China becomes a fascist country

Germany archive

Axel Berkofsky


Dr. Axel Berkofsky is Senior Lecturer in Asian History at the University of Pavia, Italy.

The article gives an insight into the efforts of the GDR in the 1980s to establish an independent foreign policy for the People's Republic of China and to act as a mediator between the Soviet Union and China, which had no diplomatic relations since the 1960s.

On October 21, 1986, the General Secretary of the Central Committee of the SED and Chairman of the State Council of the GDR, Erich Honecker, accompanied by the President of the People's Republic of China, Li Xiannian, walked the front of the honorary formation of the Chinese People's Liberation Army on Tiananmen Square in Beijing. (& copy picture-alliance / dpa, dpa central image)



When Erich Honecker, General Secretary of the Socialist Unity Party of Germany (SED), visited Beijing in October 1986, the Soviet Union and China had no diplomatic relations due to the so-called Sino-Soviet rift [2] of the 1960s. [3] Honecker overestimated himself and his influence on political decision-makers in Moscow and Beijing and declared himself the "chief arbitrator" between China and the Soviet Union.

Honecker's attempt to reactivate Sino-East German relations was also intended to serve as evidence that the GDR was able to conduct a foreign policy that was independent of the Soviet Union. State receptions in Beijing, the exchange of university professors, academics and students, and the signing of economic and trade agreements in the 1980s, however, to put it bluntly, did little to help. The 1980s were characterized by the expansion of China's trade and economic relations with the Federal Republic.

The GDR had little or nothing to offer China that the country needed to modernize its economy. That was to change in 1989 when Beijing needed someone to agree that using tanks and shooting at the crowds in Tiananmen Square on the night of June 4-5 was "the crushing of a counterrevolutionary insurrection." . And the GDR was immediately on hand to express its full solidarity with the Chinese leadership after the violent crackdown on peaceful demonstrations on Tiananmen Square. [4]

Beijing welcomed the support from East Berlin and the willingness there to accept China's declarations. At the end of the same year, after the opening of the inner-German border, they reciprocated by spreading false information about the collapse of the GDR.


In the early 1980s, East German university professors began to travel to China again - at a time when relations between the SED and the Communist Party of China (CCP) were resumed. [5] In addition, East Berlin ordered the GDR publishing houses to withdraw publications critical of China from circulation.

In February 1981 - as part of the tenth SED party congress - Honecker announced that he would normalize relations with China: “The GDR is ready to establish relations with the People's Republic of China on the basis of equality, respect for sovereignty, territorial integrity and non-interference In July 1981 a delegation of representatives from the International Relations Department of the SED Central Committee, led by Bruno Mahlow, traveled to Beijing. There she met officials from the Chinese Foreign Ministry and academics from the Institute for International Relations. [7] This visit was followed a short time later by two functionaries of the Central Committee of the Communist Party (CP) of China in East Berlin.

This visit lasted five weeks and, interestingly, there is no record of what the Chinese officials in East Berlin discussed. The minutes of the visit only underlined what was not discussed: the relations between the two countries and the CPC and the SED. [8] The fact that East Berlin decided not to publish any details about the five-week stay of the Chinese delegation may have had something to do with the fact that the GDR leadership feared a negative reaction from Moscow: after all, the Soviet-Chinese relationship was anything but conflict-free. [9] East Berlin's concern was justified. A letter from an official of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU) warned in June 1982 that Beijing's attempt to improve relations with the GDR was aimed at driving a wedge between East Berlin and Moscow. "Characteristic of the Beijing tactics against the GDR are persistent calls to expand bilateral relations and efforts to bring this country into opposition to the USSR." [10]

"Neutralization" of Beijing

East Berlin denied having been used by Beijing. The exact opposite, claimed the GDR leadership, was the case. Apart from the fact that the GDR had successfully prevented China from supporting West German "revanchism", East Berlin explained to the comrades in Moscow that the rapprochement with China was intended to "neutralize" Beijing and then later into the fight against global imperialism. In a letter to the Central Committee of the CPSU, the Central Committee of the SED declared that all instruments - trade and economic relations, scientific and cultural relations - would be used for this purpose. [11] To further reassure Moscow, the letter said that talks about building military ties were still taboo. East Berlin's declaration that the expansion of trade, scientific and cultural relations would prevent China from strengthening its relations with the “imperialist West” must have sounded extremely untrustworthy in Moscow. Incredible because for the success of the economic reforms pursued by its leader Deng Xiaoping in the late 1970s, China did not depend on the expansion of trade relations with the GDR, but on the intensification of trade relations with the USA, Japan and the Federal Republic of Germany. This also included technology exports from these countries.

