“The current situation is extremely dangerous”

Alleged spy balloons are currently straining US-China relations. In an interview, the expert Mühlhahn explains how problematic this is.

Chinese and US diplomats meet at the Munich Security Conference after the suspected spy balloons were shot down. The Chinese side reacted rather coolly to an initial offer of talks from US President Joe Biden.

Klaus Mühlhahn, sinologist and president of the Zeppelin University in Friedrichshafen, is skeptical that there will be any rapprochement in Munich. In an interview with t-online, he explains why communication is so difficult, to what extent North Korea is benefiting from the Ukraine war and what makes the German government’s China strategy dangerous.

t-online: The clampingRelations between the USA and China are at a peak, but at least a Chinese delegation came to Munich for the security conference. Mr. Mühlhahn, how do you rate the current channels of communication between the West and China?

Klaus Mühlhahn: The conversation channels don’t work very well. After the launch of the Chinese balloon, there were talks between US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken and the most important Chinese foreign politician, Wang Yi, but apparently only positions were exchanged. Actually, one would have expected these talks earlier. So the canals are very busy.

Why is China provoking the USA, Canada or countries in South America with alleged spy balloons? That doesn’t seem like a smart move politically.

It is questionable whether this balloon action was well coordinated and coordinated in the Chinese government. There had been prior efforts by Beijing to tone down foreign policy rhetoric and Blinken’s visit was planned. It was precisely during this phase that the balloon flew over the USA and there are really only two possibilities: either the coordination between the military and politicians was not good, or parts of the Chinese military intentionally sent the balloon to torpedo the talks.

Klaus Mühlhahn: The researcher is an expert on the history and culture of China.
Klaus Mühlhahn: The researcher is an expert on the history and culture of China. (Source: ZU/Ilja Mess)

Which scenario is more likely?

the latter. In my view, China’s political leadership would be cautious about such actions, especially in the run-up to Blinken’s visit. In both cases, however, China is not looking particularly good.

The balloon has destroyed the chance of a relaxation for a while.

The current situation is extremely dangerous. The balloon immediately sparked heated debate in the US, and then the Americans sent their most advanced fighter jet — an F-22 — to shoot it down with an expensive missile.

After all, many Americans could watch for days as the balloon flew slowly across the country. Is the incident an additional argument for Washington to persuade the Europeans to adopt a tougher China policy?

Clear. In the great conflict and in the struggle for a new global order, China and the United States are trying to bring as many countries as possible onto their course. It was interesting how some countries, for example in Latin America, reacted to the balloon incident. Venezuela has condemned the shooting down of the balloon by the USA.

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June 13, 2019, Berlin-Dahlem. Prof. Klaus Mühlhahn (55), Vice President of the Free University of Berlin. *** 13 06 2019, Berlin Dahlem Prof. Klaus Mühlhahn 55, Vice President of the FU Berlin

Klaus Mühlhahn

Born in Constance in 1963, he studied sinology in Berlin and received his doctorate there. Research stations in Berlin and in Berkeley, USA, followed. In 2004, Mühlhahn was appointed professor at the University of Turku in Finland. In 2014 he became Vice President of Freie Universität Berlin, and since 2020 he has been President of Zeppelin University in Friedrichshafen.

What is the situation for the West in general in this conflict?

China is very active in many regions of the world, unfortunately we often don’t realize it. In South America, on the African continent. In many regions, there is growing pressure on countries to make decisions. You can also see that in relation to the Ukraine war.

Europe is relatively closed in condemning the Russian invasion, but beyond that it’s not true at all. South Africa, Brazil or India are large countries that do not want to position themselves clearly.

But India was instrumental in the war being so strongly condemned at the G20 summit in Indonesia.

That’s correct. But the question still arises as to why India continues to buy commodities from Russia on a large scale and does not use the current situation to position itself clearly. They don’t, and that’s very noticeable. India refuses, although the country also has conflicts with China.


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