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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