Despite the political and geopolitical realities of the second half of the 1980s, the letter promised that after the phase of “neutralization” of China the country would be included, along with other socialist countries, the (unspecified) “main thrust against the main enemy US imperialism. ”Before all of this was achieved, however, it was concluded that China would be treated like any other“ imperialist trading partner ”.

As part of the alleged "neutralization policy", East Berlin and Beijing signed their first bilateral agreement in the telecommunications sector at the beginning of 1983. In April of the same year, regular meetings of a joint committee for economic, trade and scientific cooperation were agreed. On the basis of additional agreements, the GDR undertook to assist China in the construction and development phases of more than 40 industrial projects. The agreements and the newly agreed and implemented cooperation were complemented by mutual visits in 1984, 1985 and 1986. [12]

The GDR state media have meanwhile been instructed to intensify their positive coverage of China. In 1982 this also applied to the reporting on site in China. After his return from Beijing in the winter of 1982, Kurt Vogel, General Secretary of the GDR Journalists' Association, enthused in the magazine Horizont that his visit was “a moving reunion with Chinese comrades and comrades in arms from the fifties, who believe in the correctness and superiority of our worldview have not lost, has been. "[13]

The subsequent mutual visits by high-ranking politicians and functionaries in 1984 and 1985 continued to look (much) less like “neutralization” and more like “involvement” or commitment. GDR Deputy Foreign Minister Herbert Krolikowski traveled z. B. in May 1984 to Beijing. A visit during which, among other things, it was decided to continue a bilateral political dialogue and a meeting of foreign ministers was prepared. In addition, it was decided during the visit to resume official relations between the GDR People's Chamber and China's National People's Congress and a number of bilateral agreements in the areas of health, trade and economy, as well as science and technology. [14] Krolikowski's visit to China was followed by a visit by Politburo member Li Peng [15] to East Berlin in the summer of 1985 [16], although this took place at the same time as a visit by Politburo member Zhao Ziyang to Bonn. [17] From East Berlin's point of view, it was without a doubt a sufficiently high-ranking visit to make Honecker and his colleagues believe that the GDR was important to China as a trading partner and political ally (which should actually be "neutralized").

In July 1985, Gerhard Schürer, chairman of the State Planning Commission, met Hu Yaobang, general secretary of the CPC. [18] Hu, however, must have disappointed Schürer when he spoke of China supporting “peaceful coexistence” between the two states and East Berlin's “long-running conspiracy thesis” that “revanchist forces” were working on a plot against the GDR in West Germany as unfounded abtat. [19]

Self-proclaimed chief agent Honecker

In 1986, Honecker decided to take matters into his own hands and announced that he would act as a "mediator" between Moscow and Beijing. He visited China from October 21-26, 1986 and was received with full honors in Beijing. His Chinese hosts saw in him a man in whose eyes "wisdom" and "self-confidence" can be found. [20] Honecker insisted on pointing out that his visit was neither ordered nor coordinated by Moscow. Therefore, from Honecker's point of view, it was also logical that he presented his visit to China as the result of years of efforts to overcome the “Sino-Soviet rift” of the early 1960s and to promote the path towards normalization of Sino-Soviet relations. In Beijing, however, Honecker had little more to offer than dramatic-sounding rhetoric about “socialist brotherhood” and a “common struggle against the imperialist-revanchist West”.

In the mid-1980s, however, China's leadership had distanced itself from all too martial-sounding rhetoric. For example, during their meeting in Beijing, the General Secretary of the CPC Hu Yaobang let Honecker B. know that from now on China will no longer speak of “US imperialism”, “Japanese militarism” and “West German revanchism”. [21] By contrast, Honecker's proposal to endorse the idea put forward by Mikhail Gorbachev at the Reykjavik summit in October 1986 to work towards improving Sino-Soviet relations was censored and did not appear in the Chinese media. However, Honecker persisted and claimed that his visit to China marked the beginning of the intensification of bilateral economic and trade relations. That, too, was inconsistent with the facts. Shortly after his visit to China, Beijing announced that it would reduce the export of Chinese commercial vehicles to the GDR from 10,000 to 6,000 units a year. East Berlin responded by rejecting the Chinese request to jointly build a carbon-chemical industrial complex in the Chinese city of Wuhai.

