Use China films to promote propaganda

China (competence)

Andrea Frenzel

To person

has a Masters in China Studies and is a research assistant in the Asia Research Group at the Science and Politics Foundation (SWP). Among other things, she works on topics relating to Chinese literacy in education in the German and European context as well as on China's foreign cultural and educational policy. [email protected]

Nadine Godehardt

To person

holds a doctorate in political science in the Asia research group at the Science and Politics Foundation (SWP) in Berlin. She deals with the discourses of Chinese foreign policy, China's global connectivity policy and geopolitical issues. [email protected]

The dispute with China is not just about finding answers to pressing problems in politics, business or technology. Rather, more China competence must be systematically built up in Germany and Europe in order to ensure the ability to act in the long term. It is crucial to locate this task at the interface between foreign and educational policy. For a broad societal basis of China competence, the understanding of "China" - its actors, their actions and their ideas - must be established as part of general school education in Germany and Europe. This is also necessary so that complex images of China can be conveyed at all on the political level and the China debate does not remain in a climate of political confessions without alternative. China under President Xi Jinping is striving to shape world politics in a Chinese sense. Therefore, the current situation requires an even more intensive analytical ability and an understanding of the political logic of China's action. The formation of China competence - and China competence through education - should therefore be part of the European China strategy.

Europe's criticism of China and China under Xi Jinping

Even before the corona pandemic, the political and social perception of the Chinese government under Xi Jinping changed significantly in Germany and Europe. A significant example of this is the "Strategic Outlook" of the European Commission of March 12, 2019. [1] On the one hand, China is no longer referred to as a developing country, but rather as a key global player and a leading technological power. On the other hand, the European Commission emphasizes that although China is a cooperation and negotiation partner as well as an economic competitor, it is also a systemic rival, primarily because of its government model. [2]

In the course of the pandemic, the critical attitude in politics, the press and the think tank community has increased significantly. [3] It is linked to growing doubts about Beijing's political credibility. This feeds on a whole series of political events such as the entry into force of the National Security Law for Hong Kong at the end of June 2020 [4] or the human rights violations in Xinjiang, as well as the confrontational rhetoric of Chinese diplomats, who, based on a Chinese action film, are also called "wolf warriors" - Diplomacy is called. [5] The ongoing criticism of the actions of the Chinese authorities at the beginning of the pandemic in Wuhan is also particularly audible. [6] This clouded image of China compared to previous years is not only evident in the political elite. Surveys from autumn 2020 reveal a sharp drop in sympathy values ​​for the country and a largely unfavorable assessment of its handling of the pandemic.

This European criticism of China is opposed to a country that is appearing more and more self-confident and self-serving. Under the leadership of Xi Jinping, the direction of Chinese foreign policy has changed significantly. [8] The country's Communist Party is no longer concerned with simply following international rules and norms. Rather, the aim is to establish relationships without requiring the Chinese side to adapt to international norms and conventions beforehand. In view of the success of its own development model or the successful containment of the corona pandemic, the Chinese leadership is increasingly presenting itself as a responsible actor and reformer in the international community. Last but not least, the large number of medical deliveries worldwide, especially in the first half of 2020, is an often-cited example of this. [9] Under Xi Jinping, Beijing aims to create ever greater compatibility between the international order and the Chinese one-party state, thus adapting the world to China (and not vice versa). For this, the establishment of own ideological concepts such as the establishment of a global "community of fate for humanity" - in contrast to the previous idea of ​​the international community - plays an important role. After all, in international politics and its institutions it is often a matter of gaining interpretative sovereignty over others. The analysis of these often ambiguous narratives in particular requires greater sensitivity and a deep understanding of the other person in order to ultimately be able to represent one's own positions with more certainty.

A plea for more China competence in Germany and Europe is therefore confronted with a double dilemma. On the one hand, political and social attitudes towards China have deteriorated significantly. The China debate is characterized by strong polarization and friend-foe rhetoric. [10] In a certain way, this prevents the realization of the need to create a broader social basis for China literacy right now. But the self-confident orientation of Chinese politics under Xi Jinping also makes it difficult to continue existing dialogues, mechanisms and forums in politics, business, science and culture as usual. In addition, access to actors, material and institutions is also becoming more and more difficult.

