quite calculable in its provocations which served only one goal: to show the world and its own people its power. The regime in North Korea doesn’t act incalculably. It acts irresponsibly.

The message is aimed at the Obama administration, believes Klüver, as the test was conducted on the day when the American president delivered the agenda for his second term in office, and at South Korean president-elect Park Geun Hye is about to take office. The reactions, too, were calculable: the US would demand stronger sanctions, China would agree after some hesitation, and basically, the response wouldn’t be different from the one to the previous nuclear test. Even if a bomb of the same explosive power as the previous one was indeed smaller than before, and therefore more suitable to be fitted to a nuclear missile, North Korea remained far from being a threat to America.

What makes the test dangerous all the same would be that Kim might gamble away, and that his provocations could spin out of control. A conflict on the South Korean border could lead to just that kind of scenario. Even worse, non-proliferation might be used to earn some badly needed foreign exchange. There was speculation about North Korean cooperation with Iran on its third test. What would keep a gambler like the dictator in Pyongyang to sell Iran or others his knowledge and even material?

China could influence North Korea, if it wanted to, writes Klüver, but it didn’t want to use it. 90 percent of North Korea’s oil imports depended on China. But China’s calculations could be shifting, Klüver adds: a Peking government paper had mentioned a “high price” that North Korea would have to pay in case of a nuclear test. The Chinese, Klüver recaps, needed to take responsibility for their irresponsible neighbor.

Der Spiegel (Hamburg) chooses the tabloid approach, as far as its choice  of stock photo material is concerned. Underneath a video link photo (from Reuters) that shows Kim Jong-un in flames, the headline is North Korean nuclear power messes with America (Atommacht Nordkorea legt sich mit Amerika an). Der Spiegel’s Andreas Lorenz points out that this could start an arms race, with the US, Japan and North Korea beefing up their missile defense. Xi Jinping acted hardly differently from his predecessor Hu Jintao, Lorenz notes, as he criticizes Pyongyang’s missile and nuclear tests, but also trying to soften international sanctions. North Korea is an important supplier of commodities to China. And the encapsulated country serves China’s military as a strategic buffer zone between China and the other East Asian states and the US.

Lorenz also quotes the English-language party mouthpiece “Global Times” as suggesting that there was no need for China to placate angry feelings about its role. And Lorenz quotes US expert Siegfried Hecker with concerns that North Korea could sell its atomic-bomb know-how, to Iran, for example.

Die Welt (Berlin) suggests that Kim had thrown the Chinese sugar cubes (i. e. sweetened the third test).

Namely, the third test was preceded by several sessions of North Korean security panels on which Kim ostensibly emphasized the leadership role of his Communist Party. For the first time in the regime’s history, these sessions were made public, writes die Welt’s Torsten Krauel. Kim thus signaled that the third test was controled by the civilian leadership and not, as it had been previously, as an – intransparent to the outside world – decision between an ailing dictator and an incalculable army. (Dem dritten Test gingen nämlich mehrere Sitzungen nordkoreanischer Sicherheitsgremien voraus, auf denen Kim demonstrativ die Führungsrolle seiner Kommunistischen Partei hervorhob. Diese Sitzungen wurden erstmals in der Geschichte des Regimes publik gemacht. Kim Jong-un signalisierte damit, dass der dritte Atomtest unter der Steuerung und Kontrolle der zivilen Führung stattfand und nicht, wie beide Male zuvor, in einer nach außen unklaren Entscheidung zwischen einem kränklichen Diktator und einer unberechenbaren Armee.)

Therefore, Xi Jinping and (theoretically) Barack Obama, too, now had a a definite contact person, believes Krauel.

Alleged North-Korean cooperation with Iran has long been a leitmotif in Die Welt’s coverage, but while more moderate papers like Süddeutsche Zeitung are discussing these allegations too, this week, Die Welt goes one step further and discusses how America could conduct a war on North Korea. However, Krauel concludes that different from Iraq during the years after the Kuwait war, the United Nations weren’t in a state of war with North Korea.

