Stop Russia now, or lose to China later

Quelle: Shut­ter­stock

What will be at stake when Moscow and Beijing begin to share their lessons?

This article was ini­tially pub­lished by the Center for Euro­pean Policy Analy­sis, CEPA. Read the orig­i­nal here.


The Dalai Lama’s friend­ship with Václav Havel epit­o­mised the opti­mistic ide­al­ism that fol­lowed the col­lapse of com­mu­nism. If the Iron Curtain could fall, and the Baltic states return to the world map after a 50-year absence, surely occu­pied Tibet would soon do like­wise, as the Com­mu­nist regime in Beijing crum­bled?

A quarter-century later, those hopes have faded. The spirit of 1989 is in retreat in central Europe, while the main­land Chinese regime’s grip on power has tight­ened. In par­tic­u­lar, Chinese pres­sure has made the Tibetan lead­er­ship off-limits for Western leaders. Once an hon­oured guest, the Dalai Lama now strug­gles to get any offi­cial meet­ings in coun­tries that claim to stand for freedom and democ­racy. Pres­i­dent Emmanuel Macron of France says he will not meet the Tibetan spir­i­tual leader without the consent of the Chinese author­i­ties. The prime min­is­ters of Aus­tralia and New Zealand say they have no plans to meet him. Even in India—which hosts the Tibetan gov­ern­ment in exile—the foreign min­is­ter has warned offi­cials against meet­ings with Tibetan rep­re­sen­ta­tives, for fear of derail­ing the new rap­proche­ment with the giant north­ern neigh­bour. In Germany, Chinese foot­ball players stormed off the pitch in protest when a handful of fans dared to unveil the Tibetan flag during a minor game in Mainz.

It was a plea­sure, there­fore, to see posters high­light­ing the Dalai Lama and the late Czech Pres­i­dent adorn­ing last week’s Strat­com summit in Prague, organ­ised by the Euro­pean Values think-tank with part­ners from Germany, Sweden and Brus­sels, in a venue that also hosts a Tibetan support group.

Quelle: Wikimedia
Quelle: Wiki­me­dia

But the pic­tures also reminded us that the threat from China may one day dwarf that from Russia. From the other side of the world, the com­mu­nist regime in Beijing already deter­mines the way that we in Europe and North America conduct our diplo­macy. Not only is contact with Tibet ruled out, but ties with Taiwan are under increas­ing threat. The most recent twist is that the Chinese author­i­ties are trying to bully inter­na­tional air­lines to refer to the demo­c­ra­tic Chinese repub­lic not as a country, but as a mere province of main­land China. That at least has prompted a protest from the U.S. Admin­is­tra­tion.

Chinese bul­ly­ing, like Russia’s, suc­ceeds only because we let it Every Western politi­cian who met the Dalai Lama made it a bit easier for every­one else. Every­one who now shrinks from a meeting makes other meet­ings a bit harder. When China suc­ceeds in pun­ish­ing coun­tries such as Estonia, Norway and Slo­va­kia (all of which in recent years have breached in one way or another the com­mu­nist regime’s self-declared red lines), others get the message too.

Russia is, for now, a more press­ing threat. But it could learn from China. How would we feel if Russia kid­napped anti-Kremlin activists, the way that China seizes critics in Hong Kong and else­where. How would we like it if the regime in Moscow used the Russian dias­pora as a polit­i­cal weapon, like its coun­ter­parts in Beijing?

Because Russia is fun­da­men­tally a poor country, our con­flict with the Kremlin is about will-power and coor­di­na­tion, not about means. But our vul­ner­a­bil­i­ties to the Kremlin’s cock­tail of money, pro­pa­ganda, cyber-attacks and intim­i­da­tion matter not only because Vladimir Putin’s regime exploits them to weaken us. Soon they will be used by China too, on a far greater scale than hith­erto. Stop Russia now, or China wins later.

Russia has much to learn from China, and vice versa. It may be some comfort to us now that these lessons have not yet been learned. What should really worry is us is that they will be.

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