The present analysis aims to present an alternative solution for the formation of Chinese competence: a sustainable system that includes exchange experiences, German-Chinese cooperation in education and research, adult, professional and university education and lays the foundations for this already in school education .

At the interface between education and foreign policy

Education and foreign policy are natural allies in building competence in China. However, the federal structure of the education system in Germany must always be taken into account when promoting China competence, because the education or culture ministries of the federal states are decisive for the implementation. The first promising approaches to cooperation are already there. In 2017, a joint initiative by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF), the Federal Foreign Office and the Conference of Ministers of Education and Cultural Affairs (KMK) came about. [11] She supported the study "Knowing China, Knowing China" (2018), [12] a first, comprehensive inventory of China's competence in Germany. The study not only dealt with science and research, but also focused on the situation in school education. This is at least as important for a strategic approach as tertiary education. The "Working Group on China Competence in Schools and Training" was linked to the above-mentioned initiative. [13] Based on the findings from the study, she developed recommendations for implementation in general and vocational schools. At the end of 2019, a civil society actor, the Mercator Foundation, founded an educational network with the Goethe-Institut and supported by the initiative partners to promote Chinese skills in schools. Fields of work are Chinese classes, China as a subject in specialist classes and student exchanges.

However, it remains to be seen how things can continue and whether efforts to increase China competence should be more strategic and, above all, transnational. A deeper understanding of China requires more direct and indirect engagement with the country. Only then is it possible to develop effective tools and a mutual, confident attitude. The foundations for the promotion of Chinese literacy must be created not only at universities and in clusters of excellence, but also in society as a whole and anchored in the national, but especially in the European education sector. Without intensive, Europe-wide development of China competence across all departments, it will not be possible to differentiate long-term relationships with China as a partner, competitor and rival in Germany and especially in Europe.

Competence in China as a prerequisite for cooperation

The Federal Government reacted to the realization that more China competence is essential, already with the (now expired) "China Strategy of the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) 2015–2020". The measures developed therein relate primarily to science and research. As part of a funding measure, eleven interdisciplinary projects have been launched at German universities since 2016. [15] Most of these are technical, scientific and economically oriented programs that aim to increase China-related expertise and intercultural competence, especially among students, academics and administrative staff. Cooperation and exchange with Chinese partner institutions are often emphasized. But the question remains to what extent these scientifically oriented funding lines are sufficient to build up "broader China competence in Germany", since China competence is both the goal and an indispensable prerequisite for such programs.

Cooperation and exchange with China do not necessarily lead to the development of China competence without suitable framework conditions. On the contrary, it can even happen that well-intentioned initiatives are taken over. It is becoming more and more common that university collaborations can no longer be carried out without considering the political and ideological system differences as well as the economic competitive situation. More recent studies warn in particular of strategic, ethical and security risks, ranging from the protection of intellectual property to the preservation of the freedom of science. [16] Without fundamentally questioning the value of science and research collaborations with Chinese partners, the need for a more strategic approach in dealing with Chinese actors is becoming increasingly clear.

The increased awareness of the problem can be seen, for example, in a new initiative by the Federal Government: In May 2020, it announced funding for research projects on developments in various policy areas in the People's Republic of China. These should help to create a basis for "evidence-based research and innovation policy towards and in cooperation with China". [17]

The German Rectors' Conference also responded to political developments with its "Key Questions on University Cooperation with the People's Republic of China", which it resolved in September 2020. She clearly names the challenges due to increasing legal and organizational restrictions as well as state influence on the Chinese side. At the same time, she emphasizes the enriching aspects of working with actors in the differentiated Chinese academic system. It is expressly committed to scientific cooperation with China "on the basis of its own clear stance and values" with a "view of the specific framework conditions, goals and content of individual cooperations". [18] Such well thought-out and self-confident collaborations, which make transparency and reciprocity a principle, are an indispensable driving force of science and research.

