There is now democracy in China

Party congress of the CP - "Not China is crying out for democracy, the West is doing it"

Eberhard Sandschneider is professor for Chinese politics and international relations at the Free University of Berlin. He is head of the Asian research focus of the German Society for Foreign Policy.

Mr. Sandschneider, changes of power in an autocracy usually go hand in hand with violence. These days, however, China is changing almost all of its political leadership - and peacefully. How is something like this possible?
This is already the second regulated, i.e. institutionalized, change of power in China. After the Cultural Revolution, the Communist Party (KP) made a conscious decision to also send top politicians into retirement. It was like that when Hu Jintao took office, and it is like that with Xi Jinping now.

What can we expect from Xi Jinping, the new general secretary of the CP?
It's hard to say at the moment. He is of course well advised not to lean out the window with any revolutionary ideas until certain decisions have been made in his favor. That now applies to the party congress, that applies to the second important step next March - the election of the state president. But it also applies to the actually even more important step of taking over the central military commission. Only when all of this has happened can he show where he really wants to go.

Is he a reformer?
Xi belongs to a group of political leaders in China who approach problems very pragmatically - and who focus on stability and economic growth. In recent years he has also practiced vigorously on various state visits. Xi Jinping makes a very competent, sociable impression. I saw him in conversations with visiting delegations. Obviously, he can also speak relatively good English and he fulfills the usual profile of requirements for a man in this position.

Are all the hopes for reform that are now being placed in it realistic at all?
First of all, he will protect the interests of his own country. Whether the West attaches hope for reform or not is irrelevant and has nothing to do with the Chinese debates. He will tackle reforms if he thinks it makes sense to maintain stability and economic progress. But he will do it so carefully that he does not capsize the wobbly ship of Chinese stability.

On the other hand, China is conducting a spectacular trial against the corrupt superpoliceman Bo Xilai. Are not all of these signals for a slow change in China?
No, that is at most a signal for an intense power-political conflict that has now been decided. Bo Xilai is expelled from the party. The case is resolved in terms of power politics, it is now only dealt with legally.

From your answers I hear that the local accounts of Chinese reforms or the opening up of the country are not so true.
Yes, it has little to do with the realities there. At the party congress, nobody cares about Western expectations. We also choose our federal government according to German standards and not according to the expectations of the Americans, Chinese or the penguins in the Antarctic.

A democratization of China is certainly not an interest of the West. What about the strong middle class?
Strangely enough, it doesn't scream for democracy. We in the west do it. The middle class does not need a democracy in the western sense in order to be able to exercise a political say. If you're a wealthy Chinese, call your great-uncle's nephew who has a position and you're into politics. You maintain your networks. The Chinese call it "guanxi". We like to translate this as "vitamin B". But vitamin B is a principle of life in China - and not something that only a few have.

Page 2: "China does not need the tutelage of the West"

But it can't be that comfortable yet: Before the party congress, the CP had the whole of Beijing cordoned off, system critics disappeared and critical press reports suppressed.
Comfort is not a useful political category in any country in the world. When it comes to party conferences, China is still a communist system. For the Chinese leadership, however, the lesson should be that the suppression of internal expressions of opinion does not necessarily promote stability - and can actually have the opposite effect. But the Chinese have to learn that themselves. To do this, they do not need the tutelage of the West.

And what does this change in management mean for German-Chinese relations?
A few new names, a few new faces - but the substance of the relationships remains largely untouched. Xi Jinping has already seen the Chancellor. Sino-German relations are primarily based on the economy. Politically, there are differences of opinion, but also Germany's interest in winning China over to stabilize the euro.

[gallery: China and Tibet]

What do you think Germany should do now?
Nothing. What should we do?

Save the euro?
If we do our homework now, we will actually create the best conditions for resilient relations with China or other countries. But we should also understand that if we have a problem, it's not China's fault.

What should Obama do in his Asia policy over the next four years?
The most important task will be to achieve a sensible, resilient relationship with China. There was a lot of rumbling in the American election campaign - China bashing was on the agenda. But now the point is that these two extremely important powers for global politics in the 21st century deal with each other peacefully and cooperatively.

And who is the more important actor from China's point of view: Europe or the USA?
From a security point of view, it is certainly the USA. China is an economic partner for us that should not be underestimated. For their part, the Chinese are more than interested in good economic relations with both partners.

Mr. Sandschneider, thank you very much for the interview.

The interview was conducted by Petra Sorge. Photos: picture alliance (party conference, Xi Jinping), DGAP (sand cutter)