🇬🇧 Dangerous changes in China policy

We should be wary of ostracising China further. And I still believe what Henry Kissinger said to me some 16 years ago: Taiwans future will be peacefully solved so long as the rest of us don’t intervene.

This article is a translation of an opinion piece of mine in Berlingske on the 21st of March, 2023:

China and the US must cooperate

My former colleague, Denmark’s longest serving Foreign Minister Uffe Ellemann-Jensen once told me that neither China nor the climate were high on the agenda during his tenure as foreign minister. Now, 30-40 years later, China’s importance on the world stage has exploded. Climate change is our worst existential threat, provided we don’t wipe out civilization in a nuclear war. Peace and economic stability for the remaining 21st century depend on whether the United States and China can rein in their rivalry and together lead the way in international cooperation.

Since China put the chaos and disasters of Maoism behind her in 1978 under the leadership of Deng Xiaoping, the enormous country has experienced sensational progress. The economy is more than thirty times bigger. My wife Mette Holm and I have, separately and together, witnessed this formidable upheaval. Mette has lived in China for ten years – first as an exchange student, later as a reporter. I have visited China 18 times in the past 45 years, and in my capacities of Minister of Finance and Foreign Affairs, chairman of Denmark’s Social Democratic Party and Parliament, and President of the UN General Assembly, had meetings with a large number of top Chinese leaders.

In China’s self-perception, the country is the world’s oldest and most important nation, now rising after a short-term weakening of 150 years. But China’s path to prosperity and greatness is through trade, investment and diplomacy – not a desire for belligerent conquest. In my view this has not changed, even if Xi Jinping’s autocracy and the massive uniformity is terrifying. There is fierce repression of Muslims in Xinjiang, Tibetans and of the few dissidents who dare to speak out. Hong Kong’s freedom is denied in violation of the agreement with Great Britain on ‘one country, two systems’. Also, rearmament and talk of unification with Taiwan by military force ‘if necessary’ is cause for concern.

We need Xi to influence Putin

The US is leading a drastic change in the West’s attitude towards China. After decades of mutual commitment to trade and investment and successful political cooperation as seen with the Paris Climate Agreement – the West is now perceived as setting a course to inhibit China’s progress towards prosperity, while encircling the country with strong alliances under American leadership. China spends only one-third of the resources that the US spends on the military, and the US is strengthening ties with large neighbouring countries such as Japan and India. 

Trump initiated the trade war and the covid-bashing against China, and since then a paranoid fear as well as a demand to be ‘tough on China’ has arisen in American politics. It peaked with the hysteria about and the shooting down of the Chinese hot air balloon. The relationship has taken a dangerous turn that this little interlude could lead to the cancellation of the American Foreign Minister Antony Blinken’s visit to Beijing. Precisely the opposite is needed: détente and relaxation of tension. 

Most importantly, if the US and China could come on speaking terms to an extent so that Xi Jinping would be willing to put pressure on his ‘friend’ Putin to stop the war of aggression in Ukraine. Sadly, until now China’s course has been guided by joint Sino-Russian opposition to US global dominance.

China a major player

The United States must accept and recognize a new balance where China’s progress cannot – and should not – be inhibited permanently. China has established strong economic relations in East and South Asia and increasing influence in Africa, Latin America, Central Asia and the Middle East. China is now a major diplomatic player who has succeeded in mediating between arch-enemies Iran and Saudi Arabia. The US must also understand that both China and Europe want to preserve significant parts of our considerable economic relationship. This is why Foreign Minister Løkke Rasmussen was right, when he said that the EU must contribute to reducing tension between the US and China.

But shouldn’t we fear invasion of Taiwan – analogous to Putin’s invasion of Ukraine? I find this analogy false. China has no interest in starting a military conflict that could overturn the basic unspoken ‘contract’ with the population: the government has had solid popular support, while managing to pull 800 million people out of poverty. The vast majority of Chinese have experienced massively increased prosperity and freedoms – so long as they don’t get involved in politics! This was discontinued during the covid-pandemic, which was handled clumsily. But war over Taiwan could be far more costly in terms of sanctions and a breakdown in China’s participation in the world economy. All parties therefore have a fundamental interest in not provoking changes in the status quo in the Taiwan Strait. I still firmly believe what Henry Kissinger said to me 16 years ago: ‘Taiwan’s future will probably be resolved peacefully as long as the rest of us interfere as little as possible. There are Chinese on both sides, and they have a longer time perspective than we do in the West.’

