China Unleashed, Europe Paralyzed: A View From Germany

The Asian giant is like a super-charged Formula 1 car racing past a beautiful, but old Fiat 500.

Worker at one of various glass enterprises that strengthened Chinese science, technology innovation and market research
Worker at one of various glass enterprises that strengthened Chinese science, technology innovation and market research
Stefan Braun


BERLIN — Angela Merkel has been chancellor of Germany for nearly 13 years, and she travels to China almost once a year. She has visited vegetable markets and old shrines, talked to mayors and argued with party officials. She's seen German factories and examined Chinese companies. She's taken cooking classes and had driverless cars shown to her. No other country has aroused Merkel's curiosity as much as China.

This may be due to her belief that curiosity is a prerequisite for good governance. But there is a second, more important reason for Merkel's desire to travel eastwards: Pretty much everything that will decide Germany's future is tied to China.

China wants to become an economic world power and is using its rapid digitalization to do so. Beijing exemplifies authoritarianism so aggressively and consistently that it has become a counteroffer for those who doubt the efficiency of Western democracies. China has become a major economic and political challenge to Germany and Europe. For decades, the Old Continent could praise itself as a haven of democracy, openness to the world and economic success. China is about to establish a very powerful counter-model.

For anyone with an eye for modernity and dynamism, China is the future.

Relations with Beijing these days are therefore no longer a matter of having a few good or less-good talks, the sort that took place on Monday, June 9 at the German-Chinese government consultations. Nor are they about obtaining this or that billion-dollar order. What's at stake, rather, is whether Europe remains at eye level with China, or becomes a beggar.

Merkel receiving honorary doctorate from Nanjing University during her ninth trip to China — Photo: Jiangsu, China/Facebook

That last sentence sounds anxious and it's meant to be. Shifts over the last decade could hardly paint a different picture. China seems to be unleashed. Europe, by contrast, is more and more paralyzed. China's biggest concern is that it might no longer be able to offer its rapidly growing middle class enough novelty. Europe, meanwhile, is struggling with the fact that an underclass, cut off from the fruits of development, is emerging in many EU states. For anyone with an eye for modernity and dynamism, China is the future. The feeling is that of seeing a Formula 1 racing car rushing past a beautiful, but old Fiat 500.

The uncertainty is all the more pressing when you've truly experienced China's pace for a few days and then return to the German debates about the welfare state, pension levels and the minimum wage. That doesn't mean these debates aren't important. And it doesn't mean we should replace the tenacious struggle for solutions with an authoritarianism à la China.

But the contrast shows the different speeds at which Europe and China are traveling. And it reveals how irresponsible are all those who, for national-minded reasons, provoke divisions and make compromises difficult in Europe. It's like they still haven't realized what's going on around the world.

For Berlin and Brussels, the relationship with Beijing is a fateful balancing act. As much cooperation as possible, as much distance as necessary. This may sound banal, but it's crucial as a compass in dealing with China. The defense of human rights is no trifle. They make Europe. Giving them up means giving up on ourselves, on who we are.

Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!

Iran To Offer Master's And PhD In Morality Enforcement

For those aiming to serve the Islamic Republic of Iran as experts to train the public morality agents, there are now courses to obtain the "proper" training.

Properly dressed in the holy city of Qom.

Iran will create new "master's and doctorate" programs to train state morality agents checking on people's public conduct and attire, according to several Persian-language news sources.

Mehran Samadi, a senior official of the Headquarters to Enjoin Virtues and Proscribe Vices (Amr-e be ma'ruf va nahy az monkar) said "anyone who wants to enjoin virtues must have the knowledge," the London-based broadcaster Iran International reported, citing reports from Iran.

The morality patrols, in force since the 1979 revolution, tend to focus mostly on young people and women, particularly the public appearance for the latter. Loose headscarves will send women straight to a police station, often in humiliating conditions. Five years ago, the regime announced a new force of some 7,000 additional agents checking on women's hijabs and other standards of dress and behavior.

A woman in Tehran walks past a mural of an Iranian flag

The traffic police chief recently said women were not allowed to ride motorbikes

Rouzbeh Fouladi/ZUMA

New academic discipline

Last week, for example, Tehran police revealed that they had "disciplined" agents who had been filmed forcefully shoving a girl into a van. Such incidents may increase under the new, conservative president, Ibrahim Raisi.

Speaking about the new academic discipline, Samadi said morals go "much further than headscarves and modesty," and those earning graduate degrees would teach agents "what the priorities are."

Iran's Islamic regime, under the guidance of Shia jurists, continuously fine tunes notions of "proper" conduct — and calibrates its own, interventionist authority. More recently the traffic police chief said women were not allowed to ride motorbikes, and "would be stopped," Prague-based Radio Farda reported.

Days before, a cleric in the holy city of Qom in central Iran insisted that people must be vaccinated by a medic of the same sex "as often as possible," and if not, there should be no pictures of mixed-sex vaccinations.

Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!