For breakfast reading I read one of the most important German mainstream newspapers today, the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ), which had 3 articles on foreign influence on the part of China and Russia in the West. This results in a holistic picture from the mosaic parts, which suggests the danger of a certain Mc Carthyization of the US and German election campaigns and politics. The FAZ is a conservative newspaper that is close to the CDU / CSU and the Seeheimer Circle of the SPD, as well as being well connected to the leading German business representatives . To the first article:
The US counterintelligence warns of foreign influence on the US elections. So far this warning has been especially for Russia, now also for China:
“America’s counterintelligence expects attempts to exert foreign influence on the presidential election in a few months. However, the interests of the big rivals do not seem to be congruent. according to the assessment of the American counterintelligence on an election defeat of President Donald in November – whereas in Russia there is a preference for the incumbent. “According to our assessment, China wants President Trump, whom Beijing regards as unpredictable, not to be re-elected,” said counterintelligence chief William Evanina in a public statement on Friday. On the other hand, Russia is trying to harm Trump’s democratic challenger Joe Biden.
„Before the elections, foreign states will continue to use covert and overt methods of influence to influence voter preferences and perspectives, change American politics, exacerbate discord in the United States, and undermine popular trust in our democratic process,“ said Evanina, who heads the National Counter-Espionage and Security Center (NCSC). Attacks on the election infrastructure are also to be expected.
Apart from the question to which extent Russia and China can actually influence the ballot at all and if the decision of the US voters is not primarily homegrown and is more influenced by US political action committees and the media, it is also to be expected that the candidates themselves will blame each other: Biden will, as before, accuse Trump of being a Manchurian candidate of Russia and Trump will portray Biden as a Manchurian candidate of China.
After Trump tries to portray Biden old, senile, weak „Sleepy Joe“ and „Slow Joe“, who is only a transition candidate for left-wing extremists who want to bring socialism over the US, Biden is now dubbed „Beijing-Biden“:
“At the start of the Republican Party Congress, the former American UN Ambassador Nikki Haley campaigned for Trump and tried to convince voters of his competence in foreign policy. According to Haley, the president took a tough stance on China, defeated the IS terrorist group – „and he tells the world what it needs to hear.“ Trump’s Democratic opponent Joe Biden accused Haley of „weakness and failure“ on foreign policy. „Joe Biden is good for Iran, ISIS (Terrorist Militia Islamic State), and he is great for communist China.“ „He would like to weaken us economically and on the world stage, „said Trump Jr., referring to his father’s Democratic candidate. „Biden is so weak that the secret services assume that the Chinese Communist Party prefers him.“ Donald Trump Jr. ridiculed his father’s challenger as „Beijing Biden“, in German: „Peking-Biden“.
Both sides. Moscow-Trump and Beijing-Biden will accuse each other of being soft on Russia and soft on China, which can also create a certain escalation dynamics and destructive momentum in foreign relations with both countries.
In any case, the confidence of the US elites in the judgment and maturity of their voters seems to be extremely limited and does not seem to see the own propaganda and arguments of their own two US parties and their US politicians as decisive for the election. Conversely, the good news would be that the Russian and Chinese influence would neutralize each other and the election result would then be a product of the own arguments and manipulation techniques of the two US parties‘ own spin doctors. A real American victory! In the worst case, however, an eternal debate would break out, whether it was a Chinese or a Russian victory and perhaps Trump would have to be forcibly carried out of the White House because he would not recognize a Chinese victory of Biden and maybe even mobilize his supporters against it.
