Despite similar totalitarian rule following 1949 under Mao Zedong and Joseph Stalin, China and Russia for various reasons experienced considerable bilateral friction for many of the decades following 1950.
Today, the Chinese and Russian regimes are linked by shared contempt for democracy and the rule of law. Their two regimes are also closely linked economically. As of 2016, almost 20 per cent of all imports to Russia came from China, while China bought almost 10 per cent of Russia’s exports, worth about $28 billion.
Last month, Xi presented Putin with China’s first “friendship medal” calling him “my best, most intimate friend.” Whether it is friendship or convenience is difficult to judge. They often pursue complementary agendas and support each other with their permanent vetoes at the U.N. Security Council.
Just over a week ago, three Chinese warships sailed into the Baltic Sea for China’s first war games in those waters with Russia’s fleet.
Beijing wants Russian oil and gas to fuel its economy. Moscow needs Chinese trade and investment more than ever following its estrangement from the democratic world over its 2014 invasion and occupation of Crimea. Raised ages for pension eligibility in recent days for Russians confirms a highly stressed treasury.
Richard McGregor, senior fellow at Australia’s Lowy Institute, agrees there is a strategic nature to the Russia-China partnership, joining together to push back against the U.S. and Europe in their respective spheres of influence. “Russia has passively supported China around its claims in the South China Sea, similarly Beijing never has a critical word about the Russian annexation of Crimea.”
Similarly, Xi does not acknowledge that Russia under Putin has sought to attack democratic institutions and the integrity of elections in numerous countries and continues to act as a rogue regime in Ukraine and Syria.
Earlier this year, when Russia was facing international condemnation for its widely-reported role in the poisoning of a former spy and his daughter in the United Kingdom, the Beijing party-state said nothing.
Michael Cole, a Canadian Taipei-based security analyst, says Beijing is in conflict with a world order and a system of democracy that it now regards as an impediment to its global ambitions.
The party-state is expanding its influence through neo-imperial projects like the New Silk Road, also known as the Belt and Road Initiative, which involve nations where rule of law and democratic norms are weak.
To break through the democratic firewall, Cole asserts, Beijing uses “sharp power” or “united front activities”—a combination of political and psychological warfare, corruption, co-optation, disinformation—as well as economic incentives and sometimes its “soft power,” to change our institutions, and to change perceptions in as many nations as it can mislead.
As the world begins to understand the full scope and ramifications of China’s “sharp power”—most of which is either illegal or unethical, Taiwan is an indispensable partner to the international community as it strives to counter efforts by revisionist forces and to defend democratic values. China’s unending assault on Taiwan is really directed at the entire liberal democratic order, which has underpinned independent nations since the end of World War II.
The enemy isn’t China or the Chinese, but rather its Communist party and its growing efforts to undermine and displace the universal values democrats cherish.
Recently, on the eve of what would have been Nelson Mandela’s 100th birthday, former U.S. President Barack Obama addressed an audience of about 15,000 in Johannesburg, South Africa. Mandela had been imprisoned for nearly three decades in racially segregated South Africa—apartheid South Africa—before his release in 1990. Four years later, he was elected South Africa’s first black chief executive.
America’s first African-American president honored Mandela’s legacy even as he described the world as it is today—and how it might be tomorrow. His speech was both an eloquent celebration of Mandela’s life and a paean to democracy:
“Democracy depends on strong institutions, and is about minority rights, checks and balances, freedom of speech and freedom of expression, free and independent media… an independent judiciary, and everybody having to follow the law. … democracy best upholds the idea that government exists to serve the individual and not the other way around. And it is the only form of government that has the possibility of making that idea real.”
Obama’s words offer a bold vision for those who are concerned that the rise of authoritarian leaders will inevitably lead to greater discord. Says Obama: “It doesn’t have to be. We have the power to control our own destinies.” Wise words indeed.
David Kilgour, a lawyer by profession, served in Canada’s House of Commons for almost 27 years. In Jean Chrétien’s Cabinet, he was secretary of state (Latin America and Africa) and secretary of state (Asia-Pacific). He is the author of several books and co-author with David Matas of “Bloody Harvest: The Killing of Falun Gong for Their Organs.”
Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.