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

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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.

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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.