At the same time, the book by Clive Hamilton / Mareike Ohlberg “The silent conquest. How China is infiltrating western democracies and rearranging the world „has now been published, which tries to detect China’s networks of influence agents, including engagement politicians such as Helmut Schmidt and Henry Kissinger.The FAZ dedicates a full-page comment on this book, especially since it sees German and European China policy unilaterally denounced by the authors of the book and does not believe in Trump’s containment and confrontation policy. The FAZ sees itself more in danger of being accused by China bashing authors as being an agent of influence for China and also classifies the book as a battle manifesto, rather than as a scientific work:
“From the point of view of Clive Hamilton, Professor of Public Ethics at the Charles Sturt University in Canberra, and Mareike Ohlberg, scientist at the German Marshall Fund of the United States in Berlin, it is about the survival of Western democracy. From their perspective, it is not the state and the nation of China that appear internationally, but the illegitimate regime of the Communist Party. The Communist Party of China has been pursuing an ambitious and well-planned long-term program for international influence for decades with the aim of shaping the world according to its ideas. Instead of attacking other countries from outside, the party is looking for allies, silencing critics and subverting Western institutions in order to weaken resistance to its striving for power from within. In doing so, it makes use of 30 closely interlinked institutions that are tightly and centrally controlled in the sense of “united front work”. The compilation of the authors ranges from party organs and ministries to the media and the People’s Liberation Army to town twinning and parliamentary friendship groups.
In order to be able to carry out this well advanced “silent conquest” so successfully, the Communist Party uses two groups of Western actors. A group of such „friends of China“ would be bought through direct financial aid, other benefits, or special attention. The other group is naive, does not recognize the actual intentions of the party and is deceived by a clever rhetoric of harmony and cooperation. The list of such “friends of China” compiled by Hamilton and Ohlberg is long, international and illustrious. It is led by Henry Kissinger, who in 1971 reestablished the cooperation between America and China as the then National Security Advisor, followed by the „blue-eyed“ Bill Clinton, Obama’s Foreign Secretary John Kerry and Joseph Biden, who – according to the author duo – for years advocated concession towards China without any reason . Even in the Trump administration “friends of China” are located. Donald Trump’s own family initially hoped „to be able to enrich themselves in China“.
In Great Britain, the authors see the influence networks of the Communist Party as so firmly anchored that the „point of no return“ has been exceeded and attempts to evade Beijing’s influence are probably doomed to failure. Italy is moving in the same direction. As far as Germany is concerned, former Chancellor Helmut Schmidt, who died in 2015, is said to have an all-round servile following in China. One can argue about Schmidt’s assessments of world politics, but the suggestion that he was remote-controlled from Beijing is absurd. The same applies to another “supporter of China”, the incumbent Chancellor Angela Merkel, who ignored criticism and concerns in order to enable the Chinese supplier Huawei to participate fully in the German 5G network. Other chapters in the book deal with influencing business elites, media, culture, science and the Chinese diaspora, as well as espionage. Some basic statements are factually incorrect. It is claimed that Western intelligence services limit themselves to stealing political and military secrets, while China engages in industrial espionage with enormous resources. The Bundestag’s committee of inquiry into the NSA affair found that this service alone researched the German economy using 40,000 key terms and passed on important findings to competing firms in America.
This book is neither scientific nor a non-fiction book. Instead, Hamilton and Ohlberg submitted a political pamphlet. They want to wake up the Western public and unmask the Communist Party as well as the „Friends of China“. Many of your individual observations on Chinese influence that have already been published elsewhere are correct and have therefore already found the necessary response. It has to stay that way. For this reason alone, there can be no talk of a “silent infiltration” – not even if you consider the media coverage in Germany, which is definitely critical of China.
It is not a monopoly of the ruling Communist Party of China to want to exert influence over the politics and societies of other countries. Such a study only gains real informative value in comparison with the influence of other states or great powers. Hamilton and Ohlberg assume that China will never change – an unfounded, at least history-blind thesis. The EU has chosen a smarter way to protect its interests. Since 2019 she has understood her relationship with the People’s Republic as a triad of strategic partnership, competition and systemic rivalry. The comprehensive economic and political decoupling of the West from China would be self-damaging and unrealistic. „
In the USA, the engagement policy seems to be abolished, US Democrats and US Republicans are likely to prefer congagement to Trump as a new foreign policy consensus over China, as a minimum consensus. Trump, Steve Bannon, Kyle Bass, Guo Wengui, Falunggong and the Committee on the Present Danger: China prefer containment and direct confrontation, and for them even the proponents of congagement are still too soft on China.
