But even though the People's Republic may have become more attractive for some authoritarian rulers, only a few see it as a model. Beijing has already installed more than 500 Confucius Institutes around the world, in hopes of promoting what it views as China's cultural superiority. One of the results of a 10-fold increase in scholarships at Chinese universities is that almost twice as many Indonesians are now studying in China as in the United States.
But whether it's Harvard, high-tech cell phones or Hollywood, people in many parts of the world still see the West as the home of everything desirable. Besides, many who flirt with Chinese-style dirigisme see it only as a transitional phase that makes sense from an economic point of view, and that ultimately -- as in South Korea, for example -- leads to a democracy with functioning institutions.
What no one in Asia, Latin America or Africa wants is another messianic US president in the vein of George W. Bush, who believed that he could forcefully impose the American model on other countries. Many people in developing countries can easily distinguish between pompous arrogance and healthy self-confidence. And especially in China, people tend to regard an excessive willingness to compromise as a weakness, and the stubborn adherence to one's own positions as a strength.
Chancellor Angela Merkel, the woman at the helm of the world's former top exporting nation, ought to take a much more forceful approach to dealing with the leaders of the current export champion than she did during her recent visit to Beijing. She ought to point out that Germany has to draw the line somewhere: for instance, that it will not support China's bid for preferential status in the WTO as long as Beijing violates its rules. She should also make clear that Germany will not condone the ongoing industrial espionage activities of Chinese agents in German high-tech centers, the continued illegal copying of patents and the fleecing of German small and mid-sized companies in China.
When China asks for the lifting of visa restrictions, Germany should ask the Chinese what it can expect in return. And Berlin needs not be concerned that China could react to such criticism by no longer doing business with Germany. The People's Republic acts out of self-interest and needs the West about as much as the West needs China. Besides, the Chinese are used to playing hardball.
Ironically, Taiwan serves as a prime example of how to deal with Beijing. In a SPIEGEL interview 15 years ago, then Prime Minister Lien Chan complained to me that the People's Republic was cutting the ground from under Taipei's feet. He said that, although only 30 nations recognized Taiwan at the time, that would change. But it didn't. In fact, the total is now only 23 nations.
Nevertheless, Taiwan's new leadership is taking a pragmatic approach and, realizing that it cannot win against China, has decided to embrace the mainland Chinese. After tough negotiations, the Taiwanese are now making deals with their big brother. In a trade agreement signed in late June, Taiwan achieved a reduction in Chinese tariffs on $13.8 billion (€10.6 billion) worth of goods it sells to China each year, while Beijing came away from the trade deal with a reduction of tariffs on only $2.9 billion of the goods it exports to Taiwan.