Where are we on the SDGs?

Recently, I attended the opening of a European conference with civil society on how best to contribute to more progress towards the Global Goals for Sustainability, the SDGs. The starting point was discouraging, but I was greatly encouraged by the commitment and hope of my fellow debater, a young woman from Slovenia who is one of the UN’s powerful youth ambassadors.

We agreed that without a strong civil society, nothing will succeed. If indeed, we hope to slow down global warming and avert the resulting many new and even greater disasters, we must rely on civil society to constantly highlight the urgency.

Some believe that setbacks make the SDGs irrelevant, and others want to talk only about climate. But regardless of the fact that we are  – much too – far from realizing the 2030 goals, they constitute a revolutionary new narrative that must be kept alive – moreover, a narrative that only became so powerful because global civil society participated more than ever before in the process of formulating them at the UN.

The global goals are a head-on confrontation with the neo liberal misconception that resources are unlimited, that the old growth model can just continue forever and that distribution doesn’t matter, because when the rich get richer, it will inevitably trickle down to the poor.

The SDGs state that the world’s resources are limited and that growth as we know it cannot continue. We must move away from fossil fuels, the economy must become circular, forests must be preserved and expanded, and nature must be protected much better in order to save vital biodiversity.

Right now the SDGs of poverty and inequality are headed in the wrong direction

Poverty can only be eradicated while at the same time purposefully fighting the extreme and growing inequality in the world.

All the SDGs are each other’s prerequisite. Progress in one means progress on all of them. But obviously, stronger climate action is a necessary prerequisite for popular understanding and financial resources to generate future progress on the other SDGs.

If climate change continues, as it has so far, it will trigger devastation, mass migration and conflicts on a scale beyond all else. Ultimately, it is about whether we have a globe to save.

Political agency remains weak if voters do not understand the urgency and self-interest. Civil society remains the politicians’ inevitable partner in disseminating knowledge and understanding that sustainable societies constitute an inevitable revolution that comes at a cost and is incredibly urgent.

But if we continue as before, the cost will be much higher for our children and grandchildren. Therefore, we must mobilize an unprecedented will to change, in record time, our patterns of consumption and production.

And are we to maintain social stability as we must, it is adamant that we – far more purposefully than ever before – exempt economically weak groups from footing the bill. They have not contributed anyway nearly as much to the problem as the wealthy.

A year of encouragement

2015 was an encouraging year due to the fact that no UN member state actively argued against the adoption of the SDGs, and that in Paris, we were able to enter into the most far-reaching and binding climate agreement to date. Europe was at the forefront with high ambitions, and the negotiating process was headed expertly by the French presidency.

Even more crucial, however, was that the world’s two biggest emitters of greenhouse gases, China and the US, actually cooperated beautifully in Paris to convince and nudge all doubters and naysayers into agreement. It created hope.

Six months later, Europe’s attention was diverted by the Brexit vote and the year-long negotiations on Britain’s exit from the EU.

One year on, the United States disastrously elected Donald Trump, a ferocious climate denier, for president. He withdrew the US from the Paris Climate Agreement while initiating a systematically escalated confrontation with China (as well as made the Middle East more insecure by terminating the Iran nuclear deal).

The Covid pandemic meant an even more selfish and introverted West. Promises to help the poor global south to adapt to climate change were not kept, and vaccines were not delivered on the necessary massive scale.

On top of that came Russia’s horrific war of aggression against Ukraine, which not only destroys people’s lives in one of Europe’s most populous countries, it also carries the risk of escalating into nuclear war.

The war affects the global economy with inflation that has knocked many hundreds of millions into more extreme poverty and hunger. The prices of food, fertiliser and energy have risen the most by far.