Therefore, it seems to be inevitable to talk with each other in East Asia again, even with a dictator like Kim Jong-un – as unpromising and depressing this prospect may currently look. (Wahrscheinlich führt deshalb tatsächlich kein Weg daran vorbei, in Ostasien wieder miteinander zu reden, sogar mit einem Diktator wie Kim Jong-un – so aussichtslos und bedrückend diese Aussicht derzeit auch erscheinen mag.)

The German mainstream press in general has become much more supportive of militarization of politics than in the past. That is my rough observation, and not backed by statistics. But apparently for the first time, research has been published about how leading German press people – mentioned by name – are interlinked with think tanks, national and international forums, foundations, policy planning groups, etc.. And a presentation of this research also clearly quotes leading press commentators with statements like

Politics must not shun the battle of opinion on the home front if they are convinced of what they purport. […] The battle for the “hearts and minds” must be conducted among at home, too. (Der Meinungskampf an der Heimatfront darf die Politik nicht scheuen, wenn sie von dem überzeugt ist, was sie vorgibt. […] Der Kampf um die “hearts and minds” muss auch bei uns geführt werden.)

A newsman’s words, to be clear.

This should not lead to overreaching conclusions. The research does not suggest that everyone is in the boat of an extended security concept (erweiterter Sicherheitsbegriff, including energy and financial-industry issues). But among four leading journalists of Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Süddeutsche Zeitung, Die Zeit and Die Welt, definitions of security and threat catalogs had been uncritically adopted (unkritisch übernommen).

There are papers with editorial managers not known for relevant networks – the left leaning Tageszeitung (taz) and Frankfurter Rundschau (FR). Some of their articles correspond with views among the elite, some sharply criticize the extended security concept, according to the report.

Here is another observation that disturbs me: My choice of press-review sources – Süddeutsche Zeitung, Spiegel, Die Welt further above in this blogpost was spontaneous. My information sources of choice when it comes to North Korea’s nuclear test were just these papers. No taz, no Frankfurter Rundschau. However, there’s an excuse:

I thought the Rundschau was no longer online, as they filed for bankruptcy on November 12, 2012.

But in fact, they are still here.



» Questions Raised, November 10, 2012


Thursday, October 20, 2011

Obituary: Muammar Gaddafi, 1942 – 2011

Fourty-two years of rule are a very long time. No matter if historians will explore Middle Eastern or African matters, they will encounter the Gaddafi factor, time and again. When exploring European matters, they will, to some degree, happen on his traces, too. When he or his clan opened their big wallets, European institutions were happy recipients.

No room here for the ways European and other leaders celebrate the death of a bad man today. No matter on which side they stood in March this year – there are too many big mouths in Europe on both sides.

La Belle, Roxy Palast memorial plaque

Berlin Friedenau, memorial plaque: "In this house on the 5th of April, 1986, young people were murdered by a criminal bomb attack" (Wikimedia Commons, click photo for source)

There isn’t much reason to listen to those who mourn Gaddafi either.

But there are people who should be remembered – people like those who were killed by assassins from the orbit of Libya’s East Berlin embassy, or Yvonne Fletcher, who died from shots from inside the Libyan embassy in London.The victims of the Lockerbie bombing – with some likelihood, they were victims of Gaddafi’s government, too.

And that would only be those killed in Europe.

“Tunisia now lives in fear”, The Economist quoted Gaddafi in January:

Families could be raided and slaughtered in their bedrooms and the citizens in the street killed as if it was the Bolshevik or the American revolution.

That would have been too high a price to pay for Tunisian democracy, but not when it came to the defense of Gaddafi’s own rule. In February, the brother-leader reportedly vowed to kill Libyan protesters house by house.

What was, or will be, the price for Libyan democracy? Some sources put the number of deaths as a result of civil war as high as thirty-thousand, in April. If there will be democracy, remains to be seen.



