– by Alexander Görlach – What will the world look like in 2019? As every year, we ask ourselves what the new year might hold. In the past few years, that was an agitating affair. There’s a wave of nationalism and populism that has captured every part of the world, “Brexit”, the election of Donald Trump, the rise of China and the trade war between the United States and the People’s Republic. But where are we heading in 2019? Is everything going to be even worse? Or can humanity finally settle back and enjoy the dawn of a new era?
The world is overpopulated and nature is at the brink of collapse. These scenarios had been floating since the 1980s. Now they’ve materialised. Climate change and migration are the key topics of 2019. Everything else derives its importance from either one of them. Neither of these two tremendous challenges is being addressed. Mr. Trump walked out of the Paris Climate Agreement and plans to build a wall on the border with Mexico. But those are unsustainable and unedifying policies.
The PRC is often cited as a prime example of the symbiotic relationship that is possible between ecology and economy. Indeed, we should all be glad that Beijing has placed clean air and water high up on the agenda. Meanwhile, however, the average American still consumes three-and-a-half as many resources as the average Chinese. Without the US, we cannot adequately address climate change.
In questions of migration, however, the PRC is an even larger powder keg than the US. The Chinese minorities that had considered themselves a part of China before the inauguration of President Xi are now being pushed aside ever more fiercely. Both the Tibetan and Muslim culture are eradicated as I write. China’s leader is following Mr. Putin, Mr. Erdogan and Mr. Modi in marginalizing people of different pigmentation, religion and language. The US under Donald Trump is heading in a similar direction, although it hasn’t yet sunken to the same depths.
Social marginalisation in China is mainly occurring in the annexed northern and western parts of the country. Meanwhile, citizens of the heartland can go about their business without fearing the authorities. This central part of the country is the ‘good’ China. ‘Bad’ China lies beyond the imagined border that stretches from northeast to southwest. Most citizens of Beijing and Shanghai probably have no inkling of what’s happening in Xinjiang, where the Muslims live.
It’s important to keep in mind what’s happening. And to realise that not the whole nation applauds Mr. Xi’s divisive politics. In 2018, the PRC commemorated the reforms that Deng Xiaoping initiated forty years ago. He advocated openness, including a close friendship with the US. With Mr. Xi’s inauguration, this policy ended. Mr. Xi is turning back time. Within the political establishment, dissent is visible.
The China of Mr. Deng is open to the freedoms and ideas that constitute a liberal democracy. And it is alive. The ultimate goal of Western-Chinese relations can’t be to turn the PRC into a parliamentary democracy. But we can campaign for individual liberties, which in a value-oriented nation imply political and social rights. Citizens are the medium of the political order. That applies to the meritocratic one-party state embedded in Confucianism, just as it does to the liberal democracies underpinned by Christendom.
Back to ‘bad China’. The BBC revealed how quick the concentration camps for Muslims are growing and what indoctrination looks like in the camps of Xinjiang. It is a scandal that the world is merely watching. The Federal Republic of Germany, more than any other state, should intervene. Germany has a responsibility to keep the memory of the Holocaust alive. Doing so includes preventing genocide. We need to address this before the camps turn into graveyards.
A lot of thought in Europe is given to questions of identity these days. A call to action vis-a-vis China could reunify us. The European Union – and the democratic world at large – is the collection of states that have accepted human rights and written them into law. In this sense, we’re a federation. Because our polities stand on the same philosophical and legal ground, not because we yield our sovereignty to a higher authority. This is the common thread that binds such diverse countries as Germany, Japan, South Korea and Taiwan.
That takes us to the core of the real identity crisis of the present. There is one part of the world that has accepted human rights as the basis of statehood and the nation-state. But there is also a second part, where human rights aren’t just disregarded but actively combatted. China, Russia, Turkey, Iran and Saudi Arabia belong to the latter part.
It’s helpful to remember that ethnicity, language, religion and culture are no longer the basis of statehood in our part of the world. We’re witnessing that Muslims can be democrats just as much as Buddhists can be human rights lawyers. Human rights are truly universal. The liberal world order accepts diversity but provides a framework within which we can challenge the great quests of the present – climate change and migration.
For 2019 to be a success, the democratic world needs to notice the bonds it shares. It’s more than a challenge that Mr. Trump is leading the US away from his partners into isolation. Europe will most certainly also be busy dealing with the repercussions of Brexit. It is thus unlikely that the ‘old world’ will address the critical questions. 2019 will be the year of those who look at our achievements with optimism and consider change as a potential to create even more good and beautiful things.