On 01 July 2020, Wolfgang Hirn launched his free newsletter CHINAHIRN – a private low-budget project, financially and content-wise independent. Intended as a newsletter for the German-speaking China community, it is also of interest to the international public, which is why I will publish English translations of Hirn’s editorials here from time to time.

This is the latest one that deals with the astonishing fact of ‘blindness in one eye’ that German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock has been cultivating since she took office.

Dear reader,

Annalena Baerbock recently held an hour-long video conference with her Chinese counterpart Wang Yi. She emphasised “in view of the numerous global challenges, the importance of international cooperation”. However, she said, this could only happen on the basis of the fundamental norms of the international order, which must be respected and defended by all. She therefore rightly called on China to abide by the rules-based world order. So far, so good. But does the West or its leading power, the USA, adhere to this currently much-cited rule-based world order? No. Three examples: First, the World Trade Organisation (WTO) has been virtually incapable of acting for years because the USA does not fill the vacant judges’ positions in its court. Secondly, the USA does not recognise the International Criminal Court in The Hague, which is supposed to prosecute and punish genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity. The USA wants to drag all kinds of despots (Putin & Co.) in front of this court, but does not accept its judgements. China, by the way, is not part of it either. And thirdly, the USA has not yet ratified the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Seas (UNCLOS). This Convention on the Law of the Sea regulates the complicated ownership relationships in and around the world’s waters. For example, the USA accuses China (which has signed UNCLOS) of disregarding UNCLOS in the South China Sea. In important respects, the USA is outside the rules-based world order, but urges other states to submit to this set of rules. When someone demands something from another that he himself does not observe – there is only one appropriate expression for this: double standards. And this is exactly what many states – not only China, but also many developing countries – accuse the West and its leading power of doing, which loses credibility as a result. Perhaps Ms Baerbock should ask her American colleague at the next meeting how the USA feels about the rule-based world order. She can certainly give a competent account of it, since she comes from international law, as she once said flippantly in an NDR programme.

Wolfgang Hirn

***

Liebe Leserinnen, liebe Leser,

kürzlich konferierte Annalena Baerbock eine Stunde lang per Video mit ihrem chinesischen Amtskollegen Wang Yi. Dabei betonte sie „angesichts der zahlreichen globalen Herausforderungen die Wichtigkeit internationaler Kooperation“. Diese könne – sagte sie – jedoch nur auf der Grundlage der fundamentalen Normen der internationalen Ordnung geschehen, die von allen geachtet und verteidigt werden müsse. Sie forderte deshalb China zu Recht auf, sich an die regelbasierte Weltordnung zu halten. Soweit, so gut. Aber hält sich der Westen bzw. dessen Führungsmacht USA an diese derzeit viel zitierte regelbasierte Weltordnung? Nein. Drei Beispiele: Erstens ist seit Jahren die Welthandelsorganisation WTO quasi handlungsunfähig, weil die USA die frei gewordenen Richterstellen beim dortigen Schiedsgericht nicht besetzen. Zweitens erkennen die USA den Internationalen Strafgerichtshof in Den Haag nicht an, der Völkermord, Kriegsverbrechen und Verbrechen gegen die Menschlichkeit verfolgen und bestrafen soll. Die USA wollen allerlei Despoten (Putin & Co.) vor diesen Kadi zerren, dessen Urteile aber nicht akzeptieren. China ist übrigens auch nicht dabei. Und drittens haben die USA bis heute die United Nations Convention on the Law of the Seas (UNCLOS) nicht ratifiziert. Dieses Seerechtsabkommen regelt die komplizierten Besitzverhältnisse in und um die Gewässer dieser Welt. Die USA werfen zum Beispiel China (das UNCLOS unterschrieben hat) vor, im Südchinesischen Meer das UNCLOS zu missachten. In wichtigen Punkten stehen die USA also außerhalb der regelbasierten Weltordnung, mahnen aber andere Staaten, sich diesem Regelwerk zu unterwerfen. Wenn einer von einem anderen etwas einfordert, was er selbst nicht einhält – dafür gibt es nur einen passenden Ausdruck: Doppelmoral. Und genau diese werfen viele Staaten – nicht nur China, sondern auch viele Entwicklungsländer – dem Westen und seiner Führungsmacht vor, die dadurch an Glaubwürdigkeit einbüßt. Vielleicht sollte Frau Baerbock ihren amerikanischen Kollegen beim nächsten Treffen in aller Freundschaft fragen, wie es die USA mit der regelbasierten Weltordnung halten. Sie kann das sicher kompetent vortragen, denn sie komme ja vom Völkerrecht, wie sie mal in einer NDR-Sendung flapsig sagte.  