Ultimately, it is about whether we have a globe to save 

Moreover, the alarming increase in global inequality has continued at an even faster pace during the crises. The huge corporations in IT, e-commerce, energy, food and armaments pocket most of the growth in the global economy, and ownership of these giants is mostly concentrated in the hands of a few multi-dollar billionaires.

In short: Right now it is clearly going the wrong way in relation to the SDGs of poverty and inequality.

We have not progressed nearly enough with the climate goal either, but Russia’s war of aggression and the resulting energy crisis might just accelerate the pace of sustainability. Because climate’s urgent needs has now become urgent security policy as well.

We must create renewable and CO2-free energy supply at record speed. This will – permanently and violently – erode the profits of Putin and the despots in the Gulf states, who sit on the largest reserves of fossil fuels.

Again, Europe was the fastest react – first with ‘Fit for 55’ a few years ago, which sets the course to a 55 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions in the EU in 2030, and further with bold plans from the Commission to transition away from Russian oil and gas after the invasion of Ukraine.

But Biden’s so-called ‘Inflation Reduction Act’ will accelerate America’s energy transition (and constitutes major competitive challenges for Europe).

Crucially, the international business community is seizing the opportunities, in the realisation that long-term earnings require sustainable solutions.

In a conversation I attended last autumn, Al Gore stated that history shows that political responses to crises often drag on, but that once the political decisions are made, the technological responses, on the other hand, are developed at surprising pace.

This is where hope is kindled for serious climate action.

During the past two and a half years, as chairman of Energinet, Denmark, I have experienced a virtual explosion in demand for green power, because the direct electrification via electric cars and heat pumps etc. is now being accompanied by large and hugely energy-demanding projects, which must transform cheap green electricity into hydrogen as a raw material in green fuels for heavy vehicles, ships and aircraft.

Therefore, the development of energy islands and giant offshore wind turbines must be carried out as quickly as possible. Furthermore, CO2-free biogas has become good business, and project ideas for storing CO2 in caves underground and below sea level are teeming.

This is a translation from Danish. My original op-ed was published at Altinget on the 1st of January, 2023.

You can find more articles by me in English here

Speech at demonstration for Ukraine

Ukraine demo Enghave Plads 24. februar 2023

at Enghave Plads in Copenhagen on 24th of February, 2023, one year after Russia waged its bloody war on Ukraine.

Mogens Lykketoft
Mogens Lykketoft speaking at the manifestation at Enghave Plads in Copenhagen one year after Russia waged war on Ukraine © Mette Holm

We are gathered here tonight for a torchlight procession in anger, pain, and compassion.

We are gathered in solidarity with the people of Ukraine who are fighting so bravely and fiercely not to fall under the boots of the Kremlin dictator.

We are gathered in protest of the gigantic breach of promise by Russia, which in 1994, together with other major powers, recognised the inviolability of Ukrainian borders against Ukraine handing over its share of the old Soviet nuclear weapons to Russia.

Until the first hour of February 24, 2022, too optimistically, we thought that Putin was just bluffing.

We did so, even though we knew that he was unscrupulously indifferent to other people’s lives and welfare when it comes to expanding his own power.

We had seen that how he slaughtered Chechnya, invaded Georgia, seized Crimea and started the border war in Donbas nine years ago.

We had seen, how he murders his own countrymen, when they cross his path.

We knew that he was spending huge funds on misinformation and undermining Western democracies via support for right-wing radical movements.

We also now know that the machinations and lies manufactured in Putin’s troll factories helped bring about disasters like Brexit and Trump

But it dawned on us only gradually for how long he had been planning the attack against Ukraine, and the massive resources he spent over the years telling lies and creating a false narrative of animosity towards the Russians.

Only too late did we realise that Putin’s Nord Stream pipelines in the Baltic Sea were intended to strangle Ukraine economically and strengthen Europe’s dependence on Russian natural gas.

And we didn’t believe Putin was ignorant and cruel enough to start a major war in Europe.

Ignorant, when he thought that Ukraine’s army and people would just raise their arms and surrender, and let him install a puppet government in Kyiv, only risking of a weak note of protest from the West.

