Dealing with China: Will Germany Sacrifice the Promise “Never Again” for Economic Interests?
In the international community, traces of the trauma of World War II remain. Especially in Germany, the Nazi administration continues to be held accountable. While this great pain persists, the world is experiencing the reality of genocide once again. New evidence and new documents emerge every day regarding the genocide carried out by the Chinese Communist regime against Muslim Uyghurs, Kazakhs, Kyrgyz, and other populations in East Turkestan. Despite this undeniable situation, the sight of the German-led European Union sitting at the table with China shows that the West has forgotten the words “never again” in the wake of the Holocaust.
When we look at the system implemented by the Nazis in World War II, we see something remarkably similar to what the Chinese Communist Regime is doing in East Turkestan today. To support the system they established to dominate the world, it was standard practice for the Nazis to send slave-like workers into concentration camps to work for companies which were cooperating with them. For example, Hugo Boss, who founded the famous clothing brand, joined the Nazi Party 12 years after establishing his textile factory in 1923. According to an article published in the New York Times, the uniforms of the Nazis started to be produced after Boss joined Hitler’s party. People from Poland and France were brought in and forced to work in his factories.
The world community is facing a similar crisis today. The largest cotton producer in the world is China. Because of the advantages it has in both raw materials and workmanship, brands such as Zara, Marks & Spencer, Nike, Adidas make their products in the industrial zones built next to the concentration camps in East Turkestan, which is under the rule of the Beijing government. Western companies, which usually emphasize their adherence to international values such as not harming human rights and the environment, receive service from factories where Muslim Uyghurs are employed as slaves. Western companies will not be able to erase this stain in the future, just as Hugo Boss has not erased the stain of the decision to produce for the Nazis.
Another example of German companies’ collusion with the Nazi Holocaust is the Continental company. This company produces automotive parts. During the Second World War, ten thousand people from the concentration camps worked like slaves in the company’s factories. The article published in the New York Times last August referenced the research of Paul Erker from Ludwig Maximilian University. According to this research, the company, founded by Jewish bankers in 1871, was operated by Jewish administrators until 1933, and became one of the largest and most liberal companies. However, after the Nazis came to power, all Jews were expelled from the company. The company produced tires, bulletproof gas tanks, and gas masks for German army vehicles during World War II. The company was one of the first factories under the Nazis to employ slave workers from France and Belgium. In those days, the company produced rubber-soled boots for soldiers along with automotive parts. These boots were tested on prisoners in concentration camps. During these tests, Nazi officers were ordered to sing German military songs aloud to detainees.
Nearly 75 years later, the world is once again witnessing persecution via forced labor in concentration camps, which benefits German automotive companies. The names of German automotive companies Mercedes-Benz and BMW have been mentioned among those profiting from the slave work of Muslim Uyghurs. The largest shareholder of BMW, the Quandt family, made 50 thousand people work like slaves in World War II. It should be emphasized that BMW produced military equipment for the German army and used slave labor for this. “To date, the great suffering this has caused and the fate of many forced workers remain the subject of deepest regret,” said the message published on the 100th anniversary of the founding of the company. However, the same company is profiting from the Chinese Communist Party’s crime of genocide by using Uyghurs employed as slaves. German companies, whose names were associated with the Nazi genocide during World War II, are now guilty of the same type of association through their links with the Chinese genocide occurring today.
In a report prepared by the Australian Strategic Policies Institute (ASPI) at the beginning of 2020, documenting the employment of Uyghurs as slaves, another automotive giant in Germany is mentioned. When the first factories were established, Nazi officers persecuted Jews who were employed as slaves and made them sing nationalistic anthems. Today, the Chinese Communist regime officials force the regime’s doctrines upon the workers in factories in East Turkestan. Dozens of companies are mentioned in the ASPI’s report, just as Paul Erker’s study explains in detail that many German companies were involved in the Jewish genocide and exploited slavery. However, this has received little attention from the media and international community.
Despite the passage of more than 75 years, it is observed through the research of universities and newspapers that Germany is still in the process of coming to terms with its past. Turkish academic Dr. Gonca Kişmir’s work sheds light on this issue. An important reckoning step in Kişmir’s view was German President Willy Brandt’s kneeling in front of the statue erected in memory of the victims of the Warsaw Jewish Ghetto, one of the symbols of the Second World War, and his apology to all humanity on December 7, 1970. 15 years later, Helmut Kohl, the Chancellor of Germany at the time, visited the graves of SS6 officers in Bitburg together with US President Ronald Reagan. This visit drew a sharp reaction because some of the soldiers buried there had massacred French civilians during World War II, and was considered as a negative step in Germany’s reckoning with the genocide.