» Relocating from LSE, March 3, 2011
» A Celebrity and a Politician, Tai De, Nov 27, 2009


Thursday, September 15, 2011

Press Review: Egypt, Israel, Turkey and the “Energetic Arab Horse”

The mob attack on Israel’s embassy in Cairo in itself would have been reprehensible enough, the Pioneer (published from several locations in India) wrote on Monday:

For now, Egypt’s ruling military council, which is clearly on the defensive, has portrayed the incident to the outside world as a law and order issue, one that it intends to solve by increasing security at the Embassy and punishing the guilty. The perception that the weekend’s events were merely a security failure was also shamelessly propped up Egyptian media as well as news outlets in the region that repeatedly broadcast rioters’ interviews as they gloated about their “heroic” act, wholly indifferent to the very criminal nature of their deed that violated the most basic tenets of international law.

Egypt, the Pioneer notes, is flush with ‘freedom’ but ignorant of citizens’ responsibility.

Meantime, Kerim Balci, a columnist with Today’s Zaman, explains what he considers to be Turkey’s essential role to help the West

understand what is going on in this part of the world. With their post-colonial — yet still colonialist — perspectives, they cannot understand why the Turkish prime minister behaves as if he is the leader of the Arab revolutions that took place earlier this year.

Israel, the columnist suggests, can understand Turkey’s good intentions, but is not trying to do so. Turkey is just trying to make sure that no wrong rider (France or other outsiders) mounts this energetic Arab horse:

In fact, the Turkish prime minister called on the leaders of the Arab nations, saying that they should lead the revolutions themselves. A Turkish ride is only Plan B, to go into effect if the owners of the horse fail to do so.

Nothing unlogical, from a nationalist Turkish perspective – after all, previous Turkish leaders were only unseated by the Arabs because of colonialists interfering with Ottoman affairs.



Egypt and Turkey: “Rivalry for sure”, Al-Jazeera, Sep 14, 2011
“Genocide” in China, July 11, 2009


Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Democratic International Relations, in Tune with the Current Era

Democratic international relations (民主的國際關係) is what Chinese state councillor and defense minister Liang Guanglie (梁光烈) reportedly called for on the annual Asia-Pacific Forum in Singapore on Sunday (aka the Shangri-La Dialogue). An excerpt from his speech, as quoted by Huanqiu Shibao, the Chinese side of the Global Times:

A new era calls for a new way of thought. Zero-sum concepts and cold-war thought is growingly out of tune with the current era. If the objective facts are not looked at, and only ideologies and differences in social systems, arbitrary conjectures and misrepresentations of other countries’ strategic intentions will be depended upon, this will lead to [the creation of] man-made enemies.


Liang had met with outgoing U.S. secretary of defense Robert Gates on Friday. Gates left the conference prior to Liang’s speech, for a farewell visit to Afghanistan, reports France 24. Liang told the conference that China would never seek hegemony or military expansion.

Meeting American reporters on the way to Singapore, Gates – as quoted by the Taipei Times – had stated that

We do have obligations under the Taiwan Relations Act [TRA] and we have this discussion in virtually every meeting that we have with the Chinese. I would say that I think under both the [former US president George W.] Bush and Obama administrations, we have tried to thread the needle pretty carefully in terms of Taiwan’s defensive capabilities, but at the same time being aware of China’s sensitivities. I think both administrations have done this very thoughtfully and very carefully. By the same token, just as the Chinese are very open with us about their concerns, we are also open with them about our obligations.

Rick Fisher, a senior fellow with the International Assessment and Strategy Center in Washington, suggested that Gates had opened a very destabilizing question. “Are US arms sales to Taiwan determined by obligations under the TRA or by China’s sensitivities? Where in the TRA does it state that the US will be mindful of China’s sensitivities regarding arms sales to Taiwan?”, a Taipei Times editorialist quotes Fisher.

It may take diplomatic or particular political training to assess how far the implications of Gate’s statement would reach – if there are any. I can’t see where Gates denied US obligations under the TRA, or made the subject to Chinese agreement. It would seem strange to think that US officials should refuse to discuss the TRA when Chinese officials raise the topic. Gates may have stated the obvious explicitly for the first time, but he stated nothing new.

