Dr. Krah, some of your colleagues of the EU parliament will take the inauguration of Taiwan’s president Tsai Ing-wen as an opportunity to play up the role of Taiwan. What is the proper framework for Europe to deal with China, both the mainland and Taiwan? What should be our guiding principles?
Krah: Unfortunately, there is a deep lack of geopolitical understanding among Western European politicians. They judge the whole world by their own political beliefs, without much knowledge of facts.
China, for several reasons, has become a kind of bogeyman for Western liberals. And that has increased their interest in and support for Taiwan. I have no share in this childish behavior. Politics must be based on realities. The rise and revival of China is a reality, the fact that good relations with China are beneficial for Europe is a reality, and the fact that the Chinese-Taiwanese relations are no European business is a reality. We should accept that and work on basis of these realities.
While Coronavirus is ravaging the world, we are seeing massive blame-shifting promoted by parts of the West. Is this US election noise, or do do you see a massive geopolitical game?
Krah: I wouldn’t say that it is election noise, it seems to be much deeper. The US has realized that China’s growth will create a second superpower. And the US has an understandable desire to stay the one and only superpower. So what we see is competition, and China gave its competitors a target with that virus. That said, I can understand why there is such a heavy headwind for China from the US, but it is simply nonsense to have European politicians singing from the same song-sheet.
In geopolitical terms, how are Europe’s interests best served in dealing with China?
Krah: We should realize that sovereignty in the 21th century means having alternatives. No country can produce everything it needs on its own. North Korea tries, but that isn’t very attractive, is it? So, we all are dependent on trade relations. Most crucial are energy and technology. Europe has a high interest in having different suppliers, that is the only way to stay somehow independent and sovereign.
Now we see how the US tries to take control over our own choice of suppliers. In the energy sector, they target the North Stream 2 pipeline project, which brings gas from Russia, and in technology, they exert massive political pressure against Huawei. It is crucial to keep alternatives to US or US-controlled suppliers, because when you have an alternative, you are able to negotiate, but if you don’t have an alternative, you can only beg to get treated fairly. I want to negotiate, not to beg, and therefore I need China – as well as Russia.
Do you see a danger in provoking and alienating China in today’s fragile geopolitical environment?
Krah: I don’t see any good reason why we should risk our good relationship with China. China used to be a global superpower until industrialization. It is now coming back into its natural role, and it does so regardless of our consent. It is smart to benefit from this development, while it is stupid to enter into a trade war that only raises costs and doesn’t change the situation anyway.
Moreover, China is playing a positive role in Africa, inducing economic development, which is in our interest. China has enrolled the Belt Road project, which is a valuable addition to the global economy and brings development to the continental countries. The CEE (Central and Eastern European) countries want to benefit from this, which I both understand and welcome.
China, of course, follows an agenda, it is focused on its national interest. I am not frightened about that. First, every nation follows its national interests, or at least should do so. The US does it, and Germany would do better and be more reliable if it would do it as well.
Secondly, China’s interests are focused on economics. I have never met a Chinese diplomat or politician who wanted to sell me communism, nor have I heard anything like it from politicians from other countries. European politicians, by contrast, want to present the entire world with their left-liberal agenda, even if it is economically harmful. I am often thankful for the rational, economy-focused Chinese position. Economic interests are easy to deal with, because they’re rational. While provoking China is perhaps not dangerous, it is definitely stupid.
Can and should Europe stay or become friends with all of the main global powers?
Krah: If Europe wants to be an independent global player and not just an American vassal, it must nurture a good relationship with China, as I explained. We need China as an alternative trade partner so we can negotiate instead of beg in our dealings with the US. But I personally hope it will be more than just a good relationship, I hope it becomes a trustful partnership, or as you name it, a friendship.
China is an old and honorable civilisation, it defines its own way into the future, which is culturally noteworthy and can also us inspire to rediscover our own cultural heritage when moving forward – instead of believing that the “Silicon Valley” way of life is the only way possible.
Do you see China moving in a positive direction, or is it in the grip of orthodox communism?
Krah: I grew up in communist East Germany until I was twelve years old. I remember how communism was defined: public ownership of the production means. Using this definition, today China is less communist than Germany.
The only communist leftover in China is the name of the ruling cadre organization, and maybe some political folklore. If you think back to 1979, when Deng Xiaoping declared the politics of opening the country, no one, not even the greatest optimists, could have imagined the liberalization which has taken place since then. We should be fair, and that means to acknowledge the progress made, in all aspects of life: economically, socially, politically.
In your opinion, what is behind the somewhat recent enthusiasm of the political left for Taiwan?
Krah: As I mentioned, China has become the bogeyman. There are different reasons for this; we talked about the US election campaign, which is one of them. As to the European left, they tend to idealise weakness. They champion developing countries as long as they’re weak and thus thankful and somehow submissive. They can’t accept strong, self-confident and successful nations.
Moreover, there is a communication problem: China is a meritocratic system, the elite is chosen for their intellectual abilities, whilst the West is much more egalitarian and its elites are chosen for their ability to communicate.
Chinese politicians thus try to convince by rational arguments and tend to underestimate the importance of pictures, narratives, and emotional messages. If a liberal politician wants to show his or her disapproval with China today, he will use the easiest way and express his love for Taiwan. I cannot take that seriously, although I understand that it annoys the Chinese people who hope and work for the reunification with Formosa.
Is there any credibility to the “Taiwan Friendship Group” in the EU parliament?
Krah: As I am the vice chairman of the China Friendship Group, I can’t tell you. Until now, no member of this Taiwan group has even contacted us. Maybe I should do that. If they share the belief in one China, there might be a basis to cooperate. If they don’t and only want to harm the EU-China relations, it will not make any sense.