China’s influence in key areas in Germany is significantly higher than in comparable European countries, China Index reveals

by China in the World Network (Doublethink Lab) | 2022.12.08

  • The China Index 2022, the first initiative to measure and compare the People’s Republic of China (PRC)’s global influence, launches with 82 countries today, including Germany.
  • Germany is the highest-ranking European country in the China Index 2022 in 19th position overall due to the size and political influence of its industry, which is deeply entwined with China and is politically influential in Germany
  • Germany ranks 6th out of 82 countries in an Ideology cluster comprising academia, media and society, suggesting a focused attempt by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) to influence key strata of local society.
  • Germany ranks 6th in the Academia Domain in part a result of often overlooked linkages between German higher education institutions and Chinese research partners in sensitive technological and military areas.

As the debate over the direction of Berlin’s China policy intensifies, new research reveals that the PRC’s influence is significantly higher in Germany than comparable European countries.

Germany ranks 19th of 82 countries overall and is the highest-ranked country in Europe in the China Index 2022, the first research effort to measure and compare PRC influence overseas. The Index is published by the China in the World (CITW) network, an initiative of Taiwan-based civil society organization Doublethink Lab, and draws on research by hundreds of researchers and local experts worldwide.

Rankings are determined by summing normalized responses to 99 Indicators, each of which observes a single discreet instance of PRC influence. These Indicators are devised by the Index Committee of experts in PRC influence tactics, and split equally across nine Domains (Media, Academia, Economy, Society, Military, Technology, Law Enforcement, Local Politics, and Foreign Policy) to make a total of 99 Indicators.

“Completing the survey made clear there is an urgent need to know more about what the Chinese Communist Party is doing in Germany,” said Didi Kirsten Tatlow, Newsweek’s International Affairs Correspondent focusing on China, and the China Index’s local expert for Germany. “This is a matter of concern as it touches directly on Germany’s sovereignty and ability to manage its interests, including the democratic system. We are in a fluid moment where perceptions are changing.”

Those shifting views are evident in German Economy Minister Robert Habeck recent remark that any "naivety" in relations with China was "over". While Germany ranks comparatively low in the Economy Domain in 28th position, the reality is more complex, according to Tatlow. “The economic influence of China in Germany is higher than is portrayed and that has to do with the political influence of a group of very large companies, including VW and BASF,” Tatlow said. “In this area, German leaders have not done a good job in establishing independence for Germany from increasingly troubling outside influence, especially because they have not talked publicly about it.”

Germany’s position at the top of Europe’s Domestic Politics Domain rankings underscores the strength of the connections between business and the local politicians.

Germany features highly in Ideology cluster Domains, and is the European leader in the Academic and Domestic Politics Domains.

Germany emerges in 6th position globally in what China Index research lead and Doublethink Lab Chair Dr. Puma Shen refers to as an “Ideology cluster“ of PRC influence, comprising the Academia, Media and Society Domains. “The research suggests the PRC is trying to influence the middle class in Germany through academic and media-based linkages, perhaps as a means of influencing the wider European region,” Shen said.

A key concern is the high level of uncritical research cooperation between Germany and China, including in sensitive technological and military areas, which is one of the highest and among the most ‘captured’ globally. For example, one Academia Indicator reads: “In my country, universities have established research partnerships with PRC-connected entities. (e.g. Huawei, Tencent or Alibaba),” to which the graded response is “Yes”, there are many significant instances of such cooperation, including the following supporting evidence:

Huawei, BGI, ZTE, Hisilicon (Huawei-owned) and other Chinese companies collaborate with and fund projects at German universities and research institutions. Huawei alone has entered into at least 120 cooperation projects over the last 15 years, with annual budgets between 25,000-290,000 euros per project. The real number is unclear, as German universities sometimes cite their “academic freedom” to refuse to answer freedom of information questions from media about controversial cooperation.

Evidence is checked and reviewed by China Index regional partners, in this case the Czechia-based non-profit Sinopsis.

The Media Domain includes Indicators referring to the presence of various forms of Chinese-language media, thus many people who do not have access to these publications may be surprised that Germany ranks 4th globally, Tatlow said, adding that the CCP targets diaspora issues in every country as they tend to be an elite back home and the goal of these operations is to keep them loyal to the regime.

Pakistan, Cambodia and Singapore assume the top three positions in the China Index 2022. Next year, the Index’s constituent Indicators will be updated, and the research refreshed. Data from additional countries will also be incorporated, enabling researchers to gauge whether PRC influence in waxing or waning across geographies and Domains, and expanding opportunities for thematic-based research.

CITW’s Wu Min-hsuan said: “The China Index provides a unique research tool for academics, civil society organisations, media and policymakers to identify and respond to PRC influence operations in their area of concern. As China policy discussions evolve, we hope that German lawmakers will study the Domain-specific results carefully as they continue working on their respective China strategies.”

For further information about the China Index and CITW, including in-depth research takeaways, please register to attend the project launch on Dec. 8 via Livestream and in Berlin here.

About Doublethink Lab
Doublethink Lab (Doublethink) is a civil society organization devoted to studying the malign influence of digital authoritarianism. Doublethink’s strengths lie in the ability to combine a diverse set of research approaches in the social, behavioral, and computational sciences to study state-funded propaganda campaigns, psychological warfare, and related information operations. Doublethink seeks to foster global networks connecting academics, democracy movements, digital communities, like-minded CSOs, and experts on the People’s Republic of China, in order to strengthen global democratic resilience.

About China In The World (CITW)
In 2019, Doublethink Lab and its partners established the China In The World (CITW) network to bring together stakeholders researching the People’s Republic of China (PRC)’s global influence and disinformation strategies. CITW aims to support and unite these stakeholders, improve global and regional awareness of related challenges, and strengthen democratic resilience worldwide. CITW oversees publication of the China Index, the first cross-regional initiative to measure and compare the PRC’s influence in various countries.