By Sevim Dağdelen / Geopolitical Economy Report
The following is a speech that Sevim Dağdelen, a member of the German Bundestag, delivered at the Shanghai International Studies University (SISU) in China on June 5, 2023.
Dağdelen is the coordinator for the Left Party parliamentary group on the Bundestag’s Committee on Foreign Affairs and spokeswoman for international politics.
She visited China in June to promote peace and cooperation.
More than ever, in times of growing geopolitical tensions and confrontational policy approaches, with intolerance and “friend-or- foe” thinking threatening to erode the primacy of diplomacy, international exchange, mutual understanding, and peaceful cooperation are of outstanding global importance.
Through your academic innovation and your university’s global outlook – as reflected for example in numerous educational cooperation programmes and extensive academic exchange – you are making an important contribution, which cannot be overstated.
In talking about Sino-German relations in 2023 against the background of the new era of emancipation of the Global South, we should begin by discussing a book which is important to understand the present-day situation. It is entitled “The Economic Weapon: The rise of sanctions as a tool of modern warfare”, and it was published in the USA in 2022. The author is Nicolas Mulder, who is assistant professor of European modern history at Cornell University.
He explains in detail the historic development of economic and financial sanctions as a weapon of modern warfare, beginning with the First World War and described in 1919 by US President Woodrow Wilson as having an effect which was “something more tremendous than war”.
It must be noted that the USA, NATO, and their allies in Asia, Australia, and Europe are not only conducting a proxy war against Russia by supplying ever more weapons – and increasingly heavy weapons – to Ukraine, but are also waging economic war with the aim, as stated by German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock, of “ruining Russia”.
Economic sanctions are an instrument of modern warfare or, to quote the dictum of Prussian military theorist Carl von Clausewitz, the continuation of politics by other means.
But what do these economic sanctions against Russia have to do with Sino-German relations, and to what extent do they help, in line with a Mephistophelian principle, to usher in a new era and promote the emancipation of the Global South?
I should explain that Mephistopheles is a figure in the novel “Faust” by the German poet Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. Mephistopheles describes himself as “Part of the Power that would always wish Evil, and always works the Good”.
In this context, it should be noted that the sanctions against Russia have so far not achieved their intended effect.
Although the economic damage inflicted on Russia is undoubtedly significant, it is mainly the Europeans who are suffering from the economic war, particularly the United Kingdom and Germany, whose economies have slid into recession.
In Germany, workers are set to experience a 4% real-term drop in wages this year, following real-term wage cuts last year. Over 2 million people now depend on food donations, representing a 50% increase over the course of the last year.
Yet inflation not only affects the public through high prices for energy and food, it is also affecting increasing numbers of firms in Germany. De-industrialization on a massive scale is potentially looming, along with the loss of millions of jobs. In May 2023, almost 300,000 more people were registered unemployed than a year earlier, with their number totaling 2.54 million.
When people in Germany talk about a dramatic economic downturn, two lines of argument are often heard.
One side argues that this downturn has nothing to do with economic sanctions and, even were this the case, the fault would lie wholly with Moscow.
The other side, meanwhile, argues that the economic price in Germany for a possible Ukrainian victory is not too high, and that losses of prosperity are morally acceptable in view of the people being killed in the war in Ukraine.
As the economic war has not so far been tremendously successful, a further expansion of sanctions is now being insisted on.
US and EU discuss imposing secondary sanctions on China
This is where China comes into it. The European Union has decided that possible circumvention of sanctions should be tackled in the future, so Brussels has now prepared an 11th package of sanctions, which is intended to also target Chinese companies.
It was argued – apparently in order to abate Chinese reciprocity – that the sanctions would only apply to Chinese companies supplying Russia with goods from the EU. In an era of globalised production, this argument is not really convincing, however.
The 11th package of sanctions has initially been held up by Hungary and Greece in order to insist that Hungarian and Greek companies be deleted from Ukraine’s own sanctions list.
Yet it appears likely that the EU, and unfortunately also the [German] federal government, will continue doggedly down this path, since it is the USA which is particularly insisting on the expansion of sanctions to cover Chinese companies, whilst seeking to stay in the background to ensure that any reciprocity will mainly affect Europe.
There is much reason to believe, I should point out, that an economic war waged by the German federal government against China would have a far more devastating impact on the German population than sanctions against Russia.
China is Germany’s biggest trading partner. The German automotive industry, with its 850,000 jobs, would probably not survive an economic war of this kind – due to the loss not only of the market for its goods, but also of production facilities.
This probably also explains why the federal government is still reluctant to spearhead this European kamikaze mission.
The extent of potential mutual benefit to be gained from intensification of Sino-German relations should be emphasized – in the cultural, academic and educational spheres, but also through boosting trade relations and promoting integrated production chains and the necessary infrastructure.
In particular, the field of literacy in primary schools, where Germany’s relative position is continually worsening and Germany is now well behind China, would offer opportunities for mutual learning.
US domination of Europe leads to lack of German sovereignty
I believe the main obstacle on the path to promoting Sino-German relations is Germany’s lack of sovereignty, however.
In the context of NATO’s proxy war with Ukraine, it has become particularly obvious that Berlin merely implements Washington’s foreign-policy decisions at lightning speed and indeed, as could be seen regarding the supply of tanks, even allows itself to be maneuvered onto the front line in the war, whilst Washington delayed its supplies of tanks.
The situation in Germany is reminiscent of the situation in Latin America in the 1970s, with a comprador bourgeoisie serving the interests of US corporations.
