Darstellung von China, Europa und den USA als Personen

Cold War 2.0? Essential Readings on the New Systemic Conflict 11/20

Democratic states are increasingly challenged by assertive authoritarian powers. China, in particular, has become an economically successful, technologically advanced autocracy and an ambitious global geopolitical actor who promotes its model as an alternative to liberal democracies and their values. At Bertelsmann Stiftung, we think (and worry) a lot about this new systemic conflict and its consequences for Germany and Europe and so do many of our peers in politics, think-tanks, academia or media. In this monthly compilation, Peter Walkenhorst maps the ongoing debate and points to important contributions we consider essential readings. Please feel invited to comment and complement our selection.

In this Issue

1. European Resilience and Sovereignty

2. Transatlantic Cooperation

3. Global Governance and Global Order

4. China’s Rise and Ambitions

5. Technological Competition and Digital Authoritarianism

6. US-China Relations


1. European Resilience and Sovereignty

“Defending Europe’s Economic Sovereignty: new ways to resist economic coercion”

Jonathan Hackenbroich with Janka Oertel, Philipp Sandner and Pawel Zerka, ECFR Policy Brief, October 20, 2020

In short: How the EU can strike back at Chinese and American economic aggression: Important recommendations for greater European resilience by the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR).

European countries are increasingly coming under threat of economic coercion from great powers. In particular China and Europe’s ally, the United States, are increasingly reverting to economic punishment and blackmail to change the behavior of European entities, be they the EU, member states’ governments, or businesses. The EU and its member states have few tools with which to combat the economic coercion waged against them. Against this backdrop, the report prepared by the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR) presents a toolbox of measures Europeans could build and use to respond to various forms of economic coercion.


“Authoritarian Shadows. Influence of authoritarian third countries on EU institutions”

Péter Krekó, Patrik Szicherle, Csaba Molnár, Political Capital, September 28, 2020

In short: EU institutions show greater resistance to the influence of authoritarian powers such as Russia and China than national institutions.

This paper presents the results of a research project by the Budapest-based think tank Political Capital. It covers the foreign policy-related votes of members of the European Parliament in the current 9th European parliamentary cycle with a special focus on Central and Southeastern European countries to establish their vulnerability to authoritarian influence exerted by Russia and other authoritarian states such as China. Among the key findings is, that both Russia and China usually have a more challenging time influencing European than national institutions.


2. Transatlantic Cooperation

“Charting a Transatlantic Course to Address China”

Julie Smith, Andrea Kendall-Taylor, Carisa Nietsche, and Ellison Laskowski, Center for a New American Security/German Marshall Fund of the United States, October 2020

In short:The United States and Europe have no time to waste in coordinating their approach to China. This report lays out recommendations for cooperation on technology, investment, trade, and governance issues.

The gravity and scope of the challenges that China poses have permeated the transatlantic policy agenda and become a focal point in U.S.-Europe relations. There is now fertile ground for transatlantic cooperation on everything from reducing dependency on Chinese trade and investment to setting global norms and standards for the future. This report by the Center for a New American Security (CNAS) and the German Marshall Fund of the United States (GMF) lays out a roadmap for greater transatlantic cooperation on China, outlining concrete recommendations across the four sectors of technology, investment, trade, and global governance.


“Five Keys to a Transatlantic Agenda on China”

Noah Barkin and Agatha Kratz, Rhodium Group, October 19, 2020

In short:How the United States and Europe can get on the same page in responding to China: Five recommendations for fostering transatlantic cooperation with respect to China.  

With China seen as a growing threat to the interests of liberal democracies, European officials are reassessing prospects for transatlantic cooperation after years in which the Trump administration’s disdain for the European Union and international coalition-building prevented meaningful cooperation. But even with the upcoming change of the U.S. administration, the hurdles to cooperation should not be underestimated. What needs to happen for this to work? This report by the Rhodium Group lays out five areas where change will be needed on both sides of the Atlantic in order for the U.S. and Europe to come together on one of the biggest challenges of the 21st century: managing the rise of China.