Wolfgang Hirn

P.S.

The double standards mentioned by Hirn are reflected not least in the International Monetary Fund, where China’s share of voting rights in no way corresponds to the actual situation, as Paola Subbachi points out in a recently published text for Table China. China’s share here is 6.1 per cent – slightly lower than Japan’s 6.2 per cent and clearly below the US share of 16.5 per cent. And that’s not all: in the World Bank, China’s share is 5.4 per cent (Japan: 7.28, US: 15.5). Subbachi: “While this is clearly not commensurate with China’s economic weight, the pace of reform is slow, not least because of the US blockade …” To what extent does this correspond to the appreciation of international cooperation norms?

If Baerbock’s peculiar policy of values prevails, the constant reminder of a set of basic values and principles that the partner has to obey – quite apart from the question of whether the West itself lives up to this claim, then reasonable cooperation with countries that represent other values and principles is simply no longer possible – a highly problematic idea in the age of international interconnectedness. Subbachi: “How can the global institutional fabric survive if countries limit open engagement only to those who see the world the same way they do?” Not at all, is the answer. Yet cooperation is also possible beyond a consensus on values. Subbachi: “Invoking shared values is far from the only way to convince countries to engage in common goals; practical considerations are also very effective. In dealing with China, the West should try to build international dialogue and political cooperation on a basis of concrete common interests.” It is precisely this urgent need to deal with each other in a pragmatic way that is blocked by recourse to values and a supposed moral superiority. M.H.

***

Anyone interested in independent, knowledgeable, unbiased reporting on China should consider subscribing to Chinahirn: https://www.chinahirn.de/. You can get interesting news from the past week in the fields of politics, economics, science and society, references to interesting essays, books, documents, films, podcasts and studies, and information on China-related events in Germany, Austria and Switzerland. Even tips on eating out and travelling can be found here.

Wolfgang Hirn

Business journalist Wolfgang Hirn has published numerous books, including the bestseller “Herausforderung China”, which was published by S. Fischer Verlag in 2005. Most recently, he wrote about “China’s Bosses” (Campus Verlag, 2018). His new book on “Shenzhen – World Economy of Tomorrow” was published by the same publishing house on 11 March 2020. Hirn lives and writes in Berlin.

Wir laden ein zum China-Streitgespräch

Die Winterolympiade steht vor der Tür. Doch statt sportlichen Erwartungen ist die Rede vom politischen Boykott, von Menschenrechtsverletzungen und Internierungslagern. Anlass für den Verband für Wirtschaft und Umwelt ein Streitgespräch zu organisieren.

Prof. Björn Alpermann, Sinologe an der Universität Würzburg, hat gerade sein Buch “Xinjiang – China und die Uiguren” veröffentlicht, in dem er auf die Geschichte und die aktuellen Konflikte in der Provinz Xinjiang eingeht.

Jürgen Kurz, langjähriger Unternehmer in Shanghai, ist mit einer Chinesin aus Xinjiang verheiratet. Er bereist regelmäßig die Provinz und postet seine Reiseberichte.

Beide Diskutanten sind in der Partei Bündnis 90 / Die Grünen engagiert, plädieren für ein differenziertes Chinabild, gehen aber von unterschiedlichen Positionen an die im Westen diskutierten Fragen zu der Menschenrechtslage in China aus.

Wir erwarten ein spannendes Streitgespräch zum Jahresbeginn und wünschen ein gesundes und erfolgreiches Jahr 2022.

Mit klimafreundlichen Grüßen
Guido Dahm

We invite you to a China dispute

The Winter Olympics are just around the corner. But instead of sporting expectations, there is talk of a political boycott, human rights violations and internment camps. Reason enough for the Association for Economy and Environment to organise a dispute discussion.

Prof. Björn Alpermann, sinologist at the University of Würzburg, has just published his book “Xinjiang – China and the Uyghurs”, in which he discusses the history and current conflicts in the province of Xinjiang.

Jürgen Kurz, an entrepreneur in Shanghai for many years, is married to a Chinese woman from Xinjiang. He regularly travels the province and posts his travel reports.

