New York University's independent student newspaper, established in 1973.

Washington Square News

New York University's independent student newspaper, established in 1973.

Washington Square News

New York University's independent student newspaper, established in 1973.

Washington Square News

The Soapbox: Missing officials in China, armament in the Czech Republic, economic recession in Germany

The Soapbox is a weekly column by WSN covering major news developments at NYU’s campuses and study away sites abroad. Global consciousness for a global university.
Max Van Hosen
The Soapbox is a weekly news column rounding up stories worth reading for a global university. (Illustration by Max Van Hosen)

In China, Defense Minister disappears

China’s Defense Minister Li Shangfu has been missing for a month following investigations of alleged corruption surrounding purchases of military equipment. In July, former Chinese minister of foreign affairs Qin Gang was also removed after an alleged extramarital affair that resulted in a child born in the United States. Analysts suspect the recent shufflings might be an attempt by President Xi Jinping to silence political adversaries.

Li was last spotted on Aug. 29 in Beijing, where he was delivering a speech at a China-Africa security forum. The Chinese Ministry of Defense pulled Li out of a meeting in Vietnam scheduled for early September, and the minister failed to appear at a meeting with Singaporean officials the following week. 

The defense minister’s disappearance comes after the removal of Qin Gang as minister of foreign affairs, and follows the firings of at least two key officials responsible for China’s nuclear and missile arsenals for undisclosed reasons.

Some U.S. intelligence indicates that Li has already been removed from his post. The Chinese state media has yet to make an official announcement. 

“It’s kind of shocking that in three months China has disappeared both the foreign and defense ministers,” Drew Thompson, a senior fellow at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy and a former U.S. Department of State official, told the Guardian. “These are two critical foreign interlocutors but China feels no obligation to inform the international community how or why [the ministers have gone]. It reinforces how inward China has turned.”

In the Czech Republic, government acquires jets amid war in Ukraine

The Czech government approved the purchase of 24 F-35 fighter jets for around $6.5 billion, marking the largest military contract in the country’s history. The purchase comes after Czech President Petr Pavel addressed the United Nations General Assembly in New York, where he lobbied for more military support in Ukraine from western allies. 

In June, the U.S. State Department approved the sale of F-35 jets, which are made by American aerospace company Lockheed Martin, to the Czech Republic. The sale came after the Czech government announced it would commit to NATO guidelines of spending 2% of its gross domestic product on defense, according to Al Jazeera.

Since the start of the Russia-Ukraine war, the Czech Republic has pledged over one billion euros worth of military aid to Ukraine, which includes Soviet-era aircraft the Czech military originally used for its own national defense. The new aircrafts would replenish the Czech air force and upgrade the country’s air defense capabilities. 

With the purchase, the Czech Republic is joining 10 other NATO members that also have an F-35 fleet. The purchase reflects the Czech Republic’s warming alliance with western Europe under the leadership of Pavel, who is a former NATO general

“In comparing the capabilities of the aircraft and their service life with the price, there is no better solution for fulfilling the tasks of the tactical air force of the Army of the Czech Republic for the next decades,” said Czech Prime Minister Petr Fiala in a social media post. “This tells our allies that we take the defense of our country seriously and that they can count on us.”

In Germany, the economy teeters on recession

Germany could soon be on the brink of a prolonged recession, according to a September report from the Leibniz Institute for Economic Research at the University of Munich. German economic growth is currently at its lowest since 1999, and is on track to be the only major economy in the world to shrink in 2023

According to the report, business confidence in Germany decreased for the fifth consecutive month. The report also stated that although Germany saw a slight boost in business sentiments in trade and manufacturing, the construction sector index fell to its lowest since the 2008 financial crisis.

“Sentiment in the German economy remains bleak,” the report reads. “Once again, companies were less satisfied with their current business situation. However, their pessimism regarding the coming months dissipated slightly. The German economy is treading water.”

Projections from the International Monetary Fund and the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development predict further decline for Europe’s largest economy. As a regional powerhouse, Germany’s decline is expected to negatively affect European trade and manufacturing.

Interest rates and inflation are already high across Europe, and unemployment in Germany has yet to decline from pandemic-era levels. Geopolitical shocks to German supply chains have further stifled the country’s post-pandemic recovery. China’s lackluster economic recovery in 2023, on top of European efforts to shift strategically important manufacturing away from China due to security concerns, has complicated Sino-German trade, which amounted to $314 billion in 2022. 

High energy prices raised the cost for domestic manufacturing, driving down profits and potential for growth. Germany has yet to find a sustainable and affordable alternative to Russian natural gas, which has been unstable since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Germany is caught in a double bind as it shifts away from nuclear energy amid a natural gas shortage, forcing the country to reconsider using coal power plants.

Contact Samson Tu at [email protected].

About the Contributor
Samson Tu, Creative & Multimedia Director
Samson Shing-Chen Tu is finishing his B.A. degree in politics. Samson is an aspiring-street-photographer-turned-law-school-applicant. The development of civil societies in occupied countries and regime transitions in young democratic regimes probably won't intrigue you, but they do Samson. Samson reads Heidegger and Sartre or edits photographs on his 15-hour flight between New York and Taipei. He always prefers the flights to New York. Send an email titled "Hi stu" to [email protected] and he will send you a landscape screensaver.
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