Ignorant of the incompetency of his own corrupt military.

Ignorant of the fact that people in Ukraine – regardless of whether they speak Ukrainian or Russian at home – will fight with their lives to avoid to be trodden down by Putin’s boot.

Cruel in encouraging war crimes as murder, rape and abductions among Ukrainian civilians.

Cruel in waging a war that purposefully targets civilians and civilian targets with immense loss of life and property, and deprives people of access to water, heat and light in the cold of winter.

Cruel in disregarding the land war’s massive losses along the front lines and in the trenches.

People in Ukraine are fighting because they understand what awaits them if Putin gets his way.

The Ukrainians have amassed memories from the latest four or five generations of their country being the place in Europe where chance of survival was the least.

Countless millions perished at the behest of two of the twentieth century’s most insane dictators.

Stalin ordered millions of people’s death by starvation on their own land or in his slave camps, he executed the elite and used Ukrainians in particular as cannon fodder in World War II.

Hitler murdered the Jews of Ukraine and a large part of the civilian population in general. World War II rolled back and forth over Ukraine with unimaginable destruction, death, hunger, and poverty in its wake.

Putin wages war like Stalin and Hitler.

Pointless and barbaric, with no regard for civilian losses and destruction and without regard for how many of his own forcibly recruited soldiers will be sent to their graves.

With all his monumental mistakes, Putin seems intent on continuing the war through endless bloodshed and destruction that could turn Ukraine into a desert. He will not accept defeat.

Therefore, we in the West have two tasks:

First, we must do everything in our power to cement the hitherto unseen unity in NATO and the EU, which Putin has unleashed with his war of aggression, and which is now also bringing Finland and Sweden into NATO. We must continue and increase the aid with money and arms for Ukraine’s self-defense and deprive Putin of any illusion that we will tire before he does.

Second, we must wage a much more massive war of information against Putin’s lies and machinations, both directed towards our own public and to the sadly deluded Russians. People in Russia need to know that in no way do we want to destroy their country – we only want to prevent their dictator from destroying life for people in Ukraine. We hope to welcome a post-putinist age soon, where Europe can restart a mutually beneficial cooperation with a new and peaceful Russia.

Palestine must be saved from Netanyahu, and Israel from itself

Most of us in my generation grew up with enormous sympathy for Israel as the home country of the survivors of the worst genocide in history. When it came to the consequences for the Palestinians, for a long time, we were myopic. Israel became known as the only democracy in the Middle East, constantly threatened by hordes of hostile Arab states. But in the 1967 war, Israel conquered all of historic Palestine, and since then democracy only serves one half of the people who live under Israeli control.

Benjamin Netanyahu is one of this world’s most repulsive and unscrupulous elected leaders. He will stop at nothing to maintain power, and avoid the looming conviction for corruption. His return as head of government in coalition with the worst racists and fascists in Israel is a deadly threat to the rule of law and peace in the country. The new government wants to undermine judicial independence by giving parliament the authority to override the Supreme Court’s decisions and replace independent judges and prosecutors with its own henchmen. It is the same course as Viktor Orbán’s Hungary – only Netanyahu’s dismantling of the rule of law is described as Orbán on steroids. The judicial reforms have sparked mass protests in the Jewish population.

Disempowered ‘home rule’

Sadly, these Israeli mass protests do not yet address the fact that Israel/Palestine has been transformed into an apartheid state with no prospect of peace and reconciliation: The Palestinian ‘home rule’ is more powerless than the ‘home rule’ of the blacks in the so-called Bantustans of apartheid era South Africa. The settlers have good roads, but the Palestinians’ freedom of movement in the occupied territories is hampered by poor infrastructure and incessant harassment at Israeli checkpoints. They are squeezed together and walled off in small enclaves with no real opportunities for development. They are unjustly governed by the Israeli military, which conduct arbitrary house searches and detentions day and night. Jewish residents in the illegal settlements on occupied land, on the other hand, enjoy full Israeli civil rights and military protection: the latter also applies when the most extreme of the settlers attack their Palestinian neighbours with impunity and destroy their property – e.g., by cutting down thousands of their olive trees. Civil society organisations – such as are supported by Denmark – are attacked and punished with unfounded accusations of terrorism when they criticise human rights violations.

