The citizens of China have freedom

Taiwan Wahl: Why China Is Also Threatening Our Freedom

  • Elections will take place in Taiwan on January 11th and in Hong Kong in September.
  • Both the island state and the financial metropolis are under the influence of China. In both regions there is resistance to this influence, people are defending democracy.
  • China monitors and controls its citizens, but also demands economic creativity and innovation from them.
  • You can find more articles from Business Insider here.

Elections will be held in Taiwan on January 11th. The small island state off the great People's Republic of China is in constant dispute with its non-democratic neighbor. Later in the year, in September, the financial metropolis Hong Kong also chooses. Violent protests have been raging in the autonomous city-state since the early summer of 2019. Here, too, it is about democracy, which Beijing does not want to grant, even though it is legally binding in the contracts for the surrender of Hong Kong between Great Britain and the People's Republic.

So Beijing doesn't like democracy. That's not new. In the past year, however, the system conflict has come to a head. What happened here? In 2012, Xi Jinping was elected General Secretary of the Communist Party and President of China. He didn't like the fact that China had previously liberalized and opened up. In 2001, at the request of the USA, the People's Republic was accepted into the World Trade Organization. This was intended to accompany the cautious reform steps. But Xi has turned the clocks back: He's thinking of shielding China and radically restricting political and personal freedoms.

As a result, there were violent protests in Hong Kong and Taiwan as early as 2014. Elections were held in Hong Kong at the time, but Beijing only allowed candidates to run that it had previously approved. People took to the streets, especially the students. The umbrellas that they turn to protect against the tear gas used by the police gave the movement its name.

Wherever people under Beijing's sphere of influence have a choice, they choose democracy

At the same time, China was trying to expand its influence on Taiwan. The island state has been governed autonomously since 1949, since the end of the civil war that the Maoists had won. Taiwan has its own territory, an army, a currency, a parliament. Students also took to the streets in the capital Taipei. Their uprising is called the Sunflower Movement. Protesters wore this flower back in 1990 when they called for the island to be democratized.

Long before President Xi, the People's Republic of China urged Taiwan to reunite with the mainland. The Communist Party proposed the formula “one country, two systems”. The same model should be used in Hong Kong. But in both places it fails because President Xi cannot see his counterpart as equal partners, but in the logic of every autocratic regime only as opponents who need to be controlled or subjugated.

One can say: Everywhere in the sphere of influence of the People's Republic of China, where people have a choice between democracy and autocracy, they choose democracy! This is especially important to emphasize because in the West and also in Germany, this very freedom of a liberal social order is loudly belittled by some forces as unimportant or even made contemptible.

In the West, China is secretly admired for its ability to act quickly

Especially when it comes to the economy, contemporaries praise the People's Republic for being able to act quickly, because it is an autocracy and therefore does not move as slowly as a democracy, which sometimes appears lethargic in the eyes of its critics.

Read also:Ex-Google manager explains why he no longer wanted to work for Google because of the deal with China

But is that so? Can China really be governed better, faster, more efficiently and, in an ethical sense, better because it is a one-party state? People all over the world want “good governance”. In democracies they have the chance to vote out a government if it does not deliver this “good governance”. In China, citizens do not have this option.

Proponents of the Chinese model see it as an advantage that the president, if it occurs to him, can decide on an energy transition and order electric or hydrogen cars across the country. Right. But he can also order that a huge open-air labor camp be set up for the Muslim minority of the Uyghurs and one million people interned there. The world has yet to wait for a wise eco-rule by the Communist Party. In contrast, the camps for the Uyghurs in the northwestern province of Xinjiang have already been set up.

Another important factor in the systematic struggle between the People's Republic of China and the democratic world: in Taiwan and Hong Kong, the people are free. You can feel it when you've lived there for a year, like me. Everything is talked about and argued. In Taiwan in particular, the young generation - the first to grow up in a democracy - is so very different from their peers in Europe or the USA. So they fought for and achieved marital equality with great determination. Taiwan is the first country in Asia to have “marriage for all”.

In China, people are monitored by the government - the result is paranoia

On my last visit to Shanghai, the picture was different: Shanghai is the most open metropolis in China, and the people don't make the rather dreary, gray impression they do in Beijing. But during every conversation my interlocutors looked around carefully to see if someone was listening. In the restaurant they sat down with me at a table away from the other guests. Was that so in the GDR, where no one could be sure that they were being overheard or being whistled at by neighbors themselves?

As much as I enjoy being in China and like and appreciate the Chinese and their culture: The consequence of this “caution” is paranoia, which I feel when I'm in China. Paranoia first affects the people, then the party itself, which cannot permanently impregnate itself against the fears it has sown. At the end of the day, the party only sees enemies and strikes out all over the place if just one basketball player tweets something about Hong Kong that Beijing doesn't like.

“China wants to totally monitor people, but expects creativity and innovation from them. That can't work. "

The Communist Party's bet on the future goes like this: We absolutely monitor people, we do not allow any political movement or protest outside of the channels we have established. At the same time, however, we want the Chinese to remain economically creative and innovative when it comes to growth and prosperity. I mean this can't work. If you want to parcel out your thinking and only allow certain thoughts, you cannot hope that people will ultimately dare to express their ideas. Paranoia makes you thin-skinned and not creative.

In Hong Kong and Taiwan, freedom and democracy in Germany are also defended

And this is how Germany's freedom and democracy are defended in Hong Kong and Taiwan. In diplomacy we call each other “likeminded countries”. This emphasizes that from Uruguay to Taiwan, from Japan to Spain, citizens live in constitutional democracies based on human rights. These like-minded countries now need a new institution where they can exchange ideas and develop strategies to counter the autocratic challenge and to support Hong Kong and Taiwan.

Germany is respected in the world, including China, and there, unlike many others, it is allowed to say a word about human rights. The Federal Republic must use this special role to strengthen democracy and with it human rights.

Read also: Why there is a threat of a conflict or war between the USA and China in the new decade - and what role Germany is playing in this