Anyone living in Beijing now
Peter Acht: "Of course you should travel to China"
At the moment, the mood between China and Western countries can also be described as “saber rattling”. This mood also affects possible travel plans to the Middle Kingdom.
Peter Acht was a long-time Far East correspondent for radio and television as well as various daily newspapers. He had witnessed the Tiananmen massacre in Beijing in 1989 on the spot. Today he lives in Switzerland and Asia and works for domestic and foreign media.
Journalist Kurt Schaad talked to China expert Peter Acht about the relationship between China and the West and traveling in and to China.
Peter Acht, the relationship between China and western-oriented countries is quite tense. There are calls for a boycott of the Olympic Winter Games in Beijing. This also raises the question of whether one should also travel to China in the future.
Of course one should travel to China. In the past four years no one has asked me whether I should travel to the USA, where a racist and a liar is known to have been in power. For decades there has been almost only negative news about China in the West.
The big misunderstanding in the West is that it was believed that more democracy would go hand in hand with economic development - naturally a democracy according to the Western understanding. What else? But China has developed a different model and of course that doesn't suit us. China is putting something together according to its own tradition, according to its own history, and the West is not ready to accept it after 500 years of being on the trigger.
Well, China is definitely not a democracy.
Naturally. China is an authoritarian system. It is also a fact that most Chinese are satisfied with the current system, including my Chinese friends, who for the most part studied in the USA and China. They say: take a look at America, what kind of democracy is that. The Chinese can leave and study in the West. You don't want to see it that way.
You saw the Tiananmen massacre in Beijing up close. How do you perceive this event today?
That was a great tragedy and that it is taboo today is anything but good. Because history will catch up with China at some point. Just as it will catch up with other countries.
So, in your opinion, we have the wrong image of China.
We have a distorted picture. It can't be that 70 to 80 percent of our news is negative. It is quickly judged by the stool, this is the trend. I would never have allowed myself to report so unresearched. There are just four negative themes: Taiwan, Tibet, Xinjiang and Hong Kong.
But these are focal points, you have to take a closer look.
I say that, take a closer look. Take the Uighur story. What you never read in Western media is that the Islam practiced in Xinjiang is Salafist in nature, i.e. fundamentalist. Nobody knows that several thousand Uyghurs are fighting on the side of IS and similar organizations in Pakistan, Iraq, Syria and Libya. Of course, it is true that there is a burqa ban in Xinjiang. That shouldn't surprise us in Switzerland. And head veils are not allowed in schools and public services. However, there is no ban on minarets.
But we don't have any re-education camps in Switzerland.
Of course not and I don't want to gloss over these camps either, but neither are they concentration camps, as was spread in the western media in order to establish a connection to National Socialism. Xinjiang has a terror problem and it is also clear that the Chinese do not wear ice cream gloves when fighting terrorism. There is also talk of forced sterilization, mass rape, slave labor and so on in the West, without substantial evidence being available.
The dialogue between the West and China seems to have been permanently disrupted.
Of course he is and that worries me too. Of course you have to talk to each other, you have to stay in dialogue. But if you keep pointing the moral finger of human rights, it becomes difficult. The dialogue must take place on an equal footing and with mutual respect. If you only ever come with your index finger, that's not respect, then it just doesn't work.
And then you can also feel a Chinese expansion policy.
Europe and America have made expansion policies over the past 500 years. China has not expanded, has no colonies. Now the Chinese have come up with the idea of the new silk road. The Europeans could have had this idea too, but they didn't.
Where are the starting points for the looming conflict?to relax?
As I said, it is only possible with a dialogue with mutual respect on the same level. The starting point must also be multilateral, that is very important for the Chinese. I have to make a difference in terms of dialogue and respect.
So for you, dialogue also means traveling to China?
In general, I don't think boycotting a country is a good idea. The list would be quite long if the same standards were applied as with China. You shouldn't always look to one side of the guilt, that makes me so angry. “The bad Chinese” means that we will face difficult times. I don't believe in friendship between states, only in interests. That is also the reason why the US gets along relatively well with Saudi Arabia, even though human rights are trampled there, very probably even worse than in China.
But that cannot be a carte blanche for China.
No of course not. But China has become much more self-confident in recent years, is proud and can count on the vast majority of the population. It's no longer that every Chinese wants American democracy, but maybe American money. And an American passport so that he can tax his money much better. "We, China, are someone again" is a widespread attitude.
How would you organize a trip to China so that the dialogue you requested can take place better again? Traveling is also about learning to better understand another country, another culture.
You have to explain Chinese culture, just as you have to explain our culture to the Chinese when they are in Switzerland. Talking to people is not that easy because you can't speak the language. That is why traveling to China is best when you are in a well-organized group where the dialogue in contact with the Chinese is well organized.
What are the most important findings from this dialogue?
For the Chinese, and that has not changed to this day, Chinese culture is the best in the world. This awareness is still deep within everyone today. That's what I mean by understanding culture. There is a clear order. First the Chinese come, then the whites, then the Japanese and at the bottom come the blacks. That's the way it is. It's deep down, also with my Chinese friends who studied in the West. For them, too, Chinese culture is the ultimate and has been for over 2000 years. It is not called the Middle Kingdom for nothing.
So the point is that no more feelings of superiority can arise. Mutually.
After all, the Chinese are so far advanced that they no longer refer to foreigners as barbarians.
(Interview: Kurt Schaad)
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