Both discussants are active in the party Bündnis 90 / Die Grünen, plead for a differentiated image of China, but take different positions on the issues discussed in the West concerning the human rights situation in China.

We expect an exciting debate at the beginning of the year and wish you a healthy and successful 2022.

With climate-friendly greetings
Guido Dahm

Meeting registration

The solely artist and volunteer-run, grassroots international festival of experimental film, video art and music, KLEX – Kuala Lumpur Experimental Film, Video & Music Festival, is back with its 10th edition! KLEX 2019: ZERO ONE 0 1, will take place from 6-8 December 2019, at The Saxophone Store (Level 2 & Level 4), and RAW Art Space, spaces run independently by artists. The festival includes KLEX Open Programmes, International Guest Programmes and Music Performances.

The 10th festival theme is 0 1 Zero One. The 0 and 1 are binary codes; of nothingness and of existence; of a recurrent life cycle that begins, ends, and begins again. KLEX acknowledges this cycle of existence that is supported solely by artists and volunteers, serving as an important platform in South East Asia that introduces contemporary experimental cinema and improvised music, from the region and worldwide, to the Malaysian audience.

KLEX 2019 is made possible with the gracious support from Goethe-Institut Malaysia and Japan Foundation Asia Centre, and other organisations that support our international guests. Come join us for our 10th birthday celebration! And please spread the word and bring your fantastic friends along!

OPENING NIGHT: FRIDAY, 6 December, 7:30pm
@ The Saxophone Store (Level 2)
with light refreshment & opening film screening for free!

Guided Tour by Dr. Markus Heidingsfelder, Assistant Professor, Communication and Design at Habib University, through the German part of Outsiders: Geniale Dilletanten.

The guided tour takes place on Friday 23rd of April, from 3pm-4pm. The exhibition is open from 11am to 5 pm (except for Sundays) until 30th of April.
 
The Goethe-Institut Pakistan, in collaboration with Amin Gulgee Gallery is thrilled to present Outsiders, a curated event series that showcases the intense flurry of cultural activity that was the ‘Brilliant Dilletantes’ (or Geniale Dilletanten) subculture in 1980s Berlin and across Germany, curated by Mathilde Weh and Leonhard Emmerling.
 
It is an international touring exhibition which is accompanied by live performances, film screenings and panel discussions in featuring revered artists and experimental musicians. Since the early 1980s particularly Berlin has been a magnet and inspiration for international artists such as Nick Cave, The Necks, David Bowie, and Brian Eno.
 
Geniale Dilletanten was the term used to announce a concert held in Berlin’s Tempodrom in 1981. The deliberately misspelled title has become synonymous with an era of artistic upheaval in Germany that brought the country’s edgy artistic scene international recognition. Exploding from its roots in German art schools, punk rock and Dada, the movement represented a radical departure from the mainstream, marked by cross-genre experimentation, the use of new electronic equipment, and adopting German rather than English as language. It portrays seven key experimental bands – Einstürzende Neubauten, Die Tödliche Doris, Der Plan, Freiwillige Selbstkontrolle (F.S.K.), Palais Schaumburg, Ornament und Verbrechen, and Deutsch-Amerikanische Freundschaft (D.A.F.) – as well as visual artists, filmmakers and designers from West and East Germany. The exhibition is the most comprehensive survey of the 1980s German subculture to date, incorporating a rich array of video and photographic material, interview films, audio samples, magazines, posters and other artefacts capturing the bold and daring scene, exploring the simultaneous rapid and rebellious developments in art, film, fashion and design.
 
The Pakistani counterpart is curated by Amin Gulgee, Zarmeene Shah and Zeerak Ahmed. Posed as a response to the German exhibition, the Pakistani segment explores notions of sub/counter-culture in the country, investigating myriad forms of this from the 1970s to present day. By no means a definitive survey, the exhibition in fact attempts to prompt a series of questions that investigate the idea of counter culture in the Pakistani.
 