That said, the Obama administration has an agenda of rebuilding America, rather than building nations – and this may help to explain as to why Gates chose to state the obvious. If the US can dampen an arms race with China, it should be in America’s interest to do just that. And if there should be no way to avoid an arms race with China, America has every right to expect China’s neighbors to contribute to their own defense. Taiwan itself will need to do more. Singapore, too. Think tanks and arms corporations may look at it differently, but America is treading a fine line between helping committed regional countries to defend their sovereignty on the one hand, and becoming their useful idiot on the other.

In December 2009, US president Barack Obama told an audience in West Point:

Our prosperity provides a foundation for our power. It pays for our military. It underwrites our diplomacy. It taps the potential of our people, and allows investment in new industry. And it will allow us to compete in this century as successfully as we did in the last. That’s why our troop commitment in Afghanistan cannot be open-ended — because the nation that I’m most interested in building is our own.

South China Sea: You can ring my Belle

South China Sea: You can ring my Belle

For matters of sovereignty (i. e. democracy in international relations, rather than at home), a strong American military presence in the region is welcomed by Vietnam, too. A US Navy video speaks volumes:

“This great warship is a testament to our country’s resolve and promise that we will always remain throughout all the international waters in the Pacific Rim, trying to help every country together ensuring that it stays a very stable environment”,

commanding officer David Lausman of the USS George Washington told visiting Vietnamese dignitaries last summer.

Great idea. But if America’s role in the Western Pacific is meant to be sustainable, the region will probably need something like an “Asian NATO”. The emphasis needs to be on ensuring a stable environment together.


“Liang’s ‘olive branch’ is a threat”, Taipei Times, June 7, 2011
Gates’ visit to Beijing, Communiqué, January 10, 2011
START: First Steps into a Multi-Polar World, December 23, 2010

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

A Beer in Peace: the Middle East, and German Anger

I’m no Mideast expert. I’m not a Germany expert either – I’m German, and only foreigners can be Germany experts. But given that there are views you will hardly find on the Voice of Germany, and out of a patriotic sense of mission, I’ve decided to create a new category on this blog – MyCountry. Blogposts on this particular topic will be sparse, hence no extra blog.


It was probably Kurt Tucholsky, a journalist, and even more famously a satirist, during the Weimar era, who suggested that the most dangerous man was the one who just wanted to drink his beer in peace.

And even if Tucholsky never really wrote that (can’t find it on the internet, and I lent the book in question to someone and never got it back), it doesn’t really matter, because people will have other beef with him anyway. Stuff like Wo waren Sie im Kriege, Herr –? (This refers to world war 1.)
Another famous sentence of his, Soldiers are Murderers, is not so unpopular in Germany any longer, but that may be owing to the fact that we lost world war 2, as well. By 1945, it had become too obvious that going to war doesn’t pay, at least not for Germans.

Anyway – during the years of the Weimar Republic, Tucholsky belonged to the minority of Germans who strongly believed in free speech (his own freedom, and that of others), and who opposed the rising nazis openly, and consistently. Once the nazis had come to power, Tucholsky lived in exile. Otherwise, he might have been among the first citizens to be arrested, murdered, or put into a concentration camp after January 30, 1933. Carl von Ossietzky, one of his colleagues at the Weltbühne weekly, was arrested on February 28, 1933, and put into “protective custody”.

If his record as a journalist hadn’t been enough to get Tucholsky arrested, too, his life would have been in danger soon after, anyway – Tucholsky was Jewish.

Ever since 1945, an uncertain number of Germans has been busy with either white-washing the twelve years of nazi rule (usually a habit of those who, due to their personal record, prominent nazi membership etc stood no chance to make their contemporaries – or the allied forces’ authorities – believe that they had merely been fellow travellers or Mitläufer), or with distancing themselves both from the nazi ideology, and from any earlier German tradition that might have contributed to nazism. And of course, also to this day, an uncertain number of Germans continues to whitewash the nazi years because they believe that Germany had been attacked by Poland, in 1939.