When Beijing spoke of the "Nation of GDR" at one point during the visit, Bonn instructed its ambassador in Beijing, Per Fischer, to explain to the Chinese Foreign Ministry that there was only one German nation. Beijing then declared (unconvincingly) that its concept of a nation is an "idiomatic concept" and not a statement that there are two German nations.

Until the early 1970s, China had at times allowed itself to be carried away to support Walter Ulbricht's (abstruse) “theory” that the division of Germany was not only the creation of two German states, but also of two German nations - one peaceful socialist and one capitalist-fascist.

In September 1972, one month before the establishment of diplomatic relations between Bonn and Beijing, China's Prime Minister Zhou Enlai announced that “Nobody can deny Germans the right to reunification. One can hope that the basic treaty will improve relations between the two German states. ”[22] In the mid-1970s, during the visits of the Prime Minister of Rhineland-Palatinate and CDU party chairman, Helmut Kohl, and the Federal Foreign Minister, Hans-Dietrich Genscher, and the Federal Chancellor, Helmut Schmidt, let China know all three guests from the Federal Republic that from China's point of view there are two German states, but only one German nation. [23]

During his nine-day visit to China in September 1974, Helmut Kohl in particular was assured more than once - accompanied by toasts at dinner - that Beijing had finally said goodbye to East Berlin's "two-German nation theory" because the policy of the CDU under party leader Kohl towards the Soviet Union in Beijing was understood as an antithesis to Willy Brandt's Ostpolitik (which Beijing feared because it ran counter to Chinese interests).

The (sobering) look from China

According to the political scientist Joachim Krüger, Beijing used Honecker's visit to China for his own purposes as part of a “policy of differentiation”. The alleged (but not serious) improvement in relations with the GDR was aimed at driving a wedge between East Berlin and Moscow. [24] It can also be assumed that Beijing only trusted East Berlin to a limited extent and therefore did not believe in Honecker's self-proclaimed mediator role. China's “semi-retired” [25] “Supreme Leader” Deng Xiaoping did find time to meet Honecker in Beijing, but showed very little interest in talks about bilateral relations and international politics. Deng limited himself to informing Honecker that China intends to conduct relations with the two German states on the basis of "peaceful coexistence". Otherwise he referred to Hu Yaobang [26] and Zhao Ziyang as contact persons for topics of international relations. "I don't care about such specific topics any more, and my job is to invite you to dinner." [27] However, this did not correspond to the facts, since Deng was still very much concerned with specific topics of the Chinese interior and exterior in the mid-1980s Foreign policy cared. It was Deng who personally ordered in 1985 and 1986 that any form of organized political opposition and protests against China's political leadership should be severely prosecuted and punished. [28]

Congratulations from East Berlin

When Beijing decided on the night of June 4th to 5th, 1989, to end the peaceful and non-violent demonstrations with military force, East Berlin placed itself in the front row of the congratulators. The General German Intelligence Service (ADN), the GDR's news agency, agreed on June 5 with Beijing, which called the events on Tiananmen Square "a counterrevolutionary uprising". It is a supposedly foreign-funded and controlled group of "counter-revolutionary elements" that have the goal of overthrowing the government in Beijing.

In reality, the small group of "counter-revolutionaries" was a nationwide movement of around 100 million citizens who demanded from the government what it had promised but not delivered in the 1980s: social and political reforms. [ 29] On June 8, the GDR People's Chamber assured the Chinese leadership of their “unlimited solidarity” and stated that “the government was forced to restore order and security through military force.Unfortunately, that resulted in deaths and injuries. ”[30] At the end of June, the SED Central Committee dictated to New Germany that the Western media had spread“ horror news ”about the events in Tiananmen Square and insisted that it be in the crackdown Demonstrations are strictly an internal matter in which no one from outside (the “imperialist” West was meant) has to interfere. [31] Beijing thanked East Berlin for solidarity by sending Foreign Minister Qian Qichen to the GDR a week after the violent riots on Tiananmen Square. Qian and GDR Foreign Minister Oskar Fischer decided not to address Tiananmen at all and instead to talk about expanding bilateral relations. Both sides confirmed mutual solidarity in the event of the West's attempt to drive a wedge between them and “to save what can be saved”. Optimists in East Berlin and Beijing sometimes spoke of the establishment of an “East Berlin-Beijing axis” as a counter-reaction to the supposed Soviet “liberalism” under Gorbachev. [32]

