Bob Ehrlich: COVID Proves China – Not Russia
“The capitalists will sell us the rope with which we will hang them.”
This familiar quote, widely attributed to Vladimir Lenin (though likely spurious), remains a central tenet of Marxist/Leninist thought. And nowhere is the assurance contained therein more engrained than in the rhetoric and policies of the People’s Republic of China.
President Xi Jinping has in fact been the purveyor-in-chief of China’s long march of influence and infiltration into South America, Asia and the Middle East. Accompanying the money and military might brought to bear is fear — a necessary commodity of domination well understood by the Chinese politburo.
By any measure, Mr. Xi has been effective. The West has proven quite acquiescent in the face of soft — and hard — Chinese aggression.
More foreboding, the protesters surely understand that tanks — lots of tanks — are always an available option for a repressive government. Those of a certain age will recall those same tanks massacred many thousands of democracy protestors in Tiananmen Square over 30 years ago — a historical fact the Chinese government continues to officially deny.
There is, after all, real gold in that “Belt and Road” initiative, as well as so many other economic development projects fueled by Beijing’s cash. In the developing world, it’s just so much easier (and safer) to offer up yet another condemnation of Israel’s “occupation” of the West Bank. That one never misses its mark.
Here, the World Health Organization slow-walks its declaration of a coronavirus pandemic in deference to the Chinese government’s “commitment to transparency,” while the famously dysfunctional United Nations Human Rights Council adds a Chinese representative to a prestigious panel — where he will help pick monitors on freedom of speech, forced disappearance and arbitrary detention.
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Here, those profit-loving NBA types who envision millions of jersey and shoe sales in a basketball-loving nation of 1.4 billion people are likewise mute as the body counts continue to pile up on the streets of Wuhan, a count that includes the brave Chinese physicians who early on had the courage at the manifest risk of their lives to question their government’s failure to act.
Here, the Chinese government’s aggressive saber-rattling and relentless artificial island-building in the South China Sea — aimed at establishing Chinese control of the area’s commercial sea lanes — provokes only occasional protests from China apologists around the world (albeit plenty of sleepless nights in Tokyo and Seoul).
Here, the practice of some American politicians (almost exclusively Republicans) to associate the coronavirus with its true city of origin leads the Chinese government to threaten America’s generic medical supply chains with a shutdown in the middle of a pandemic.
Mr. Putin may indeed remain the consummate KGB bad guy, fully capable of creating chaos in his immediate neighborhood (just ask Georgia and Ukraine).
But the bottom line is difficult to escape. Modern Russia is economically backward, overly reliant on its energy sector and laden with corruption. Putin’s cash-strapped regime generates a lower GDP than the state of Texas.
Of course, the foregoing does not constitute a call for a shutdown of bilateral relations with China. The Chinese remain our largest trading partner and may (hopefully) become a more accommodating trading partner during the forthcoming phase-two trade negotiations.
They can also play a vital intermediary role should negotiations with Kim Jong Un ever become serious. President Xi no doubt sees upside for his country as well: stability on his eastern border.
Still, the present crisis reminds us of the lethality so often associated with authoritarian governments. For these nation-states, self-perpetuation always trumps transparency and individualism and freedom. We might accordingly think anew about the wisdom of giving — and selling — so much rope to a regime chock-full of harmful intent.
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