Deconstructing Western Fears Of China

How should the West face the rise of China? Culling some insight from a Chinese review of “Angst vor China” (Fear of China), the latest book by Germany’s best-known China expert.

U.S. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen arrives last year in Beijing.
U.S. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen arrives last year in Beijing.
Shi Shiwei

BEIJING - The German journalist and best-selling author, Frank Sieren, is one of the West's leading China experts. His latest book Angst vor China (Fear of China) was published last September in Germany.

Much like his earlier works, this book has a striking and provocative title and covers a large range of topics: nuclear development in China, how the Chinese challenge is affecting the American manufacturing industry, global competition for petroleum resources, China's aeronautic projects, Tibet, China's water pollution and the Sino-US economic relations in the broadest sense. The author uses straightforward language, and a writing style that is strong on storytelling.

Sieren's viewpoint is both consistent and surprising to Chinese readers when compared to the common attitudes toward China we hear throughout the mainstream voices in the West. Utterly absent are the usual suspicion, fear, prejudice and preconceptions. The book argues that the West being forced to face an increasingly powerful country so different in its value system, culture and ideology is actually a good thing for the West.

He describes a China already so strong economically that is now also busy trying to establish its corresponding political position of strength. This is bound to create conflict with the West as it seeks to secure strategic resource supplies to assert its economic development.

Overly optimistic

Nevertheless, China is not an enemy. At most, it's a competitor; and as such, the right strategy for the West is not to demonize or isolate China, but to cooperate with it, and recognize the reality of China being part of the multipolar world. Furthermore, the West should regard the competitive pressure from China's rise as a way to reinforce its scientific and technological innovation and its economic edge so as to maintain its leading economic and political status.

Sieren's book winds up actually exaggerating the success China has achieved up to now. He is also overly optimistic about the future prospects of China's economy. However, his purpose is very clear. He is not judging the Chinese economy and politics as a Western expert or giving suggestions in policy-making, but is telling the West, and in particular the Germans, that China's development is both a challenge and opportunity for the West.

Sieren has lived in China for 17 years. He first worked as the correspondent of Germany's business weekly, the Wirtschafts Woche, specializing in economics. He later became a presenter for the talk show, Asiatalk on Deutsche Welle-TV.

But unlike other European experts on China who mostly come from the sinology departments in academia, Sieren graduated from the Department of Politics of the Free University Berlin. This perspective helps forge his strategic thinking, while his precise Western-oriented values enable him to offer a relatively objective and calm analysis of China's complex reality. He isn't just introducing or interpreting China, but rather speaking directly to the West about how it should face China. And Sieren's driving message is clear: approach this major new world power as a challenge, not a threat.

Read the original article in Chinese

Photo - Chairman of Joint Staff

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

Iran-Saudi Arabia Rivalry May Be Set To Ease, Or Get Much Worse

The Saudis may be awaiting the outcome of Iran's nuclear talks with the West, to see whether Tehran will moderate its regional policies, or lash out like never before.

Military parade in Tehran, Iran, on Oct. 3


LONDON — The Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said earlier this month that Iranian and Saudi negotiators had so far had four rounds of "continuous" talks, though both sides had agreed to keep them private. The talks are to ease fraught relations between Iran's radical Shia regime and the Saudi kingdom, a key Western ally in the Middle East.

Iran's Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian has said that the talks were going in the right direction, while an Iranian trade official was recently hopeful these might even allow trade opportunities for Iranian businessmen in Saudi Arabia. As the broadcaster France 24 observed separately, it will take more than positive signals to heal a five-year-rift and decades of mutual suspicions.

Agence France-Presse news agency, meanwhile, has cited an unnamed French diplomat as saying that Saudi Arabia wants to end its costly discord with Tehran. The sides may already have agreed to reopen consular offices. For Saudi Arabia, the costs include its war on Iran-backed Houthis rebels fighting an UN-recognized government in next-door Yemen.

The role of the nuclear pact

Bilateral relations were severed in January 2016, after regime militiamen stormed the Saudi embassy in Tehran. Amirabdollahian was then the deputy foreign minister for Arab affairs. In 2019, he told the website Iranian Diplomacy that Saudi Arabia had taken measures vis-a-vis Iran's nuclear pact with the world powers.

It's unlikely Ali Khamenei will tolerate the Saudi kingdom's rising power in the region.

He said "the Saudis' insane conduct toward [the pact] led them to conclude that they must prevent [its implementation] in a peaceful environment ... I think the Saudis are quite deluded, and their delusion consists in thinking that Trump is an opportunity for them to place themselves on the path of conflict with the Islamic Republic while relying on Trump." He meant the administration led by the U.S. President Donald J.Trump, which was hostile to Iran's regime. This, he said, "is not how we view Saudi Arabia. I think Yemen should have been a big lesson for the Saudis."

The minister was effectively admitting the Houthis were the Islamic Republic's tool for getting back at Saudi Arabia.

Yet in the past two years, both sides have taken steps to improve relations, without firm results as yet. Nor is the situation likely to change this time.

Photo of Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in 2020

Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in 2020

Riyadh's warming relations with Israel

Iran's former ambassador in Lebanon, Ahmad Dastmalchian, told the ILNA news agency in Tehran that Saudi Arabia is doing Israel's bidding in the region, and has "entrusted its national security, and life and death to Tel Aviv." Riyadh, he said, had been financing a good many "security and political projects in the region," or acting as a "logistical supplier."

The United States, said Dastmalchian, has "in turn tried to provide intelligence and security backing, while Israel has simply followed its own interests in all this."

Furthermore, it seems unlikely Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei will tolerate, even in this weak period of his leadership, the kingdom's rising power in the region and beyond, and especially its financial clout. He is usually disparaging when he speaks of Riyadh's princely rulers. In 2017, he compared them to "dairy cows," saying, "the idiots think that by giving money and aid, they can attract the goodwill of Islam's enemies."

Iranian regime officials are hopeful of moving toward better diplomatic ties and a reopening of embassies. Yet the balance of power between the sides began to change in Riyadh's favor years ago. For the kingdom's power has shifted from relying mostly on arms, to economic and political clout. The countries might have had peaceful relations before in considerably quieter, and more equitable, conditions than today's acute clash of interests.

If nuclear talks break down, Iran's regime may become more aggressive.

Beyond this, the Abraham Accord or reconciliation of Arab states and Israel has been possible thanks to the green light that the Saudis gave their regional partners, and it is a considerable political and ideological defeat for the Islamic Republic.

Assuming all Houthis follow Tehran's instructions — and they may not — improved ties may curb attacks on Saudi interests and aid its economy. Tehran will also benefit from no longer having to support them. Unlike Iran's regime, the Saudis are not pressed for cash or resources and could even offer the Houthis a better deal. Presently, they may consider it more convenient to keep the softer approach toward Tehran.

For if nuclear talks with the West break down, Iran's regime may become more aggressive, and as experience has shown, tensions often prompt a renewal of missile or drone attacks on the Saudis, on tankers and on foreign shipping. Riyadh must have a way of keeping the Tehran regime quiet, in a distinctly unquiet time.

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