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China is exercising demonstrations of power

It seems paradoxical, but many observers believe that China could emerge stronger from the coronavirus crisis that began in the Chinese city of Wuhan and led to severe criticism of the government's actions in Beijing. The Middle Kingdom seems to have the crisis largely under control after months, and a normalization of public life is slowly returning.

China finds itself in a rare position of strength compared to much of the rest of the world, which continues to struggle with limitations, wrote CNN journalist and China expert James Griffiths. "This offers the opportunity to pursue a long-awaited goal - the rejuvenation of the nation, the seizure of the rightful position from the Chinese point of view as a global superpower," said Griffiths ("The Great Firewall of China").

Hong Kong as a hot iron

Hong Kong is considered to be a hot potato both domestically and internationally, where clashes between police and demonstrators recently occurred again after a pandemic-related break. The reason: Beijing introduced a security law to protect national security in the Chinese Special Administrative Region at the National People's Congress.

"Wolf Warrior"

In the past, long, unspectacular statements were common among Chinese diplomats, but the new generation of "wolf warriors" is starting to meet any criticism with harshness and severity. The term used by both Chinese and Western media comes from a commercially successful action film of the same name from 2015.

The law aims to forbid “separatism” and “riot” in the former British crown colony as well as foreign interference - above all the USA and Great Britain. China does not want to tolerate criticism from abroad. A new form of diplomacy has recently developed, the spearhead of which are the "wolf warriors". The "wolf warriors" like Foreign Office spokesman Zhao Lijan spread hymns of praise for China and threaten critics with sanctions at the same time.

The law would be the most extensive encroachment on Hong Kong's autonomy to date; it is a reaction to months of mass protests against the Hong Kong government, which is loyal to Beijing, last year. The Hong Kong Parliament was bypassed. Many citizens fear that this will severely restrict civil rights. China tried to pass such a law back in 2003, while half a million people took to the streets at the time - the project was dropped.

Key objective of the national rejuvenation plan

With the plans, China had also triggered international criticism and concerns about Hong Kong's autonomy. The US wants to largely end the favorable treatment of the metropolis - this affects export controls and tariffs, among other things. Much is at stake for Hong Kong companies and citizens. In addition, the US announced an entry ban for several Chinese nationals. This applies to Chinese students who represent a "potential security risk".

The importance of the financial center, which is also important for China, is also at risk. Meanwhile, London threatened the naturalization of former subjects. The EU foreign affairs representative Josep Borrell called for a "more robust" strategy in dealing with Beijing, but the EU rejects sanctions.

The Century of humiliation refers to the time of the intervention and the perceived subjugation of the Chinese Empire by Western powers, Russia and Japan between 1839 and 1949.

Since its return by Great Britain to China in 1997, Hong Kong has been governed autonomously as a separate territory according to the principle of “one country, two systems”. However, the principle had become increasingly eroded in recent years. For example, a recent draft law that provides for penalties for misusing the Chinese national anthem caused a stir. "Hong Kong was one of the territories China lost during what has been called the 'Century of Humiliation,' and the reverse is a key goal of the national rejuvenation plan," said CNN journalist Griffiths.

Signal to Taiwan

President Xi Jinping, who made himself head of state for life in 2018 and wants to expand economic and political influence from Asia via Africa to Europe with the initiative of the “New Silk Road” (Belt and Road), wants to restore his country to its former size. “By reaching for Hong Kong's remaining freedoms, Beijing is also sending a clear signal to Taiwan. (...) The danger of a military invasion of the island is increasing ”, it says in the“ Zeit ”.

Taiwan, located south of mainland China, split off from China in 1949. Beijing continues to regard the island as a breakaway province that is to be reunited with the People's Republic - if necessary with military force.

The mood also deteriorated recently after Taiwan's President Tsai Ing Wen was sworn in for a second term. Tsai, who supports the Hong Kong democracy movement, urged Beijing to negotiate and peaceful coexistence in her inaugural address in May. China rejected the offer to talk. Beijing will "never tolerate" Taiwan's independence. Taiwan is also increasingly isolated internationally. Only 15 countries have diplomatic relations with Taipei.

Tensions on the border with India

The mood has also recently deteriorated on other fronts - for example on the border with India. According to the Indian media, tensions have risen over the past few weeks on the shared border in the Himalayan region of Ladakh, where hundreds of soldiers are facing each other. There are always disputes between the two most populous countries in the world because of their long common borders. In 1962 they fought a short war that China won. Trump wanted to mediate in the conflict.

In the Southeast China Sea, Beijing was also noticed with increasing aggressiveness, wrote CNN. For example, Beijing recently imposed a fishing ban in the disputed sea area, angering the Vietnamese government. The South China Sea lies between China, Vietnam, Malaysia and the Philippines. Beijing claims 80 percent of the area through which major shipping routes run. Vietnam, the Philippines, Taiwan, Brunei and Malaysia are also making claims. The international court of arbitration dismissed China's claims in 2016, but Beijing ignored the ruling.

This is by no means the first time Beijing has flexed its muscles in the South China Sea or involved in border disputes with India, Griffiths said. "But while Washington and Delhi are distracted by domestic concerns related to the pandemic, Beijing has opportunities to benefit in both regions, which will be difficult to reverse once the pandemic is over."

Scramble for global leadership

Above all, however, the relationship with the world's largest economy, the USA, has reached an all-time low. The list of controversial topics is long: from the trade war, to the debate sparked by Trump about China's relationship with the World Health Organization (WHO), the conflict over Hong Kong, China's pressure on Taiwan, the persecution of civil rights activists, Uyghurs and Tibetans, to Chinese territorial claims in the South China Sea.

According to observers, China is not only using its growing economic and technological strength, but is also filling the void that the US is leaving behind with President Trump's withdrawal from global responsibility. Trump is also likely to be displeased that, according to recent forecasts, China's economy is likely to suffer less from the pandemic than the US. Both Republicans and Democrats are trying to demonstrate anti-Chinese harshness in the presidential election campaign.

"Constant drifting into an international anarchy"

There is a threat of a “general loss of order because both the descending superpower USA and the rising superpower China are too weak to set rules and run institutions”, it says in the “Zeit”. Former Australian Prime Minister and China expert Kevin Rudd also sees a "slow but steady drift into international anarchy."

In the meantime, the EU is always faced with a dilemma in view of the different interests of its member states and has not yet been able to find a uniform answer to China's geopolitical aspirations. That is why the relationship with the USA and China will also have priority in the course of the upcoming German Council Presidency. At the end of May, German Chancellor Angela Merkel emphasized the importance of relations with the USA, “Europe's most important partner”. In addition, an EU-China summit is still planned for September.

However, "Zeit" also notes that even a coronavirus-related stalemate between the USA and China would be a huge success for Beijing. The government does not want to and cannot yet take the place of the previous guardian of the world order. But: “It is enough to stand there for the moment as a haven of stability while the unrivaled superpower wavers. And that - what a punchline - triggered by an epidemic that began in central China. "