It remains to be seen to what extent the lawsuit about foreign influence by means of the Wirecard affair will also affect the German election campaign. Especially since traces of Russia and the Russian secret service can be found here. In the meantime, analogous to the debate about the competences of the German financial supervisory authority Bafin, a lively discussion has arisen about how far the competences and responsibilities of counter-espionage of the German secret services should go and to what extent the secret services have an overview. Therefore a debate stated about an expansion of the secret service competences. Reversing their roles, the Greens and the FDP advocate expanding secret service competences, while the Christan Democrats are more cautious in this regard, including when it comes to industrial espionage, especially since the secret services believe that surveillance of the German economy without cause is not feasible:
“The Federal Intelligence Service(BND) and the Office for the Protection of the Constitution do not believe they are responsible for the collapsed Dax group Wirecard and assign responsibility to each other. The Ministry of the Interior, the parent authority of the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution, informed the F.A.S. with that the „Wirecard issue“ is „outside the statutory task of providing information“ of this service. In addition, it is recommended to contact the BND foreign secret service “or the Federal Chancellery responsible for the BND”.
However, according to the findings of the F.A.S. the observation of DAX corporations is never part of the “job profile” that the intelligence service coordinator in the Chancellery compiles with state secretaries from several ministries for foreign intelligence. From the point of view of the BND, therefore, it was not he himself, but the secret service responsible for Wirecard is the domestic secret service. As a result, several newspapers and the British research collective Bellingcat submitted reports that his board member Jan Marsalek could be connected to the Russian secret service. Alleged contacts with the nationalist party FPÖ in Austria were also known. Marsalek has since gone into hiding. However, Bellingcat’s researchers have submitted confidential Russian intelligence files according to which he may have fled to Russia. These reports are considered plausible by authorized experts in Germany. So far, however, the BND and the Protection of the Constitution have only been able to tell the members of the Bundestag’s parliamentary control body that they do not know anything, but wanted to inquire with friendly services and then report. That hasn’t happened until today.”
So it remains to be seen whether the influence of Russia and China, as well as their real or supposed agents of influence, will become an election issue in the German election campaign in 2021 and whether there will be a kind of Mc Carthyization of the election campaign and politics. However, this debate will be softened and dampened by the fact that also the transatlantic German politicians and friends of America will be criticized if they are themselves not influence agents of the USA.
The West no longer exists because of Trump and the times of Western hubris and the globalization boom of the 90s to the 2010s are over, but they really lead to Trump and America First . The West, insofar as it still exists , is divided and on the defensive. We no longer live in the times of Fukuyama and the End of History, not on the offensive but on the defensive. We have to adjust to that. Neocon ideology, the Iraq war, the entire regime change policy in the Greater Middle East, the economic system including environmental and climate destruction, neoliberalism and EU and NATO expansionism have now turned the offensive into a defensive due to the hubris of that time. Consolidation and stabilization are the order of the day, not expansion.
Although Trump believes he is still on the offensive with regard to China and Iran, it remains to be seen how long this next hubris will last. In addition, the US, even under a Biden, will shift its weight more and more to the Asian Pivot in the future, although under Biden more support for the EU and NATO can be expected, but will probably no longer go back to the old transatlantic golden era and days of the post-war period. The West is divided, on the defensive, precisely because it went so unrestrainedly on the offensive in the 90s, 2000s and 2010s.
Without an analysis of the own mistakes and readjustment, as well as a period of a reconsolidation and stabilization in view of the de facto defensive, all hectic offensive action will rather exacerbate the problem, rather than solve it, and then the question arises as to whether this is only a result of wrong political leaders and decisions or are not even intrinsic to the system, which is why the authoritarian regimes are now promoting themselves as counter-models and counter-systems. The fact that the US Democrats or parts of the US Republicans want to denounce Trump as a Russian agent, in any case, keeps from a systemically self-critical analysis of their own mistakes in the last 2-3 decades and does not mean that a real new beginning can be expected. Especially since Biden is now denouncing Trump as the Manchurian candidate of Russia and Trump Biden as the Manchurian candidate of China, this external diversion will not lead to the necessary inner self-criticism of one’s own mistakes and hubris.