Rudolf Augstein, a Wehrmacht lieutenant in world war 2, and founder of Germany’s news magazine Der Spiegel in 1947, liked to dive deep into history. He seemed to see a line of tradition from Friedrich II of Prussia right down to Adolf Hitler. He didn’t condemn Friedrich II, but he certainly wasn’t one of his greatest fans. Augstein was just as outspoken – rightly or wrongly – when it came to the Middle East conflict:

Ariel Sharon wants war, he has left no doubt. He brushed aside two decades of peace efforts. He accuses Yasser Arafat in the first place for the need [for Israel] to withdraw from Lebanon in 1982. He had wanted to turn Lebanon into an Israeli protectorate. And he would tinker one over Palestine if only he was allowed to.
(Ariel Scharon will den Krieg, daran hat er nun keinen Zweifel mehr gelassen. Zwei Jahrzehnte Friedensbemühungen hat er beiseite gewischt. In Jassir Arafat sieht er den Hauptschuldigen dafür, dass er 1982 aus dem Libanon zurückweichen musste. Den Libanon wollte Scharon zu einem israelischen Protektorat machen. Ein Protektorat über Palästina würde er sich auch heute zurechtzimmern, wenn man ihn nur ließe.)

If anyone who can read my post here can read Ariel Sharon‘s mind – as of 1982 -, too, please volunteer your findings now. To be clear, Augstein’s choice of the word “protectorate” would earn him a lot of critics nowadays – and maybe it did, too, back in December 2001, when he wrote the a/m article. After all, the nazis liked the concept of protectorates. Bohemia and Moravia were explicitly named protectorates, proclaimed by Adolf Hitler, from Prague Castle. Vichy France may count as another protectorate.

The concept existed long before nazi rule – but mentioning protectorates in the context of Israeli policies was an absolute NO in Germany – unless your name was Rudolf Augstein.

All that said, I found his article refreshing when reading it back then, in Der Spiegel’s printed edition.

Almost exactly two years after Augstein’s accusation, Sharon announced his disengagement plan from Gaza. Maybe Augstein had been wrong, and Sharon wasn’t that fond of protectorates after all.

But some German critics of Israel’s occupation policies might think of this policy change as a change of mind, and attribute it to critics like Augstein – when it comes to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, they frequently overestimate our country’s role. German daily Die Welt‘s Clemens Wergin, a blogger, and one of the critics’ opposite numbers in our daily Mideast brawls, relishes in pointing out how insignificant Germany – and Europe – actually are when it comes to current affairs south and east of the Mediterranean. His point, of course, isn’t that we did nothing to help building peace in the Middle East more in general. It is that we did nothing, or too little, to protect Israel in particular.

In another blogpost, he pointed out that opinions concerning the Mideast conflict were usually stronger than (background) knowledge.

Wergin usually sticks to the political or security issues, although he may sometimes try to draw psychic profiles of the German public and its Israel– or America-related debates.

In a recent post, he suggested that  U.S. president Barack Obama‘s recent policies on the Middle East were a disaster, in that Obama had joined Europe in believing that the Israeli-Palestine conflict was the central cause for all other problems in the region. The commenter thread which followed Wergin’s post was little more than an exchange of credos – either blanketly defending or attacking Israel’s policies. And soon enough, the first critic was lablelled an anti-semite. Both sides accused each other of being uncapable of listening to actual points in an argument. Some commenters from both sides indeed seemed to be unable or unwilling to argue – especially those who accused the other side of such incapacities.

Such accusations of anti-semitism can make sense, at times. But about as frequently, they are a convenient ersatz for an actual discussions of issues. That may be the case elsewhere, too, but particularly in Germany, and given our country’s nazi past, with millions of Jewish people murdered, it will usually carry weight, no matter who is applying the label on whom, and no matter if the accusation is justified or not.

Wergin’s posts take a perspective which might be described as Western, American, and Israeli security interests. Apart from relative outsiders to the Mideast conflict, people with an immediate interest in the conflict may occasionally be commenting on his blog, too – but you can’t usually tell from the way they express their views, and once the commenter threads begin, the my-beer-in-peace mechanism kicks in, either way. To those who side with Israel, Israel is seen as the party which wants peace, but is refused a peacful arrangement by its enemies. To those who side with Palestine, Palestine is the innocent party who is refused such a peaceful arrangement. To many of both sides, plus many of those who don’t really care about the Middle East, it seems to be seen as a region that doesn’t allow Germans to drink their beer in peace.