Opportunities for action through competence in China

Competence in China in politics has a different focus than in economic or technological contexts. Ideally, however, all variants are based on good command of the language, in-depth knowledge and expertise in relation to China and the ability to communicate across cultures. On this basis, advanced China skills enable you to decipher political messages when dealing with Chinese partners and to take social differences into account, without simply equating China expertise with China experience. In detail, certain components are fundamental for the development of action-oriented China competence:

First China competence stands for the ability to apply knowledge of China to a wide variety of contexts and to classify specific problems in the broader context of China policy. For example, experience in the economic sector with China usually remains sector-specific and therefore cannot be transferred to other areas.

Secondly Intercultural competence is a necessary condition for the ability to dialogue, especially under the conditions of systemic competition between democracies and autocracies. It is not to be equated with the mastery of a bag of tricks or business etiquette, but above all comprises the ability to reconstitute the horizon of interpretation in the knowledge of the differences between the systems. The ability to engage in dialogue presupposes tolerance for ambiguities and differences, but can neither be exhausted in vague rhetoric of international understanding nor be limited to a supposedly apolitical "cultural" understanding. A detailed look at the complex political functioning of the state and party apparatus protects against both the influence of propagandistic stagings and the overly simple friend-foe scheme of "unspoiled" Chinese people on the one hand and "sly" party officials on the other . This helps to develop a sober attitude and to find solutions that do justice to the complexity of the German-Chinese and European-Chinese relationship and counteract the growing mistrust.

Third Chinese literacy must start in school education. Studies and vocational training as well as accompanied longer stays in the country can create in-depth knowledge of China. These approaches are valuable, but hardly help to anchor China expertise on a broad basis in society. The number of new students in China studies courses has been falling for years and was around 500 in Germany in 2016/17, [20] although there are more and more offers of contemporary China research. The development is similar in Great Britain, for example. [21]

School education as a cornerstone

The development of Chinese skills must therefore be anchored earlier in the learning biography, for example in secondary school education. Chinese classes in schools in Germany have not been expanded in terms of the number of pupils in recent years, but have been significantly expanded in terms of structure. The KMK passed requirements for the Abitur examination in Chinese as early as 1998. [22] A good 20 years later, around two thirds of all federal states have developed curricula and offer Chinese as a high school diploma. Teacher training as part of a teaching degree is now possible at three universities in Baden-Württemberg as well as in Göttingen and Bochum. It is under construction in Berlin. The prerequisites for successful language training through multi-year, competence- and standard-oriented lessons are basically in place. But the number of students participating has remained low for years - it is around 5,000. [23] In contrast, around seven million pupils at general schools in Germany learn English, 1.4 million French and 464,000 Spanish. [24]

Of the 100 or so schools that currently offer Chinese as a standard subject, around two thirds are in just four federal states: North Rhine-Westphalia is the frontrunner (not only in absolute terms, but also in relative terms), followed by Baden-Württemberg, Berlin and Bavaria ] Ambitious approaches have developed in some schools: Chinese is sometimes offered as a second foreign language and even as an advanced course. But there are still federal states in which Chinese does not exist as a subject. For a sustainable expansion, the range of teaching and additional materials and further training for teachers would have to be increased, as in general didactic research must be more firmly anchored at universities.

Chinese classes teach exactly those skills that are required in Germany and Europe on a much broader societal basis: language skills (with the appropriate duration of lessons up to a level of independent language use) and substantial sociocultural orientation knowledge about China, which is often underrepresented in social science subjects. Intercultural competence is the main objective of the Chinese lessons in schools. [26]

However: As complex as the knowledge conveyed in language lessons is, and although there are many good reasons for learning the language, it can be assumed that only a small, albeit hopefully growing, part of the student body will ever get involved. At the moment one can only speculate about the obstacles.But it is obvious that both the perceptions of China and the inhibition threshold towards the language and its characters, which are regarded as disproportionately difficult, play a role. All the more dramatic is the untapped potential of subject teaching to teach the approximately 5.3 million secondary school students in Germany something about China, for example in the subjects of politics, geography, economics or history - without the need for language skills. Political education with regard to China should be given greater consideration in schools (as well as in adult education), because we need considerably more people with China competence who are not "China experts". However, subject teachers need support so that China-related topics not only appear as an option in the curriculum, but actually come up in the classroom. Newer initiatives are trying to start here: The China School Academy at Heidelberg University, for example, is developing the additional qualification "China Competence for Schools" for teachers, [27] and the China Education Network is also planning corresponding projects.