“Let’s make the most of this new chapter in EU-US relations”

Josep Borrell, European External Action Service (EEAS), November 9, 2020 

In short: China is at the top of the restored transatlantic agenda, EU High Representative Josep Borrell declares.

The EU’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and Vice-President of the European Commission (HR/VP) Josep Borrell welcomed the prospects of a restored transatlantic partnership after the U.S. election. Greater cooperation with regard to China will be a crucial factor here: “We can also foresee an interest by the incoming Biden administration for close cooperation on China and the challenges it poses in terms of unfair trade practices, security and other issues where we both have concerns. Formulating a coherent and robust China stance is at the top of the agenda in Washington and something on which there is bipartisan agreement. We are ready for that and we can expect the EU-US dialogue on China that we launched only last month to continue, with renewed energy, under the next administration.”


3. Global Governance and Global Order

International Law with Chinese Characteristics: Beijing and the ‘Rule-Based’ Global Order”

Robert D. Williams, Brookings, October 2020

In short: China is actively pushing to shape international legal norms, but international law also influences China.

China is increasingly seeking to shape legal norms across various domains of international relations. This paper from the Brookings project “Global China” reviews Beijing’s recent history of engagement with international law and its mixed record in several contemporary issue areas: trade, maritime and territorial disputes, Hong Kong, human rights, climate change, and the emerging spheres of cybersecurity and autonomous weapons. It concludes, that even as China exerts increasing influence over international legal rules, international law can also shape the context for the choices of Chinese leaders and their perceptions of their interests.


China’s Growing Influence in International Organization”

Paweł Paszak, Warsaw Institute, October 14, 2020

In short: The West and like-minded countries need to increase their involvement and cooperation in international institutions to counter Beijing’s growing influence.

China continues its efforts to strengthen its position in the system of international institutions, in particular within the specialized agencies of the United Nations. The aim of these measures is to shape norms, standards, practices and rules that would foster their long-term strategy and weaken the US global position. This commentary is part of the Warsaw Institute’s new “China Monitor” program that analyzes China’s economic and foreign policies.


“How China Outsmarted the Trump Administration. While the U.S. is distracted, China is rewriting the rules of the global order”

Anne Applebaum, The Atlantic, November 2020 Issue

In short: How China is increasing its influence in global governance and spreading authoritarian norms and values.

The American withdrawal from international organizations under the Trump administration has cleared the way for China. As a result, Beijing’s influence in global governance has grown significantly. The Chinese government has made the gradual rewriting of international rules one of the central pillars of its foreign policy. As the renowned author and journalist Anne Applebaum forcefully argues in this essay, “this is an attempt to rewrite the operating language of the international system so that it benefits autocracies instead of democracies”.


4. China’s Rise and Ambitions

„Wie China Weltpolitik formt. Die Logik von Pekings Außenpolitik unter Xi Jinping“

Nadine Godehardt, SWP-Studie 2020/S 19, October 2020

In short: A thoughtful and detailed analysis of how China is trying to shape the international order according to its interest and ideas.

The logic of Chinese foreign policy has changed significantly under Xi Jinping's leadership. Beijing is no longer concerned with bringing China or the country's Communist Party into line with international norms and rules. Rather, it is seeking to bring the world and its order into line with Chinese ideas. German and European actors need a deeper understanding of this logic of action in order to correctly assess China's activities, especially in areas where the political-ideological differences between Beijing and the West are not always obvious, argues Nadine Godehardt, Deputy Head of Research Division at German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP) in this study (in German).


“China takes the climate stage”

Adam Tooze, Social Europe, October 19, 2020

In short: China is taking the lead in climate policy. This is not a concession to the West, it serves to strengthen the authoritarian regime.