Anyway – while you may find characteristics in this debate which may apply to discussions in your country, too, some aspects and forms of such exchanges amount to an argument with particularly German characteristics. Israel and Palestine then mainly serve as dummies in exchanges of German righteousness (“we’ve learned our lessons from ww2”), anger and frustration – all that, however, with tons of explanations, and showing off individual Mideast expertise. Both sides prove each other wrong all along the time, or claim that they are doing that, and once nothing else works anymore, each side makes referrals to Germany’s nazi past in ways which suit its case best.

What both sides – and that’s pretty German, too – seem to ignore is that in the end, an individual’s opportunities to influence his or her country’s security policies are usually limited – and there is little evidence that as many Germans, if in a situation similar to Israel’s, would be prepared to join Gush Shalom, as are Israelis. Neither too many Israelis, nor too many Palestinians, can be happy with everyday life under today’s circumstances – but just as for people elsewhere, politics is only one aspect of daily life, and people have to earn a life, and to have some fun and family life after hours.

It’s only fair to point out that some very modest welfare state reforms in Germany, not too long ago, led to an old and venerable political party being shredded in subsequent elections. But removing the Israeli settlers from the West Bank is considered to be a piece of cake, from a German perspective. Or – an argument from the other side of the German debate – the concessions the Palestinian peace negotiators reportedly put on the negotiation table  were either too little to be taken serious, or too much to be believable.

I usually prefer to discuss such issues without too many referrals to my own country, or to the nazi past. The past is a factor, but when defenders and critics of either (German) side refer to it too often, I begin to doubt that the Middle East is the actual issue, and I begin to believe that our domestic issues are actually taking control of the debate. In that light, I have started to re-think my past ideas about the Middle East. What America does for Israel in security terms may not be glorious, but it may be a necessity. I have believed that before. What Europe does for Israel – and Palestine – may not be glorious either, but Israel’s and Palestine’s connections with Europe in terms of the economy, and culture, shouldn’t be despised as “too little to count”. That’s where I have changed my mind. I used to wonder if Europe couldn’t do more.

There are sources to the fruitless German public debate which can be found in Germany itself – both in circumstances of today, and of the past. There is an incapacity to take the perspective of a common citizen in the Middle East. Every discussion seems to boil down to angry exchanges between armchair politicians or armchair generals.

But another source is the incapability of either side in the argument to think of themselves as people with an anti-semitic heritage. That heritage is generously applied to Germany as a nation, especially by pro-Israeli posters. But it never seems to dawn on them that unconditional support for Israel can be no substitute for occasional individual soul-searching. Generations of people everywhere in Europe, and in Germany in particular, have inherited prejudices against Jewish people. Neither criticizing, nor supporting either side in the Middle East can be a replacement for self-awareness.

As far as that’s concerned, I’m beginning to appreciate the EU’s Mideast policies (to the extent that common EU policies exist). These policies aren’t rushing to conclusions. They provide for the role that the immediate stakeholders – Israelis and Palestinians themselves – need to play, before relative outsiders can begin to play a helpful role. And they have – by and large – resisted the temptations that lie in heroic, but hollow, rhetoric and gestures.

Those may work for newspapers, but not usually in politics, or in daily life.


» Exorcising Hitler, Hester Vaizey / The Independent, April 29, 2011
» My fearful Country, March 19, 2011
» We Invented the Katyusha, October 30, 2009
» Mit Panzern nach Berlin, Henry Kissinger, November 8, 2002

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Beijing: Inasmuch as Ye have Dunnit to Pakistan…

Should the US ever attack Pakistan and send troops into the country, Beijing would consider that an attack on China itself, and react correspondingly, Chinese negotiators said in Washington D.C., on May 9, during a U.S.-Chinese meeting on strategic and economic issues, reports Spiegel Online. The Chinese delegation had been led by vice premier Wang Qishan. Spiegel bases its  report on information obtained from a high-ranking Pakistani diplomat.

Pakistan and China, not too similar in cultural terms, are united by their common enmity with India, according to Spiegel Online.

