In an interview on French TV, China’s ambassador to France said that former Soviet (occupied, ed.) countries have no effective status in international law.
European governments reacted swiftly, condemning the remarks. Numerous EU politicians called on France to expel Lu Shaye, the author of the “unacceptable and outrageous” statement.
In response to Europe’s rejection of the ambassador’s position, the Chinese foreign ministry was compelled to state that China honoured the sovereignty of all states that became independent after the Soviet Union collapsed.
The Chinese chargé d’affaires, when summoned to Estonia’s foreign ministry to give an explanation, went even further and added that Crimea was designated on Chinese-published maps “as part of Ukraine”.
Was the Chinese ambassador’s statement an insignificant digression from Beijing’s official position? But despite the clarification (as opposed to a retraction), the envoy’s utterance in France, even if spontaneous and un-sanctioned, clearly betrays a collective totalitarian mindset, especially in the context of Russia’s assault against Ukraine and the precarious position of Taiwan.
We note that the same Chinese diplomat has previously stated that “the Taiwanese, after being conquered, must undergo re-education”. No corrections-retractions then.
Backed by other likeminded autocrats worldwide, totalitarians have the confidence and motivation to wield their aggressiveness with impunity. Autocrats hold power with one another’s help.
Some have called this the “global authoritarianism” network. This was glaringly evident with the UN General Assembly vote count in March 2022, condemning Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine. Fully 141 favoured the resolution, 35 abstained and five voted “no” – Russia, Belarus, North Korea, Nicaragua, Syria. Of the 35 abstaining, many for their own singular reasons, China, Cuba, Iran, Vietnam and others, share basic autocratic features with the pro-Russia group.
These are regimes who benefit from the suppressed, silent assent of their population, and rule people who are forced to accept the state’s position as its own. With this, manipulation of information has been a more reliable form of control than mass repression. The state doesn’t only rely on liquidating opponents. They’re also silenced, imprisoned, persecuted, even exiled. And this is augmented by the subjugation of the political and economic establishment.
Autocrats magnify each other’s disinformation, pass on common propaganda narratives, ignore others’ human rights abuses and international aggression. They alleviate one another’s sanction-produced difficulties. They hinder any initiatives to bring autocratic regimes to account at international forums through veto power, distractions, obstructions.
Control is applied through a total blockage of independent media, the destruction of reputable post-secondary schooling, the purging of foreign research establishments, the enforcement of “foreign agent” laws on anyone with international ties.
With the 2014 annexation of Crimea and intrusion into Ukraine, something analogous to MAGA – MRGA (“make Russia great again”) took hold. Putin’s regime expected all Russians to be driven by this ultra-nationalistic impulse, enforced by emphasizing what people must not do rather than what they could do. It was the mobilization of an already submissive population.
Yes, one must acknowledge the expression of outrage by Russians protesting. But massive arrests and imprisonments have practically eliminated this. Demands for open and enthusiastic support of Putin’s policies are a form of public intimidation. Kindergarteners are taught to draw Z. School children are taught how to combat “fake news” about Russia’s actions in Ukraine. Youngsters are expected to inform on each other or their family members for any signs of anti-war sentiment. Loyalty must be shown, even at the expense of abandoning one’s self-respect and suffering a guilty conscience.
Endemic to totalitarian regimes is the exercise of raw power and the unabashed use of violence. Putin has looked for historical justifications and nurtured Stalin’s transformation into a hero figure, albeit not flawless, but overwhelmingly redeemed by his ruthless leadership of a WWII Soviet victory. This triumph, costing millions of young Red Army soldiers their lives as cannon fodder, somewhat mirrors Putin’s ambitions, which have led to massive Russian military casualties in Ukraine.
How should one respond to the “mutual admiration union” of autocratic/totalitarian regimes? One consequence of Russia’s attack on Ukraine is the willingness of countries to jointly deter brute offensives, perhaps spurred more by an inherent revulsion to aggression than by international convention.
But how incentivized are Westerners to mount a unified and sustained opposition to despots? Public opinion in the US is not encouraging. Polls indicate that while 60% of Americans consider democracy to be the best form of government, fully 66% accept cooperation with authoritarian regimes if it’s in US security interests. Only 15% prioritize protecting democratic ideals in US foreign policy. However, this may not reflect the views of other democratic countries.
Numerous experts insist that the West cannot avoid the necessity of containing and deterring regimes that brazenly exercise their raw power. It will likely be a prolonged, full-spectrum confrontation, not necessarily military in nature. Active mutual support for pro-democracy initiatives worldwide is a crucial key. Maintaining the status quo with politically repulsive regimes, purely for selfish national interests in trade, energy, etc., only emboldens autocrats. This reality may be considered blue-eyed naivety, but it must be acknowledged.
Toronto Eesti Elu