On September 22, Xi Jinping made a surprise announcement: China would aim for carbon neutrality ahead of 2060. For the EU, as for anyone who cares about the climate, this is good news. But it may also turn out to be disorientating, argues Adam Tooze, professor of history at Columbia University. “For Beijing, managing the climate crisis is not a concession to the ‘liberal’ norms of the west. We should not think of Xi’s announcement as making China ‘more like us’. His climate policy is an integral part of an agenda of authoritarian stabilization.”

A German language version of this article has been published by the magazine Internationale Politik und Gesellschaft  (IPG).


“Has China Peaked Already? China has studied every great power’s rise — but did it miss the class about decline?”

Parag Khanna, Noema, October 13, 2020

In short: Thinking against the grain: What if China’s decline may have begun before its rise is complete?

It seems premature to speak of “peak China” when the country is still going from strength to strength. But Parag Khanna does exactly that. In his provocative and thought-provoking article, he reads conventional wisdom against the grain. “Convinced it can do no wrong, China’s decline may have begun before its rise is complete. America has quickly fallen from its hyper-power apex. China may well never reach it.”


 “China Is Winning the Vaccine Race. How Beijing Positioned Itself as the Savior of the Developing World”

Eyck Freymann and Justin Stebbing, Foreign Affairs, November 5, 2020

In short: China is determined to win the vaccine race in order to rebrand itself as a technological leader and patron of global health.

Although China initially paid a diplomatic price for its failure to control the novel coronavirus, it is poised to repair its damaged reputation by dominating the distribution of vaccines to the developing world. If Washington keeps refusing to compete, it won’t just risk losing the vaccine race. It will allow China to win the prestige of a first-rate technological power, the goodwill of a slew of new potential allies, and a legitimate claim to global leadership.


5. Technological Competition and Digital Authoritarianism

“Europe’s Awakening to China’s Tech Dominance”

Henrik B. L. Larsen, Harvard International Review (HIR), October 16, 2020

In short: To be or not to be a global tech power is the question for Europe!

China’s growing tech dominance poses fundamental challenges to Europe. To become a global tech power in its own right, the European Union must take unprecedented measures to allow its market to innovate at scale. To compensate for its loss of world regulatory power, the EU must lead the effort among like-minded democracies against the predominance of Chinese technology in the global standardization bodies, writes Henrik B. L. Larsen, Senior Researcher at the Center for Security Studies at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, ETH Zürich in his article in the Harvard International Review.


“A Future Internet for Democracies: Contesting China’s Push for Dominance in 5G, 6G, and the Internet of Everything”

Lindsay Gorman, Alliance for Securing Democracy (ASD), October 27, 2020

In short: China is making a concerted push to dominate the Future Internet. It's time for democracies to push back. This report shows how.

Liberal democracies and authoritarian regimes are in competition for the Future Internet.

Beijing in particular is making a targeted push to lead the world in the emerging internet technologies of the future. This report of the German Marshall Fund’s Alliance for Securing Democracy (ASD) provides a roadmap for contesting China’s growing dominance in this critical information arena across infrastructure, application, and governance dimensions. It includes 47 concrete strategic and tactical policy recommendations democracies should adopt to succeed in the Internet-of-Everything era while advancing the democratic values of human rights, transparency, and freedom from tyranny. When practicable, these recommendations embrace a multilateral frame that envisions democracies as strategic partners in the defense and promotion of these values.


“Promote and Build: A Strategic Approach to Digital Authoritarianism”

Erol Yayboke and Samuel Brannen, CSIS Brief, October 15, 2020

In short: A strategic approach to digital authoritarianism has to promote resilience to digital authoritarian threats while building an affirmative alternative that diminishes the influence of authoritarian actors over time.

Digital authoritarianism is on the rise. Artificial intelligence, facial recognition, and the Internet of things have increased the ability of authoritarian regimes to surveil and control individual citizens. At the same time, authoritarian regimes such as China and Russia are expanding the reach of their digital tools abroad and are exporting them to like-minded states. Liberal democracies lack a consistent and collective strategic approach to combat authoritarian use of digital and online space, even as they often preserve and promote advantageous elements of technology. This report by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) provides a set of actionable, politically feasible, and readily achievable recommendations to stem the tide of digital authoritarianism.