What can you expect (take your time to explore the exhibition):
 
Photos, posters, vinyl covers, texts and songs from the early 80s.
A wealth of audiovisual content including audio tracks on iPads by all the seven featured bands.
Films about these bands:
•           Deutsch Amerikanische Freundschaft/ D.A.F. (20:24)
•           Ornament und Verbrechen (06:41)
•           Freiwillige Selbstkontrolle/ F.S.K. (24:16)
•           Der Plan (22:00)
•           Palais Schaumburg (14:58)
A film about subcultures in the GDR (German Democratic Republic): Memories of a Happening/ Spuren des Performativen – Intermedia I in Coswig 1985. A film by Thomas Claus (45:00)
Interviewfilm 1 and 2 (23:23/48:56) with eyewitnesses and musicians from the time
A selection of experimental art films, curated by Florian Wüst (60:00)
A film on fashion and art (55:26)
 
For registration please contact Zoya Ahmed: Zoya.Ahmed@goethe.de
 
Address:
Amin Gulgee Gallery, ST-2A, Clifton Block 3, Karachi (next to South City Hospital)
image001

Hail, Hydra! Immortal Hydra! We shall never be destroyed! Cut off a limb, and two more shall take its place! We serve none but the Master—as the world shall soon serve us! Hail Hydra! (The Hydra Oath)

Our daily lives are dominated by organizations. This was not always the case. For example, the European system of estates only included a few organization-like entities. Our contemporary age, in contrast, is characterized by a profusion of this type of social system.

The new dominance of organizations is also reflected in our shared social fictions, in which they increasingly assume the role of protagonist. It is almost possible to speak of an ‘organization narrative’, which is particularly prevalent in science fiction films. Here, organizations have assumed the role of the villain, who is no longer an individual. Even if they are embodied, by necessity, in their individual representatives, organizations like the Tyrell Corporation (Blade Runner), the Mirando Corporation (Okja), Abstergo Industries (Assassin’s Creed) or the Data Recovery Foundation (Biomega) have become the adversary of the hero figure. The future anxieties associated with ‘being organized’ are also more evident in the scifi genre than elsewhere, in which the imminent global domination of organizations – or in the worst case, that of one particular organization – is presented as something to be feared.

Because organizations are usually presented as economic enterprises, they are not particularly interested in the good of humanity but solely in that of the organization; and ‘good’ is defined in this instance as financial gain (‘profit’). They act more ruthlessly in their pursuit than any super-rogue whose self-conception is still rooted in an – however monstrous – ‘ideology’. In the film Deepwater Horizon (USA 2016), the consequences of this profit-driven thinking lead to the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, the greatest environmental disaster of this kind in our time. The remarkable career of ‚CSR’, the idea of an organization’s institutionally implemented ethical self-regulation, has been quickly adopted by the scriptwriters, appearing in the movies and novels as a way to both distract the public and guarantee returns in the form of reputation.

The preoccupation with the new power of the organization can even be found in comedy, where it is also imagined as evil:

“In modern day America, the corporations run our lives. But one man is prepared to take our country back.” Pootie Tang trailer (USA 2002)

The Catholic church, particularly as it existed during the Reformation when it was forced to assert its monopoly over other religious organizations (or to put it more simply: during the period of the witch trials), appears to provide a model for many of the later sinister fictions about organizations. Hence, it is simply consistent when Francis Ford Coppola uses it in The Godfather: Part III (USA 1990) to drive Michael Corleone, who is seeking public recognition, even deeper into the clutches of the criminal world from which he is trying to break free. The message here is that organized crime has nothing on organized religion (although the church in The Godfather is infiltrated by another occult organization, a Masonic lodge: indeed, nested structures are by now a standard narrative component of organization fictions).

But organizations whose operation is understood as being driven by political decisions also feature prominently in these fictions: surveillance bureaucracies like the NSA and CIA, whether hijacked or not, and private security companies. Long before Edward Snowden, a surveillance scenario in which the NSA plays the main role became a reality in Public Enemy No. 1 (USA 1998).

The ‘selfhood’ of organizations enables Hollywood to substitute them for the individual villain, the super-rogue. Even James Bond no longer goes head to head with an individual Dr. No, Goldfinger or man with the golden gun these days, but an organization – Spectre, the Special Executive for Counterintelligence, Terrorism, Revenge and Extortion – although it is led by an uber-villain, of course. Someone must ultimately make the decisions. In the film Captain America: The Winter Soldier (USA 2014), Captain America does not fight Nazi Germany, a state, or the Nazi party or the SS, although collateral damage does arise, but against Hydra, an organization that is independent of Hitler and has infiltrated a ‘good’ organization: S.H.I.E.L.D. – another example of the aforementioned nested structures. (Again, Marvel made this organization into the hero of a television series, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., in which the formal-informal reality of the organization is also acknowledged; leadership battles and the constant conflict with politics are a central element. In one of the last seasons, the formerly virtuous members of S.H.I.E.L.D. end up as loyal members of HYDRA in a virtual world, something that enables the series to find remarkable manifestations of the ambiguity – temporary disloyalty – familiar to us all from the experience of being processed as employees. What is remarkable is that the series has already reacted to current social developments, for example when the director refers to the design of the “media, corporate S.H.I.E.L.D. machine”.)