Helmut Kohl, on the other hand, appears today as one of the two people named Helmut who opened the door for China to act so recklessly on human rights. The other Helmut, Helmut Schmidt, is one of the leaders who supported the Chinese Communist Party regime’s quest for world domination. Schmidt introduced the doctrine of “economic integration,” and envisioned a world where China would abandon its Communist and authoritarian mentality when it got rich. According to a Politico magazine evaluation, chemical manufacturer BASF decided to invest $ 10 billion in China in May 2020. The growth of this longstanding economic relationship has caused Germany to remain silent in the face of China’s policies that destroy universal values, especially human rights violations. Even during the virus epidemic that came out of China and brought the world to the brink of disaster, due to the growth of trade relations between the two countries, Chancellor Angela Merkel remained silent in the face of calls for a response to China’s human rights violations in Hong Kong, Tibet, and East Turkestan.
We can see from the statement “We cannot evaluate China with our cultural and human values” by Jürgen Heraeus, one of the country’s billionaire businessmen, that the German government and the leaders of German industry only evaluate the issues from the economic perspective . This mentality has existed since the two Helmuts, and reveals a business-focused structure that repeats the collaboration with Hitler before World War II. And yet Germany is one of the leading members of the international community, and one of the two great founders of the European Union. Remember that the German company Topf & Sons, which produced “special furnaces” with sophisticated technologies for the burning of the bodies of Jews killed by poison gas, dropped the note “it was a pleasure to do business with you” into its correspondence with Nazi officers. Jacek Lepiarz, who covered the subject for DW News, stated that the company executives knew that the genocide took place there, but that they only looked at the issue as “business” and focused on how the Nazis could make their work easier. The founder of the company committed suicide by drinking poison after the Nazis were defeated in World War II. Topf & Sons’ viewing as “business” the development of a technology that accelerated the burning of thousands of people has taken its place in the history books as a black stain on both German industry and German politics. For this reason, neither Merkel’s silence nor the business leaders’ view of their relations with China as merely “business” will stand up against the accusation of tolerating a genocide for the second time in the future.
This naive stance towards China in the European Union and especially in Germany, where democracy and accountability are always important, has started to change in recent years. Especially when Xi Jinping, leader of the Chinese Communist Party, declared himself president for life in 2018, which led to “enlightenment” in the German business world. Freidolin Strack, Head of the Asia Department of the German Industrial Federation (BDI) stated in a paper published in early 2019 that the strategy of “opening China to the world” had failed. Another point emphasized in the article by Matthew Karnitschnig in Politico Magazine is that German engineering is still better, but China is catching up rapidly. This is a warning that Beijing’s need for Berlin will not remain he same in the future. The Chinese Communist regime tells the tale that it will integrate into the world by “making things bigger,” while perpetrating genocide in East Turkestan in front of the whole world. Some in the West watch a monster they raised with their own hands while it destroys all the West’s values and dominate the world, with a fake smile on their face as if nothing had happened.
The European Union (EU) led by the German administration, which believes in trade and transformation, signed a mutual investment agreement with China reflecting this perspective. The agreement in question caused controversy because it was made with the Chinese Communist regime, which violates Europe’s founding philosophy. Although the Chinese side in the agreement says that it will take the steps that the EU wants in the areas of intellectual property theft, access to bilateral markets, forced labor, and abuse of state subsidies, the biggest problems for the international community still remain. The Beijing government continues its genocide policies in East Turkestan and has not backed down from its oppression in Hong Kong. If the agreement is ratified by all countries and enters into force, Europe will be tied to the economic trajectory of Xi Jinping’s authoritarian rule. On the other hand, China, which violates all international conventions it has signed up to now, neither closes the concentration camps in East Turkestan nor puts an end to the slavery of Uyghurs, but on the contrary accelerates these atrocities. The clear indication that China will not cease to force people into slavery is the increase in the number of concentration camps and industrial zones built next to them.
It bears reminding once again that the crime of genocide by the Nazis against Jews, Gypsies, other members of society and sick people in Germany, the leading country of Europe, is still fresh in the minds of the world. This is why the German government has a great responsibility in the face of history. In order to fully atone for the crimes committed by the Nazis, Germany must lead Europe and take the lead in the campaign to stop the genocide in East Turkestan. This responsibility is also an opportunity for Germany to uphold the universal values of the international community and to make amends for the Nazis’ crimes during the Second World War. If Germany fulfills its promise of “never again” and demands a stop to China and Beijing’s genocidal policies, it will have the chance to show that it is truly upholding the moral values of the West.