In addition to technical and language lessons, schools can also enable short-term exchanges in a protected setting to meet the Chinese cultural area and its people. They should be supported financially and, if necessary, also with personnel, in order to enable schoolchildren to experience China for the first time. Many committed educators dedicate themselves with great personal commitment to the intensive preparation and accompaniment of these trips. [28] This also includes maintaining relationships with partner schools, which is often time-consuming but enriching.

Exchanges give young people the opportunity to develop a differentiated perception of the reality of life in China, which motivates them to continue to deal with the country. More recently, however, only around 50 schoolchildren from Germany dared a six-month or full-year stay in China as part of an individual exchange. [29] In contrast, short group stays of up to two weeks with trusted companions are more popular, if they can be financed.

A European educational initiative for Chinese literacy

Last but not least, Chinese literacy in schools must be developed financially and ideologically independently of the Chinese state. It is true that linguistic and cultural offers from the Chinese side in the sense of a cultural and educational foreign policy, as pursued by Germany and many other countries, should be welcome as a supplement. The "basic training" should, however, take place under national responsibility. Not only that: In solidarity with the EU member states, this basic equipment should be implemented and financially supported at the European level. In this respect, too, European robustness does not arise (only) in Germany, but above all through cooperation on a European level. Financially weaker EU member states are often unable to offer Sinology or language classes even in higher education, let alone Chinese classes in schools.

Even if a complete inventory of the existing China competence in Europe is not yet available, there is currently not a single European country that can provide adequate educational offers with regard to China on its own state responsibility.

In France, over 46,000 secondary school students learned Chinese in 2019. This is only about 0.7 percent of secondary school students, and yet our French neighbors are European leaders: In Denmark, Estonia and Italy around 0.3 percent of secondary school students receive Chinese lessons, while in Germany it is only about 0.1 percent. Several other EU member states are even below this. [30] What it looks like with the promotion of political and social knowledge of China apart from the language subject is not recorded.

In the medium term, this deficiency will affect Europe's ability to act autonomously with regard to China. In the end, it is not enough to focus solely on Germany on this issue. As a global player, China has long since arrived in Europe and is becoming increasingly decisive and self-confident. That is why Europe is looking for a common stance and a "more robust European strategy", as the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell recently emphasized. [31] Promoting China competence is therefore a challenge not only for Germany, but for the whole of Europe - be it in economic or political negotiations, diplomacy and information gathering or in order to be able to counter propaganda and disinformation.

At the European level, the awareness has grown that the EU's knowledge of China needs an upgrade, because without the development of a future-proof Europe-wide China competence system there will simply be a lack of the necessary expertise to deal with China in the foreseeable future. A European educational initiative for China competence as part of the European China strategy cannot, however, start with norms and binding structures, because educational policy is the domain of the individual member states. However, with its successful Erasmus + program, the EU already has a strong platform for cooperation and mobility measures in the field of education and training, youth and sport - with elements on which a China Competence Initiative could build. The initiative could also start at the intersection of the European education and research areas without restricting the sovereignty of the individual countries. [32]

In dealing with China, you therefore need the ability to withstand contradictions, to set limits and yet remain in dialogue. This urgent task must not only be reserved for specialists. A European educational initiative for Chinese literacy can help to consolidate the cohesion of the EU and to strengthen European autonomy in dealing with China. It can help to anchor a more complex understanding of China in European societies until we no longer have to write about China competence because we simply have it.