“Digital authoritarianism in China and Russia: Common goals and diverging standpoints in the era of great-power rivalry”

Elina Sinkkonen and Jussi Lassila, Finnish Institute of International Affairs (FIIA) Briefing Paper No. 294, October 2020

In short: Despite far-reaching plans of cooperation in digital technology, China has begun to look more like a threat to Russia than an opportunity.

This briefing paper by the Finnish Institute of International Affairs (FIIA) overviews digital surveillance and tech investment strategies in China and Russia in the era of increasing great-power rivalry. It argues, that instead of inciting a threat narrative of an authoritarian alliance, discussion on technology cooperation between China and Russia should acknowledge differences between the two countries and consider other ancillary threats of which technological decoupling is a real and significant part.


“State of Surveillance. Government Documents Reveal New Evidence on China’s Efforts to Monitor Its People”

Jesica Batke and Mareike Ohlberg, ChinaFile, October 30, 2020

In short: A very detailed and comprehensive analysis of how China builds one of the largest and most effective surveillance states.

Chinese officials view surveillance as a critical element of governance. This report from ChinaFile is the most comprehensive accounting of China’s surveillance build-up to date. It relies on an analysis of a new database of some 76,000 publicly available Chinese government procurement notices related to the purchases of surveillance technology and services across China between 2004 and mid-May 2020. The reporting relies on both quantitative analysis of the entire dataset, as well as close readings of the often lengthy and richly detailed supplemental documents that accompany lists of desired purchase.


6. US-China Relations

“How China Threatens American Democracy. Beijing’s Ideological Agenda Has Gone Global”

Robert C. O'Brien, Foreign Affairs, October 21, 2020

In short: U.S. National Security Advisor sees the ideology of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) as a threat to democracy in America and worldwide.

The Chinese CCP’s ideological agenda extends far beyond the country’s borders and represents a threat to the idea of democracy itself, including in the United States, writes U.S. National Security Adviser Robert C. O’Brien in this article. Chinese President Xi Jinping’s ambitions for control are not limited to the people of China. Across the globe, the CCP aims to spread propaganda, restrict speech, and exploit personal data to malign ends. The United States, accordingly, cannot simply ignore the CCP’s ideological objectives. Washington must understand that the fight against Chinese aggression first requires recognizing it and defending ourselves against it here at home, before it is too late.


“China’s Foreign Behavior Warrants Sustained US Countermeasures”

Robert Sutter, PacNet #59, October 29, 2020

In short: Why American countermeasures against challenges coming from China should remain strong in every major foreign policy arena.

The United States and its partners are fundamentally challenged by wide-ranging and intensifying Chinese efforts to weaken America in pursuit of ever-expanding Chinese ambitions. These efforts, if successful, will undermine and overshadow the existing world order with one dominated by an authoritarian party-state focused on advancing Chinese wealth and power at the expense of others. Therefore, Robert Sutter, Professor of International Affairs at George Washington University, points out, sustained U.S. measures are needed to counter Chinese challenges seen in every major area of Chinese foreign policy behavior.


“Four Principles to Guide U.S. Policy Toward China”

Ali Wyne, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, October 30, 2020

In short: The U.S. need to establish a sustainable modus vivendi with China, which despite its myriad frailties at home and constraints abroad, is primed to endure as a central actor in world affairs.

Ties between the United States and China have reached their lowest level since decades, and they are deteriorating further by the day. The relationship appears to have morphed from one of competitive coexistence into one of systemic antagonism, with tit-for-tat retaliation as the principal motor. Against that backdrop, Ali Wyne, nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council, offers four principles for a sustainable U.S. strategy vis-à-vis Beijing: 1) Find a middle ground between complacence and consternation 2) Embed U.S. China policy within a broader vision 3) Reposition abroad and rebuild at home and 4) Strive for a durable cohabitation.

The previous issue of this Literature Review can be found here: