“Mr. Gorbaov, tear down this wall!” This sentence from the withered speech of US President Ronald Reagan in Berlin in 1987 was a reliable signal of the end of the Cold War. The wall was soon torn down, and the Soviet Union withdrew from Eastern Europe and eventually disintegrated. During its existence, it was a superpower that sowed fear with its nuclear arsenal, huge military power and cruel dictatorial order, believes Dimitrije Mili, program director of the New Third Way.
New third time / Dimitrije Mili
Ilustracija: Frame China/ Shutterstock
What made this force weak was its totalitarian order and isolation, they were not ideal for anyone. Ordinary citizens also sacrificed their lives to escape from Soviet zones to one of the democracies. The USSR was a force that everyone was afraid of, but also a force that had almost no soft power. Through Hollywood, rock’n’roll, popular culture and democracy, America expanded its power more efficiently and was a more desirable partner. Today’s China, although also a cruel dictatorial order, aims not to repeat the Greekness of the Soviet Union. The policy of the Chinese Communists places much more emphasis on the direction of improving the image of their country and working to expand its soft power. In that endeavor, the Chinese regime also gained unexpected allies: former Western leaders.
China and retired Western politicians
The practice of authoritarian regimes hiring former statesmen from Western democracies is not new. From the regimes in Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan, through Azerbaijani dictator Aliyev to Putin, everyone has sought to attract former leaders of democratic forces through their actions. With these regimes, they proved to be valuable with their thick directories, influence, as well as knowledge of how democracies and their laws work. In the past few years, this method has been applied by China, which has a much larger coffers than the previously mentioned dictatorships. Skepticism of the state’s intentions, a brutal one-party dictatorship and the systematic harassment of minorities such as the Uyghurs create a major problem in the image of the ruling communists. Hiring well-known former statesmen, China is a useful tool to legitimize its system, our influential public defenders in European countries, and to gain more influence in those societies. In its application, it is based on placing former Western politicians at the head of Chinese state or parastatal projects for high salaries. In net regime situations, they are hired as external associates of the company run by some of the retired politicians. After a successful rehearsal in the closest and Europe-like democracy, Australia, the Chinese regime successfully infiltrated the key European states in this way.
Who is on the Chinese payroll?
If you look at the key European countries, it can be noticed that in each of the current Chinese regimes there are one or more senior associates. In the United Kingdom, the Communist Party of China managed to gain the trust of former Prime Minister David Cameron. Today, he is at the head of the Sino-British fund, which supports the “Belt and Road” initiative with a budget of around one billion dollars. Danny Alexander, who moved from a high position in the British Ministry of Finance to the position of Vice President of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, also keeps him company in this country.
“The question is whether European countries should tolerate Chinese action in their public space if China does not meet reciprocity and has no tolerance for the same practices in itself.” The engagement of the two Britons aims to make it easier for China to continue investing and doing business in the United Kingdom, which began during the term of David Cameron. They were joined by former German Vice Chancellor and Finance Minister Philipp Ressler. After the election fiasco in 2013 at the head of the Liberals, in 2017, this politician got the position of director at the head of the Chinese charity foundation HNA in New York. Former French Prime Minister Dominique Devilipen and former German Defense Minister Rudolf Arping also play similar roles as external collaborators.
Former statesmen who promote China
On the other hand, the Chinese regime has hired some former European prime ministers for propaganda purposes more than economic ones. Former French Prime Minister Pierre Raffarin is on the board of directors of the “Chinese Davos” called the Boao Forum, which is trying to gather various world officials. This French politician is also at the head of the France-China Foundation, which promotes cooperation between the two countries and is also financed by the Bank of China. In the previous period, Raffarin’s statements went so far as to call for the European Union, together with China, to clash with America. A few days ago, he also called for hot cooperation between the Union and China, especially in the economic sphere. Former Italian Prime Minister and President of the European Commission, Romano Prodi, plays a similar role in European public opinion. Apart from the fact that this former former politician is also on the board of the Boao Forum, he has become characterized by the intense praise of the Chinese leader Xi Iping and the efficiency of the Chinese system. In his statements, he publicly praised “Si iping’s commitment to globalization, free trade and open economy.” They are not the only ones in this form of action, and unless major changes take place in European democracies, the multiplication of this phenomenon should not be ruled out. The increase in the number of pro-Chinese media, think tanks and YouTube channels is noticeable in Western societies, and this issue will occupy more and more attention.
The paradox of tolerance
From the point of view of Western democracies, this issue represents a kind of Popper’s “paradox of tolerance”. Given that these are open societies and democracies, the existence of organizations advocating for cooperation or assistance to China is certainly possible in a plural society. While it may seem disgusting for former politicians to join Chinese companies directly from public office, which have an interest in the societies they have run until yesterday, these practices are legal. On the other hand, in a Chinese dictatorship and a non-transparent society, it is not possible for similar actions to be carried out by European organizations. Si iping’s regime has hermetically sealed society and the public sphere is tightly controlled. For that reason, the question arises whether European countries should tolerate Chinese actions in their public space, if China does not meet reciprocity and does not have tolerance for the same practices in its country. Given that Chinese influence in this area is currently quite marginal and China is becoming increasingly unpopular in surveys among ordinary citizens, this dilemma is not a central topic. At the moment, it is difficult for the Chinese side to soften the image of its regime, and restrictions on Chinese investment in the European Union have already been introduced. However, this issue remains important for the future. It should not be ruled out that in the coming years Western democracies will limit the opportunities for their politicians to take up a post financed by autocratic regimes immediately after public office. This practice has helped various dictatorships gain legitimacy and strengthen their influence in European societies, and such further breakthrough by China could be fatal to the long-term interests of the European Union.
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