Meantime, China on Tuesday indicated it would not invest funds on creating another naval base in Pakistan, according to the Times of India, as Beijing was apparently jolted by the Taliban attack on Pakistan’s naval base.

If you go by comments made by foreign ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu (as quoted by the Times of India), such a naval base had been no issue anyway:

Chinese foreign ministry said it had not seen any proposal to build a naval base in Pakistan. The statement amounts to a rejection of Pakistani defense minister Ahmad Mukhtar’s claim that his government was pushing Beijing to build a naval base near the Gawdar port.

“China and Pakistan are friendly neighbors. Regarding the specific China-Pakistan cooperative project that you raised, I have not heard of it,” Jiang Yu, Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman told a regular news conference in Beijing.


» Taliban Naval (aviation) Base Attack explained, Huffington Post / Reuters, May 24, 2011
» Hermit: America’s Dirty Helping Hand, August 12, 2010

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Press Freedom in Germany: Who’s afraid of Tilman Spengler?

Christian Y. Schmidt comes from a city which, according to a popular conspiracy, doesn’t even exist. From 1989 to 1995, he was an editor with Germany’s satirical paper Titanic. His wife is from Beijing, and they both live in Beijing. As a free author, he writes for the Berliner Zeitung, Konkret, taz, Jungleworld, and for the Riesenmaschine blog.

In a speech to the German-Chinese Students Forum at Beijing’s University of International Business and Economics, on December 4, 2010, he addressed the issue of press freedom in Germany, and pointed out that there were several limits to it.

In legal terms – Schmidt quoted from the penal code (Strafgesetzbuch) -, paras 86, 89, 90, 90a, 91, 111, 130 and 131 dealt with anti-constitutional organizations and activities, disparaging the federal president, the state or its symbols, constitutional institutions, and depictions of violence.

All that, he said, was nothing he would object to, adding that there were no governmental guidelines about what the press should or should not cover, but while the German press was freer than the Chinese, there were more limits to it German law would suggest.

  1. The press was depending on its advertising customers. Practically every paper had an automobile supplement. Provided that a car wouldn’t fall to pieces during a road test, it would be judged in a benevolent way. Besides, journalists who wrote about cars would get a car for reference, possibly for months. “Travel agencies offer trips free of charge. When I lived in Singapore, some German journalists would drop by, as they travelled to Bangkok on the Eastern and Oriental Express. That trip costs some 2,300 to 4,700 dollars, currently. Of course, the German journalists didn’t have to pay. […] Either way, I have never read something bad about the Eastern and Oriental Express in German papers’ travel section.”
  2. Political dependence played a role, too. Even though the German press criticized the government – and the opposition – frequently and with pleasure, there were limits. Germany’s economic order wasn’t questioned. The idea that banks could be nationalized, as a result of the recent financial crisis, had never been discussed. This was especially true for national television or radio, where political parties wouldn’t determine the contents of broadcasts, but members of the board of governors, plus the editors-in-chief. Besides, being close to politicians was rewarded in that journalists received information that others wouldn’t get. Whenever government and opposition agreed in parliament, the press would hardly criticize a narrative – the Yugoslav war in 1999, when the federal government argued that there had been a particular operation within a plan of ethnic cleansing by the Milosevic government, the Operation Horseshoe.
  3. Dependence on readers, listeners, and viewers was trickier, in that there was less obvious evidence for it. Not only would the media shape the ways the public thought, but there would also be more public demand for certain issues, and less for others. Bad news sold better than good news – unless it was news about certain trouble at European or German doorsteps, such as refugees dying at the European Union’s borders to the outside world. These deaths, Schmidt argues, were human rights violations, too, but none of the kind the average German newsreader would be particularly interested in. After all, more refugees within Germany would hardly be welcome.
  4. Economic pressure was created as fewer journalists had to cover a growing number of issues. That was leading to inaccuracies. Besides, investigative journalism was almost absent in Germany.

All this was referring to mainstrem news coverage, Schmidt pointed out, and the fundamental freedom to cover issues, too, shouldn’t be underrated.