In September Egon Krenz, deputy chairman of the State Council of the GDR, was sent to Beijing to congratulate China's political leadership on the successful suppression of the “counter-revolutionary uprising” personally and on behalf of the SED Politburo. Krenz and Qiao Shi, a member of the Politburo Standing Committee, agreed on who was responsible for the demonstrations and violence in Tiananmen Square: the US and the West, along with “reactionary forces” in Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macau. [33] East Berlin, Krenz Qiao Shi assured, would have acted exactly like Beijing if the citizens of the GDR had demonstrated like the students in Beijing. [34] Krenz's obvious willingness to crush peaceful demonstrations by force led to the fact that the "Chinese solution" - which demonstrators in Leipzig, Dresden and East Berlin had to fear at the end of 1989 - became a popular phrase. [35]

Unsurprisingly, an internal SED report came to the conclusion that “foreign conspirators” were responsible for Beijing's reaction to violence on the night of June 4-5, 1989. In addition, the GDR leadership agreed with its comrades in Beijing that CP General Secretary Zhao Ziyang, who on May 19, against the party's will on Tiananmen Square, asked the students in an emotional speech [36] to end their hunger strike and to vacate the place, to bear part of the responsibility. [37] The report also concluded that the violence escalated because the Chinese leadership underestimated the scale and possible consequences of the student demonstrations, reacted too late and the armed forces were poorly prepared for their deployment. In fact, parts of the army leadership were initially unwilling to obey orders to end the demonstrations by force. [38]

A parallel reality

At the end of 1989 it was Beijing's turn to express its solidarity with its East German brothers in arms, but only did so indirectly. The citizens demonstrating on the streets of East Berlin, Leipzig and Dresden, it was read in the Chinese press, would not be the beginning of the end, but on the contrary the strengthening of socialism in the GDR. [39] China's state media also did not report that thousands of GDR citizens left the GDR and sought refuge in West German embassies in Budapest and Prague.

The Chinese government's misinformation reached a temporary climax when the People’s Daily reported on November 11, 1989 that the opening of the inner-German border was a decision made by the GDR government of its own free will. [40] The article reported on the circumstances surrounding the opening of the inner-German border and warned that East German refugees will in future compete with the West German population for jobs and living space.

Another article in the People's Daily on November 5 reported that two East German citizens who fled to West Germany in September 1989 had decided to return to the GDR because they did not find the conditions in West Germany that awaited them would have. The People's Daily quoted an article in the GDR newspaper Junge Welt, which reported that the two citizens had returned disappointed to the GDR - with the (alleged) express permission of the GDR authorities - because they had neither work nor an affordable one Were able to find an apartment and were confronted with excessively high living costs. [41]

This is how the state media reported on a dictatorship that six months earlier had shot into the crowd of students who only wanted to achieve what GDR citizens achieved a little later: democracy and reforms. When the Chinese government had to admit that the GDR was history or was about to become history, they had an article published in the newspaper Guangming Ribao, which stated that the collapse of the GDR in no way contributed to the collapse of global socialism stand In a final analysis, which probably only sounds plausible to those who - colloquially speaking - had not noticed the economic and political collapse of the GDR in the last few months, the article stated that “The contradictions of the capitalist system developed in the course of the Have aggravated the economic development of the FRG, while the socialist system effectively solved the problems in the course of economic development. "[42]

Then the decline of the GDR finally found its expression in the Chinese state media: Beijing declared at the beginning of 1990 that it had always campaigned for German reunification, respected the right of the German people to self-determination and always opposed Ulbricht's "two-nation theory" have pronounced.

Like Beijing, the GDR People's Chamber also decided to “correct” an earlier declaration. In June 1990, the first freely elected GDR parliament published an apology from its newly elected members for having congratulated the Chinese leadership a year earlier on putting down the "counterrevolutionary uprising" on Tiananmen Square. [43]

How to quote: Axel Berkofsky, China and the GDR in the 1980s - enemies, fair weather friends and accomplices, in: Germany Archive, January 17, 2020, Link: