If China wasn’t a global power integrated in the world economy, the country would probably have to be labelled a pariah state.
In Xinjiang, more than one million Uyghurs have been forced into “re-education camps”.
The Canadians Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig are still arbitrarily stewing as hostages in some dungeon; Beijing’s response to the arrest of Huawei’s finance chief Meng Wanzhou in Vancouver.
Chinese disinformation campaigns have reached a new peak during the Corona crisis. The threatening posture in the South China Sea is not diminishing. And Hong Kong is losing the little freedom it had.
The dictum “one country, two systems” that was supposed to govern this cosmopolitan city is dead — in China, only the system of the communist ruling party counts. This is our Chinese “Rhineland moment,” writes the New York Times in reference to the 1936 occupation of the Rhineland.
Persecution, repression and violence — the Middle Kingdom is currently showing an ugly face. Under Xi, China has turned away from Deng Xiaoping’s principle of strategic modesty and patience (tao guang yang hui).
Instead, a new aggressive Rambo attitude is now being practiced in the global arena, which Chinese state media proudly call “Wolf Warrior” diplomacy. Beijing has thus managed to get bogged down in a number of conflicts with numerous countries in a very short time.
China is engaged in a trade and technology conflict with America, it has entered into a deadly border conflict with India, it has a territorial dispute with Japan and other Southeast Asian states, and it is in a clinch with Great Britain over Hong Kong.
The red mandarins do not tolerate criticism. In the last decade, Beijing has launched a wide array of sanctions and campaigns: against Norway because of the Nobel Prize for Liu Xiaobo (2010), against Japan because of the Senkaku/Diaoyu island dispute (2012), against Mongolia because of a visit of the Dalai Lama (2014), against the Philippines because of the conflict in the South China Sea (2014), against South Korea (2016), Canada (2019), Sweden (2020) and against Australia because of Australian demands for an independent investigation into the coronavirus outbreak (2020). There are also numerous threats against countries such as Germany if Huawei is excluded from the 5G network.
Respect has to be earned
There’s one defining feature in all of these conflicts: they are all bilateral. This plays into the hands of China’s hegemonic strategists. After all, only few states dare enter a one-on-one direct confrontation with China. Even the German foreign minister claims — wrongly in my opinion — that Germany is too small to oppose China. If you talk about yourself in such a way, you should not be surprised if others treat you accordingly.
You have to earn respect in the international arena. Those who don’t dare to defend their interests and speak up against Chinese transgressions will be perceived as weak. And that will invite more aggression. It’s not set in stone that conflicts must take place bilaterally. The West should therefore enlarge the playing field and organize resistance plurilaterally and not bilaterally in Beijing’s favor.
It is high time to bring back the proposal of the late John McCain of a “League of Democracy”. Such an alliance of democratic nations would have clout. It would not leave countries like Canada and Sweden alone when they are in conflict with China. If Beijing wants to sanction Norway because the Nobel Prize was awarded to Liu Xiaobo, all members of such an alliance could jointly award countermeasures. It would like an “Economic NATO”.
Admittedly, such a League of Democracy is perhaps idealistic, since it raises many pertinent questions with regard to its formation: what criteria of membership would be needed? Should only hardcore liberal democracies or also imperfect democracies be members? What happens if one of the member countries steps out of line when dealing with Beijing? What institutionalized form should such an alliance take?
Nevertheless, there is political momentum for such a strategic move.
Parliamentarians worldwide have already founded an Iinter-Parliamentary Alliance on China” (IPAC). A wide diversity of international parliamentarians is part of this alliance, ranging from US Republicans and Democrats, German Greens, liberal Japanese, socialist Swiss and Czech pirates.
Great Britain has proposed a “D-10 Group”. This grouping would bring together the ten leading democracies — the G-7 members including South Korea, India and Australia — and coordinate closely supply chain and 5G issues. After all, it is better for the democracies to stand together when it comes to Huawei and 5G, than stand alone.
Similarly, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas has, together with his French counterpart, created an “Alliance for Multilateralism”. This initiative could evolve into a “League of Democracy”. However, so far the United States is not a member of this grouping and the alliance has no teeth. The alliance claims it wants to preserve and further develop the rule-based order, but why then, was it unable to say anything about Chinese rule-breaking with regard to Hong Kong?
“Surrounded by all sides”
China is currently mired in numerous individual conflicts. This creates a rich choice of allies. Political decision-makers in the West must consider how to deal with China from a stronger, plurilateral position. We can thank the Communist Party of China for this momentum — its behavior can reunite the West, give NATO a new purpose and put an end to transatlantic estrangement. That way, Kevin Rudd warned, China could find itself in a situation similar to its famous traditional pipa music piece entitled “Surrounded by all sides” (十面埋伏).