Interviews / Stories

“We should view China less as a systemic adversary and more as a competitor.”

Felix Lee, Editor and China Expert at Media Table

Inquired at … Felix Lee, Editor and China expert, Table Media

Within a few decades, China has become the dominant global economic power alongside the USA. How can this upswing be explained?

Despite declining growth figures, there is in fact hardly any other country in the world with such economic growth as China. Where arable and fallow land dominated just a few decades ago, metropolises have emerged today with millions of inhabitants and tremendous economic power. At the same time, the proportion of people in China living below the poverty line has fallen from over 300 million to around 30 million, which means that we are dealing here with growth from which large sections of the population are also benefiting.

This is a rise, but it also has its (political) price, doesn’t it?

Yes, unfortunately. At the latest since Xi Jinping took office as General Secretary of the Chinese Communist Party and was appointed President of the People’s Republic of China, the country has developed into an autocratic and authoritarian system of government. In doing so, Xi Jinping not only bases his power on restrictive and repressive governance practices, but also breaks with the rules and political doctrine of his predecessors. These include measures against his predecessors, up to and including their imprisonment, the overriding of term limits, and the filling of leadership positions with loyal yes-men.

Despite the trade war with the U.S., China manages to further expand its sphere of influence in the world. Where does the country find its allies?

As a member of the BRICS alliance, which was founded in 2009, the country has very good contacts with the other member states Brazil, Russia, India, and South Africa. This alliance, which embodies enormous economic power simply because of the size of the economies involved, is gaining more and more influence in the world. On January 1, 2024, Argentina, Egypt, Ethiopia, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates are to join the community of states under the new name BRICS plus. This will create an effective counterweight to the European Union, especially since another 40 states have applied to join the BRICS group.

This is a development that is viewed with concern, especially in Europe. How are countries such as Germany addressing this new situation?

In principle, the German attitude toward China has been based on three strategic pillars for years:  On the one hand, the systemic rivalry is repeatedly addressed, because Germany and China have completely different ideas in important political and social areas, such as human and personal rights. At the same time, however, efforts are also being made to win China as a partner in climate and environmental protection, an undertaking that is extremely difficult in view of the strength of the People’s Republic in areas such as solar technology or e-mobility. In these areas in particular, China has now reached a process speed and production level that Europe will no longer be able to match. Only on a third level, finally, is China seen as a competitor in the battle for market share and value chains.

How promising do you think this strategy is? Will it ultimately prevail?

No, I don’t think so. The value-driven discussion we are currently having with China will not get us anywhere. We urgently need a paradigm shift here. We should view China less as a systemic adversary and more as a competitor. Here a mutual understanding can be achieved from which both sides would benefit.