My op-eds for the Süddeutsche Zeitung and the South China Morning Post have created quite a stir on social media and elsewhere. I appreciate these contributions as I think criticism and controversy are needed to enable fruitful debates. In my op-eds I discussed the way we shape our perceptions of China - the pieces were NOT about what China is currently like. My main point was that the Western cycle of perceiving China as nothing but evil and then as nothing but good does not lead to very productive policy. China policy should not be seen as a simple choice for or against China. We must remain very critical towards China. But such criticism must always be based on facts and should not be driven by our demand that China should conform to our expectations. The latter cannot be the benchmark for policy, no matter how strongly we feel about what happens there. China has become too important to warrant such a black-or-white view.
I am afraid this viewpoint has led to some misinterpretations. I have been following the developments in China very closely for forty years and remain highly critical of what happens there. I have never wavered in my stance towards the regime. Repression and surveillance in China are very real: China’s social credit system has real consequences for millions of people, persecution in Xinjiang takes place every day, China’s handling of Hong Kong shows Beijing does not want to understand how the city feels about the mainland.
MERICS is a think tank dedicated to the mission of contributing to a differentiated discussion on China and its developments. As director of this institute, I support a pluralism of opinions within MERICS. Since coming to MERICS, I have not hesitated in initiating workshops, briefings and critical publications on disputed and sensitive topics such as Xinjiang, Hong Kong and Huawei. And I will continue to do so in future. It is ironic that this work and my public utterances on China have attracted the ire of the Chinese authorities, while my current critics suggest or even openly say that I am in the pocket of Beijing.
I sincerely hope that this statement contributes to putting things back in the right perspective. I stand for dialogue – and that includes everybody who deals with China – a dialogue that respects facts and reasonable argument.
Frank N. Pieke, Director and CEO MERICS