The Palestinian state that UN member states have overwhelmingly demanded for decades has effectively become impossible. The world community has only responded with critical resolutions, while Israel’s offensive settler policy has pierced the Palestinian territories like a Swiss cheese. With the most radical right-wing ministers in the driver’s seat, the expansion of the settlements and the formal annexation of Palestinian territories are now even more accelerated. The annexation is taking place more subtly, but equally contrary to International Law as Vladimir Putin’s attempts to move borders by force in his annexation of the eastern provinces of Ukraine.

Disproportional Israeli retaliation

Israel justifies any violation against Palestinians as an effort against terrorism. Terror against civilians on both sides of the conflict must be unconditionally condemned. Terror is a vicious circle of mutual retaliation, where one side is a state power with one of the world’s strongest militaries, while the other is an occupied civilian population. When Palestinians react to the hopelessness of 55 years of occupation with violence, murder of Israeli civilians and rockets from Gaza, it is the path deeper and deeper into hell. Each time it gives Israel an opportunity to strike back even harder and bloodier against the Palestinian civilian population. Not least does it unfold in the shape of the always brutal rain of bombs against the over 1.8 million Palestinians in Gaza, who live in deplorable conditions, locked up in an area the size of the Danish island of Langeland (with 14.000 inhabitants). People in Gaza have no possibilities of supporting themselves: they live the world’s largest open prison, and survive only on UN emergency aid. 

The US must exert friendly pressure 

Hope for peace and justice can only be rekindled from outside. It will not happen unless the United States as Israel’s friend, sponsor and military ally takes the lead. Fortunately, there are signs that many in the powerful Jewish-American community are demanding pressure on Israel to change course. The Biden administration has also reacted critically. But the risk is always that the tragedy of the Palestinians will be overshadowed by larger wars, crises, and tragedies elsewhere.

Europe has a key role in – also by appealing to the USA – preventing it from happening again.

We have a moral obligation to save the Palestinians from even worse oppression – and, if at all possible, to save Israel from itself.

This is a translation of my column in the Danish national newspaper Berlingske on 21st of February, 2023.

Illustration: Demonstrating against PM Benjamin Netanyahu and Minister for Justice Yariv Levin’s plans to suppress the Supreme Court, 13 Feb, 2023. Photo: Oren Rozen via Wikimedia Commons

The Paths to Peace are Few, Narrow and Uncertain

Sadly, peace and justice for Ukraine require ever more weapons from the West to liberate the occupied territories. And the ultimate horror scenario is that Putin’s response to being pushed back along the front lines becomes a desperate decision to use tactical nuclear weapons to destroy Ukraine’s military. This would multiply the loss of both military and civilian lives in one fell swoop and lead directly to NATO’s participation in the war, which may lead to war and arms races spiraling completely out of control.

Therefore, all hope rests on a change of heart and perhaps a change of power in the Russian leadership, in order for peace negotiations to start – and thus paving the way for rebuilding life in Ukraine.

We must also sincerely hope that a peace in Ukraine will lead to the West being able to negotiate once more with Russia to restore agreements on controlled limitations of missile and nuclear weapons systems and the prohibition of the proliferation of nuclear weapons, which contributed crucially to ending the old Cold War.

Only renewed cooperation between the West and Russia, expanded to include China, can slow down the ongoing arms race and prevent the proliferation of nuclear weapons to more and more states. Dare we believe in such cooperation?

Doubtful promises

Nuclear proliferation can hardly be avoided without very tangible guarantees for and alliances with the countries that must renounce nuclear weapons, that they will not be exposed to military attacks from other countries.. However, deep distrust in the long-term sustainability of such guarantees will prevail. Remember that in 1994 Russia helped to guarantee Ukraine’s borders in exchange for handing over Ukraine’s share of the old Soviet nuclear weapons stockpiles.

