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Xi Jinping has a global vision for China and has centralized foreign policy around himself and the CCP. In this blog series, MERICS researchers take a closer look at the (new) setup of China’s foreign policy leadership, institutions, budget and personnel – as well as on its policy approach to Europe. This article is part 1 of the series.

The establishment of the Central Foreign Affairs Commission appears to strengthen the role of the CCP in China’s foreign policymaking. The new body will likely have a higher standing than the former Leading Small Group on Foreign Affairs and further sideline the government agencies in charge of foreign policy. This article is part 2 of a MERICS blog series on China’s new foreign policy setup. Read part 1 here.

The “Made in China 2025” strategy is supposed to align the global ambitions of the government and Chinese state-owned and private companies. If innovation is driven by strategic national targets rather than by profit expectations, it represents an export of China’s state-led economic system and a challenge to the affected industries and economies of industrialized countries. 

Aymeric Mariette
Hong Kong and Singapore are the models for China's planned Free Trade Ports in Hainan and Shenzhen. But if the Pilot Free Trade Zones launched over the past few years are any indication, the new ports are unlikely to provide genuine economic freedom with free capital flows and legal certainty.

The reality of Beijing’s investment in Central and Eastern European countries falls short of the rhetoric at the 16+1 summits. Numbers on Chinese investment connected to the Belt and Road Initiative tend to be inflated and misleading. Only a fraction of the reported sums is connected to actual infrastructure projects on the ground. And most of the projects that are underway are financed by Chinese loans, exposing debt-ridden governments to additional risks.

Interview with Martha Bayles

For Hollywood China is a huge market it cannot afford to ignore. But closer co-operation with the Chinese movie industry has not always gone well: Expensive co-productions like “The Great Wall” flopped at box offices worldwide in 2016. Yet Hollywood is still keen on China and willing to go a long way to please Chinese censors by tweaking scripts or replacing Chinese villains with baddies from North Korea. “Hollywood is compromising freedom of expression to stay in China,” warns film critic and Boston College lecturer Martha Bayles.

Caroline Meinhardt, Michael Laha, Rebecca Arcesati, Václav Kopecký 

Europe’s cautious approach to developing emerging technologies is hampering its global competitiveness. The European Commission’s AI strategy falls far behind China’s ambitious blueprint in several key aspects, including funding, sector-specific policies, startup incentives, and talent attraction. This article is part 2 of a mini-series to present the outcomes of the MERICS European China Talent Program 2018.

Viking Bohman, Jacob Mardell and Tatjana Romig

The Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) promises to advance global development but also carries daunting risks. If left unchecked, the project could both challenge EU cohesion and undermine European standards. The EU needs the institutional capacity to assess these risks and a coherent narrative to compete with China's. This article is part 1 of a mini-series to present the outcomes of the MERICS European China Talent Program 2018.

Frances Kitt

As political elites In Berlin and Canberra have woken up to the challenge of Chinese Communist Party (CCP) influence, they should work together to address it. The next edition of the biannual meeting of their foreign and defence ministers later this year should put the issue of CCP influence on top of the agenda.

Interview with: Fu King-wa

Internet censorship in China has evolved from just blocking websites into an elaborate system of information control, says Fu King-wa, Associate Professor at the Journalism and Media Studies Centre of the University of Hong Kong. Fu has developed projects that track what has been deleted on the Chinese web. His assessment of the current situation is bleak: The space for public expression is depressingly small, he says. Yet the #MeToo debate in China also demonstrates that that not all discussion can be suppressed – even in China. 

Interview with Didi Kirsten Tatlow

Chinese schools are notorious for their rote learning and endless tests and exams. But the Chinese government wants to change that – at least, the authorities want to introduce more creativity into the classrooms. That’s no easy undertaking, says MERICS Visiting Academic Fellow Didi Kirsten Tatlow. For children to become truly creative adults, Tatlow argues, they need time to play and the freedom to think their own way.

Chinese citizens are increasingly concerned about invasive data collection practices of private companies such as Alibaba's Ant Financial. But those hoping that state regulators will rein in these practices should not forget that the government relies on the tech giants to build its social credit system with the goal to monitor and restrict citizens’ behavior.

There are many indications that China could suffer a second round of capital flight. Interest rates in Western economies are up, and Chinese savers don't have access to favorable rates at home. Fears of tax increases or currency devaluation are other factors that might drive wealthy Chinese to try to move their capital abroad and circumvent the government's strict capital controls.

At a time of rising protectionism, China is sending a signal of liberalization by lowering its import tariffs on cars. The unilateral move is only a first step if China wants to prove its commitment to the multilateral trading system. Sacrificing outdated protections can also help China’s transition towards a higher value-added economy.

The US president’s attacks on multilateralism may push Chancellor Merkel into an unlikely alliance with Beijing. Germany and the EU have to test ways to work with China in the absence of transatlantic coordination. The goal must be to organize an international pushback against destructive US trade policies.

Interview with Jessica Batke

When China’s law on non-governmental organizations went into effect in early 2017, observers worried that many international NGOs would pull out as a result. Almost 18 months later, the picture is mixed as Jessica Batke of ChinaFile has found out. As part of ChinaFile’s NGO Project, she tracks the experiences with the new law and says that no NGO is known to have left China so far. Yet, this could change in 2018. Small NGOs find it particularly difficult to comply with the new regulations.

The success of authoritarian innovation in China challenges liberal market theories. Technological innovation is no longer just driven by Silicon Valley-style capitalism, but also by technocrats in Beijing. China is proving to be a "red swan," as unforeseen as a "black swan" event. Its techno authoritarianism appears well suited for dealing with many megachallenges of the 21st century.

At this year’s German-Chinese media dialogue in Berlin participants shared concerns over separating real news from fake news on social media while acknowledging the fundamental differences in how both sides see the role of the media. Chinese participants spoke of the media’s job to promote government views, i.e. on globalization. Germans demanded better access to the Chinese media market and better conditions for foreign correspondents in China.

European schools should step up their efforts to teach students the Chinese-language skills required in a changing global landscape. Governments should follow the British example of acknowledging the strategic importance of learning Mandarin – and provide the political support and funding necessary to close this gap.

Sebastian HeilmannGuntram B. Wolff

Germany’s economic success is under threat. Berlin needs to reduce the country’s dependency on exports by stimulating domestic growth―and push for robust European trade and industrial policies.

China is determined to become the globally-leading innovation center for Artificial Intelligence (AI). National industrial policies to promote AI are implemented at top speed at local and provincial level. In some cases, the local goals even exceed the national ambitions.

The Chinese government’s decision to pull Chinese nationals from international hacking contests should worry international IT companies. They stand to lose valuable information about security vulnerabilities in their devices and run the risk that exploits will be reported to the Chinese government instead.

China’s growing political, economic and cultural influence in Europe is finally attracting the public attention it deserves. In this OpEd for the New York Times, former Beijing correspondent and current MERICS fellow Didi Kirsten Tatlow offers a personal view of how China expanded its footprint in Berlin since she last lived in the German capital.

Descriptions of Xi Jinping as new Mao Zedong or destroyer of the Deng Xiaoping legacy are prominent in the media outside of China. But resorting to old paradigms about leadership in Chinese politics may prevent us from seeing the differences between Xi and his predecessors.

 

From 5G networks to blockchain and electric driving: China has caught up to the forefront of new technologies that are based on artificial intelligence. Chinese companies benefit from state support for R&D, from internationally trained experts and from the sheer mass of data generated by 800 million internet users. Today’s innovation leaders in the United States and the EU would do well not to rest on their laurels.