The other prominent Marvel hero, Iron Man, is also a ‘boss’, in this instance of Stark Industries, the corporation he inherited from his father (USA 2008). He is a capitalist in the strict sense of the word, the owner of means of production, which he no longer uses, however, to generate profit but to produce his iron suit and save the world – the ‘added value’ here lies in the moral, selfless component of his action. The fact that the suit ultimately only came into being through exploitation is concealed – it would be possible to refer to latency here.

‘Teams’ as embodied most significantly by the A-Team (USA 1983-87) represent a special case in this new type of fiction. Particular characteristics of the team include its project-focus, the associated independence of organizations – in the words of Peter F. Drucker: “they work with a company, not for a company” – as well as the idiosyncratic individuality of the individual members, which no organization could be expected to accept in this form. The excessive acting-out of this individuality and the high price paid for it are justified by the specialized expertise and knowledge associated with it. All calls for role-conformity are dashed in the face of this expertise, which calls to mind, among other things, the concept of genius in aesthetics. 

Organizations are perfectly suited to generating tension through contrast effects: the individual pitted against the ‘anonymous’, inhuman machinery, whose engine is concealed from him. A certain social unconditionality (innocence) is often imagined on the part of the hero; the conditionalities are located on the side of the organization. It is the organization that ties, enchains and processes the individual through the wastelands and unbending rigour of the same old bureaucratic procedures and rituals. It replaces the ‘system’, that is modern society per se, which – as seen clearly in a late western movie like Lonely are the Brave (USA 1963) – cannot be defeated because it cannot even be addressed. In Miller’s film, modern society is represented by police bureaucracy. Those who cannot be processed by bureaucracy don’t exist.

Officer 1: Identification?

Officer 2: He hasn’t got any.

Officer 1: You mean to say you got no identification at all?

Jack: That’s right.

Officer 1: No draft card, no social security? No discharge, no insurance, no driver’s license, no nothing?

Jack: No nothing.

Officer 1: Look young boy, you can’t go around with any identification, it’s against the law. How are people gonna know who you are?

Jack: I don’t need a card to figure out who I am, I already know.

This spectre of state bureaucracy continues to assume a key role in these fictitious worlds – it plays on our fear that we could wrongly fall under the ‘wheels of justice and end up being ‘processed’ as is the fate of the protagonist in Terry Gilliam’s Brazil (USA1985) or the real-life experience of German-born Turkish citizen Murat Kurnaz.

Does this dark perspective on organizations reflect reality? It would appear so at times. The mass media, for example, are convinced that a dark, dystopian data company called Cambridge Analytica gave the world Donald Trump and, moreover, used military methods to effect mass sentiment change (winning ‘hearts and minds’). Tamsin Shaw, an associate professor of philosophy at New York University, fears the worst: “To have so much data in the hands of a bunch of international plutocrats to do with it what they will is absolutely chilling.” And the commitment shown by Google, Cloudflare, Spotify, Facebook, Godaddy, Paypal, AirBnB to oppose Nazi propaganda on the internet demonstrates, above all, the new power of these organizations; the flow of information in society is no longer controlled by the political sphere but by them, a matter of great concern to the mass media: “This power can be used not only against right-wing radicals. The civil rights organization Electronic Frontier Foundation draws attention to the fact that right wing groups are already trying to classify the Black Lives Matter movement as a ‘hate group’ in retaliation – and companies could again be pressurized into opposing the latter’s online presence.” The fears of imminent world domination are also confirmed to a certain extent by empirical analyses, for example those carried out by Autor et al. (2017) which draws attention to the “rise of superstar firms” in the USA – the fact that market concentration has increased in basically all broad industrial categories – and link this market dominance with growing inequality: the employee share of national income is falling while the share accounted for by organizational profits is growing. Blogger Noah Smith is scared that “monopoly power could potentially become Public Enemy #1 for economists” (Smith 2017).

As we have seen, it is already the number one enemy in Hollywood.