For François Chimits, the People’s Republic of China is not accessible through its language. He never consistently learned Mandarin. Instead, his translation tools are numbers. At the Mercator Institute for China Studies in Berlin, he takes a bird’s eye view of China’s economy and analyzes its importance to Europe.
The path began with studies in development economics at the University Dauphine in his birthplace of Paris. “Politics was first just a hobby for me to do on the side. As a student, I wanted to learn a hard science,” Chimits says. A two-year stint in Beijing followed, where he worked for the French Embassy as a macroeconomic and financial systems analyst. He then took on the post of deputy head of the trade policy department at the French Ministry of Finance. Chimits also lectured on China’s economy for several years at the renowned Sciences Po University in Paris.
Openness as a prerequisite for development
Chimits particularly focuses on the question of the origins of wealth and poverty. “There is no recipe if a country wants to develop. But some conditions must be met, such as stability, education, training and openness.” And this is where China faces daunting challenges, believes Chimits. With the pandemic, the People’s Republic has deliberately detached itself from the world. “This is very concerning for the most populous and economically powerful country in the world.”
China managed to get through the pandemic well last year. Chinese outbound direct investment, exports and high-tech investment, in particular, were up in 2021. But in the long run, an isolated China, which has suffered productivity losses for months due to harsh lockdowns across the country, is at risk of losing prosperity.
China will need a massive increase in productivity to be able to absorb its aging society. And that can only be done through innovation, technology and social openness. That is why Chinese companies are now refraining from swooping in on Russian companies hard-pressed by the war, Chimits explains. “Russia only offers resources, not innovation.”
Due to Covid: ‘We are losing sight of China’s diversity’
Is this good news for Europe? Not at all. Because even though China has nothing to gain from Russia, it is clinging to its partnership with the country. “This is economically very costly. And it shows that Beijing is even willing to accept economic losses to achieve its geopolitical goals.” As a result, the EU must now step up to become a serious geopolitical player, Chimits argues.
And here a parallel to Chimit’s hobby, boxing, becomes apparent. For what is true in pugilism can also be useful in China politics: Only a good defense can keep you standing in the ring. “Influencing China’s political objectives is becoming harder for us. But I urge our politicians: Do your job! Use the tools you are currently building. And then prepare for a long haul to represent our preferences and values in the world.”
To all China-savvy students sitting disappointed in their dorm rooms right now, he has some advice: “Don’t worry, there’s enough to read and study to pass the time until you can go back to China.” Still, Chimits thinks with concern about the lack of contact with China. “We are losing sight of China’s diversity. China is becoming more homogeneous from a distance. That won’t happen to you in Beijing, Hong Kong, or in a village in Yunnan.” Jonathan Lehrer