North Korea’s seemingly insane drive to massively stockpile nuclear weapons and long-range missiles is hardly based on the delusion that the country and its regime would exist only minutes after a nuclear attack on the United States. But the dictator Kim Jong-un’s logic is simple: Would Saddam Hussein or Gaddafi have been removed by military force, had they possessed nuclear weapons to respond with?

The same logic led Iran’s clergy to toy with developing nuclear weapons. It was a particularly risky project because, in the conflict-torn Middle Eastern region, it could quickly lead to a preemptive attack by Israel and a nuclear race with Saudi Arabia and other neighboring countries. The non-proliferation agreements could be completely blown up.

Trump’s brutal deal-breaking

Therefore, up until 2015, a brilliant diplomatic offensive to lift economic sanctions against Iran and so as to let the country experience not being under threat of attack – while Iran, in return, had to renounce plans to develop the bomb. An agreement, the JCPOA, was concluded not only between the US and Iran, but including Russia, China, Great Britain, France, Germany and the EU as well, and furthermore confirmed in the UN Security Council.

Against the backdrop of many decades of conflict between the United States and Iran, this agreement was historic, and it served to strengthen the more moderate forces in Iran that had brought about the agreement. This is why it was terrible and idiotic that three years later Trump tore up the deal and re-imposed an even harsher sanctions regime on Iran. It is tragic that as the new president Joe Biden did not manage to move swiftly to restore the nuclear deal. This have prevented the return to power of the radical clerics , nurturing their strong doubts about whether guarantees from the West were trustworthy, and thus nuclear force could be dispensed with. Now the Iranian regime may be so cornered by domestic problems that it might still want an agreement. But the opportunity is definitely missed.

Iran out of reach

At this point in time, no Western power or organisation can make deals with a regime that massacres participants of huge popular protests, and executes countless young men for petty offenses, in order to scare people from joining the mass movement that threatens the regime’s very survival. A regime which, by the way, also supplies hideous drone weapons for Putin’s war of aggression against the Ukrainian civilian population.

In Iran as in Russia, we must now cling to the narrow hope of regime change from within.

But there may be dramatic interludes, with Israel’s new right-wing Netanyahu government trying to destroy Iran’s nuclear facilities before a nuclear bomb is ready for use. This might delay the bomb, but hardly prevent it. And it will convince the clergy even more of its necessity. In addition, Iran has many opportunities to – with the help of allied forces in Israel’s vicinity – trigger a new and larger conflict in the war-torn Middle Eastern region.

The paths to peace are few, narrow and uncertain.

This is a translation of a piece published in Danish in Berlingske on 23rd of January, 2023

Election time in Denmark and the US

Shanelle Hall & Jean Ahlefeldt-Laurvig

I had the undivided pleasure of participating in we need to talk about this, the podcast on current and important issues in Denmark and the USA – and globally – by Shanelle Hall and Jean Ahlefeldt-Laurvig.

We talked about the elections ahead of us in Denmark and the US, not about specific candidates or policies – but about the political systems themselves. And they are hugely different.

Listen here to episode 1

Episode 2

Podcasts published on 21st of October 2022, ahead of the parliamentary election in Denmark on 1st of November and the mid-terms in the US on the 8th of November.


🇬🇧 Urgent Recommendation to De-escalate NATO-Russia Military Risks

We, in the European Leadership Network, urge de-escalation of NATO-Russia military risks.

The security situation in Europe has deteriorated to its lowest point since the end of the Cold War. 

NATO and Russian military forces operate in much closer proximity than just a few years ago, previous lines of NATO-Russia communications have broken down, and the nuclear and conventional arms control system that took decades to build is rapidly unravelling, with nothing to take its place.

Against this backdrop, the ELN has lent its support to an extended series of detailed senior expert discussions led by ELN members Sergey Rogov and Alexey Gromyko on how NATO and Russia might reduce the risk of inadvertent conflict. The experts group has comprised some 30 people including retired diplomats and military officers from the United States, Russia and Europe.

While members of the group differed over the root causes of the current crisis, they share a common concern that as tension builds between Russia and NATO, there is a growing danger of a real military confrontation.

Read a summary from the discussions leading up to this or download the entire text of the recommendations in English and Russian. Here are links to the full text in French and Polish.