But if German coverage of China had to be critical, why would this criticism spare German companies, which, after all, relied on excellent relations with Chinese authorities?

Schmidt came back to China’s German business friends in a Spiegel Online interview on Wednesday. Distortions in the choice of photos, for example, were no indication for governmental guidelines, as Chinese people would sometimes believe, as they felt the German press was synchronized.

Schmidt: “I always tell them in such cases that here, this happens in a rather informal way (Ich erkläre ihnen dann immer, dass das hierzulande eher informell geschieht).”

Spiegel: Come again?

Schmidt: I’ve just seen another nice example, concerning  the sinologist Tilman Spengler, who was disinvited from the Art of Enlightenment show’s opening ceremony. There was a press conference about this issue in Beijing. It is reported that a journalist was booed at by business leaders  as he asked a question about Tilman Spengler. I do believe that it happened – but none of these business leaders is mentioned by name. It’s interesting to see how the Chinese government is demonized, but that German business leaders who side with that government’s propaganda aren’t mentioned by name. I’m asking myself: why not? Could it be out of fear for losing advertising customers? My impression is that in Germany, too,  those who call the shots are only confronted reluctantly, similar to China. But of course, this works differently from how the Chinese imagine it to happen. Nobody needs to give directions to this end.

Schmidt made his speech in Beijing some five months ago, while his interview with Der Spiegel was published this week. As a former Titanic editor, he surely developed a fine sense for the limits of press freedom – every monthly issue is carefully checked by an attorney before it goes to press. The central question, every time, isn’t that much if the paper will get sued, but how chances are that it will be acquitted.

The SPD’s (social democrats) politicians had been particularly quick to anger, and to sue, at least before 2003, and according to the attorney herself. Late Johannes Rau, for example, Northrine Westphalia’s prime minister from 1978 to 1988, and federal president from 1999 to 2004, tried to make sure that they would never refer to him as the time-bomb from Wuppertal (Wuppertaler Zeitbombe) again.


The too-friendly Maikefeng, April 28, 2011
Is the Internet the Enemy of the Intellectual, May 23, 2009
Why are Mass Media losing Relevance, Febr 26, 2009

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Germany’s Abstention on Libya: Well, I Never!

“I can understand foreign minister Guido Westerwelle’s position”

Sigmar Gabriel,  Social Democratic Party (SPD) chairman, as quoted by German weekly Die Zeit on Friday.

“[This looks] as if  Germany was kowtowing to that oil-goodfella.”

Sigmar Gabriel, in an interview on Sunday, quoted by Deutsche Welle (Voice of Germany)


Survey quoted by Süddeutsche Zeitung last Wednesday –nearly 90 percent of German public supportive of federal government’s position.

EMNID survey for BILD-Zeitung:
“62 percent support action against Gaddafi.”
“65 percent oppose German military involvement.”


Spiegel Online: Mr. Cohn-Bendit, do you understand your party’s position on Libya?

Cohn-Bendit: No, I don’t. But I don’t understand the other political parties in the Bundestag [German federal parliament] either.

Daniel Cohn-Bendit, co-president of the European-Greens-European Free Alliance in the European Parliament, in an interview published today.


“Despite the risks associated with a no-fly zone, Germany should have voted on the side of its European partners like France and Great Britain.” […] I am pleased by the (Security Council) decision and I sincerely hope that it hasn’t come too late.”

Cem Özdemir, co-leader of the German Greens, in an interview with Spiegel Online on Friday.


“It’s a shame that the federal government abstained.”

Heidemarie Wieczorek-Zeul, former minister for Economic Cooperation and Development (Social Democrat)


“Understandable and comprehensible.” “Doubts that the airstrikes will help the Libyan people are justifiable.”

Former foreign minister and social democratic floor leader (federal parliament) Frank Walter Steinmeier (also Westerwelle’s predecessor as foreign minister)


“Germany can forget about a permanent UN security council seat. But what is worse is that pseudo-political signal from the federal government.”

Daniel Cohn-Bendit, in the same Spiegel-Online interview as quoted from in para 3. “Pseudo-political” is meant to criticize the federl government’s alleged domestic policy considerations.



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