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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