Who is China's greatest enemy

China: The humiliation of an ancient empire


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Franka Lu is a Chinese journalist and entrepreneur. She works in China and Germany. In this ZEIT-ONLINE series, she reports critically about life, culture and everyday life in China. In order to protect her professional and private environment, she writes under a pseudonym.

Those who live in the West and travel to China have to be prepared for sharp geopolitical discussions. To be asked in private by the Chinese: "How do you feel about the trade conflict between the US and China?" Often this is not a real question, but the polite introduction to a tirade about the West and how unjust and untrustworthy it behaves towards China.

The trade conflict opened by the Trump administration against China is perhaps the largest and most complicated conflict since the end of the Cold War. To varying degrees, it directly affects all of the world's major economies. It touches on the fields of technological cooperation, trade and labor market, security and espionage, science and research, access to the Chinese domestic market. The extent of its impact is still not fully understood. We know that the outcome of this conflict will determine the power structures in the next phase of the 21st century, but its course cannot be predicted and only a few can influence it. In China there is a certain basic fear in politics and economy. Hence the great willingness to talk to visitors from the west.

This development was not foreseen 20 years ago in the West. A two-part episode of the podcast The Daily the New York Times only remembered last December that she bore the title What the West Got Wrong About ChinaWhere the West is wrong about China. What was heard was a look back at the past 40 years of relations with China and an analysis of serious misconceptions made by the West at different times: that economic prosperity in China would automatically lead to democratization; that the internet could not be tamed and would enforce political freedoms; that the US would influence China and not the other way around.

One after the other, these assumptions have been overtaken by reality, the first in the 1990s after the suppression of the democracy movement by the Tian'anmen massacre and the subsequent tacit agreement between the government and the people: It promises economic prosperity while maintaining the authoritarian regime . To this day, both sides have stuck to this deal.

"Well, good luck"

"We know how much the Internet has changed America, and we were already an open society. Just imagine how much it can change China ... China is trying to break the Internet, no question about it. Well, good luck." After the hearty laughter in the hall has subsided, you can hear the speaker, Bill Clinton, continue his humorous comment: "You might as well try nailing jelly on the wall."

The recording, to be heard on the podcast New York Times, dated March 9, 2000. Bill Clinton praises the trade agreement reached with China the year before, advocates long-term normal trade relations with China and is certain that the Internet will bring more freedom to China.

The people who laughed with him in the hall back then know better today: China nailed the jello on the wall. There the Internet is today the largest semi-intranet in the world; News sites, social networks, government sites and many other random websites from the west are blocked. The majority of the Chinese get their information from Chinese websites, which are controlled, filtered and played by the most complex and labor-intensive censorship and propaganda machinery in the world.

But what ultimately led to the current US-China trade conflict is the failure of the third assumption - that the US would influence China and not the other way around. In the past two decades we have seen China take control of Hollywood scripts, subjugate tech companies like Microsoft, Apple and Google at least on their own territory, use Wall Street for its own purposes, infiltrate the US space industry and join the US in the Facing South China Sea. "When China awakens" - the sentence attributed to Napoleon is no longer a vision of the future from bygone times. China has long made the world tremble, nobody can deny that.