Often, people cite the massive presence of US troops in Germany, who have been stationed there for 78 years, or the tightly woven transatlantic networks in the political, media and economic spheres.
Yet, this by itself this does not suffice to explain the extreme compliancy demonstrated by German policymakers vis-à-vis the USA.
Due to time constraints, I will only cite one thing here: since 1990, the US investment fund BlackRock, which, with over $10 trillion worldwide, is the world’s largest asset manager, has invested massively in Germany.
BlackRock has a decisive stake in all 30 companies which make up the German Dax index and a majority stake in eight of them.
Of course, BlackRock also invests in China, but certainly not from such a strong position as in Germany.
This concentration of economic power impacts on political decision-making in Germany. This seems to me beyond dispute.
As in the NATO field, there is considerable scope for academic studies investigating the extent to which this investment contributes to Germany’s vassal-state relationship with the USA and particularly with US corporations.
Unfortunately, there is scant hope that this academic work is likely to be carried out at German universities – we do not have a single academic at these universities critical of NATO. But this would be a suitable starting point for anybody concerned about the future of Sino-German relations – investigating how to curtail the influence of a third party which has no interest in these relations flourishing.
In chess, there is a rule for the endgame. It is known as the “principle of two weaknesses”.
This rule is generally disregarded by the West in international policymaking.
The “principle of two weaknesses” is described as follows: sometimes a player is unable to win despite having an advantageous position. If, however, the opponent has more than one weakness, then victory is within grasp, because moving on two fronts overburdens the opponent and ultimately leads to defeat.
Examination of the debate on expanding economic sanctions reveals how little regard is paid to this important principle in political practice in the West.
Instead, as with this proxy war, the “all or nothing” principle appears to rule, leading to a growing risk of a Third World War, or at least an economic war, with possibly devastating consequences for the population around the globe.
Yet if this roulette-style policymaking is not abandoned, all will even more inevitably be lost.
All the international institutions which have been built since the end of the Second World War to replace war with diplomacy and cooperation are at threat of being dismantled. And it is precisely this good sense and reason, with a refusal to engage in apocalyptic games, which must form the basis of present and future Sino-German relations.
The emancipation of the Global South unintentionally resulting from the West’s economic war must be factored into calculations.
More than 80% percent of the world is not participating in Western sanctions. And, meanwhile, calls for alternative trading currencies are becoming increasingly loud, since only such currencies appear to offer protection from the effects of Western sanctions on third parties and from the West’s modern warfare in the long term.
Here, too, we must repeatedly point to the double standards being applied – which the Global South is absolutely fed up to the back teeth with, to put it colloquially.
Who would ever have suggested putting global political isolation of the USA on the agenda due to the US intervention in Iraq? Probably only a fool would have suggested this.
Yet, the approach to Russia is completely different. The sanctions are not only intended to damage the country economically in order to coerce it, but also to isolate it internationally, particularly in Europe.
Russia has made a virtue of necessity in this context and, in the field of trade and relations, begun what could be described as a pivot towards Asia, flanked by a reinforcement of its ties with Latin America and Africa.
The dream of a German-Russian partnership in our mutual interest has been shattered.
In Castres in the south of France, I once saw a painting which is fitting in this context: “The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters” by Francisco de Goya.
For Europe, this attempt at forcing Russia out, or even subjugating it, poses great dangers and threatens to bring great suffering to its population.
The mental impacts of German supplies of tanks to Ukraine, as well as the support for Russian neo-Nazis who are now carrying out attacks on Russia, is underestimated in the West and unfortunately also in Germany.
The attacks using combat drones coming from Ukraine which are now being carried out even on Moscow with explicit approval from the government in London – the Biden administration and German federal government are more cautious in their comments – are aimed at the beginning of a full spectrum war (“total war”), of which Russia’s isolation in a total economic war is intended to be one component.
This is exactly the argument used by those who are fatally supporting expansion towards China. The fact is that the “Cape of Asia”, as the French poet Paul Valery once described Europe, is isolating itself with its policy of giving large US corporations priority over the interests of its own population.
Vladimir Lenin was also a chess player. There are well-known photos of him in exile in Capri in 1908, playing against Maxim Gorki.
In chess, players are always recommended to be guided by theory. Yet there is also another principle, which takes precedence – that of “doing what is necessary” to develop a practice and thus a theory aimed at winning.
This prevailing principle was fully used in defending the Russian Revolution – and I am not just referring to Lenin’s New Economic Policy, but also to the Congress of the Peoples of the East in 1920.
At this congress, no less than an alliance between the oppressed colonized peoples and the working class was proposed, an alliance aimed at emancipation to protect the Soviet Union against an invasion by Britain and France and the restoration of capitalism.
Sometimes a hundred years are like one day. Resistance is emerging in the Global South to the world being forced into a neo-colonial corset, with proxy wars and economic wars.
The whole world would benefit from an alliance between the working classes in the West and the peoples of the South – in order to promote diplomacy, cooperation and a mutual balance of interests, rather than an insane arms race, economic decline, and putsches.
Such an alliance could foster freedom, peace, and justice in this world.
Sevim Dağdelen has been a member of the German Bundestag since 2005. She is the spokeswoman for the Die Linke (Left Party) parliamentary group on the Bundestag’s Committee on Foreign Affairs, a deputy member of the Defense Committee, and spokeswoman for international policy and disarmament. From 2017 to 2020, she served on the executive committee of the Left Party parliamentary group as vice chair.