Sanctions, what sanctions? Not as far as China is concerned.
The other day The Wall Street Journal blew a story that exploded with the puff of a Christmas cracker, not the bang of a blockbuster it merited.
Having scrutinised 84,000 items that had gone through Russian customs, the journalists found out that China bypasses Western sanctions by surreptitiously supplying vital weapon technologies to Russia.
Spare parts for SU-35 fighters, guidance and navigation equipment, jamming devices, radar units, quadrocopter drones all get on the road in China and follow a meandering route through third countries all the way into Putin’s genocidal arsenal. The third countries mentioned are Uzbekistan, UAE and Turkey (a Nato member in case you’ve forgotten).
Singled out in the report were such Chinese companies as Fujian Baofeng Electronics Co., Ltd., AVIC, China Taly Aviation Technologies, and DJI, but specific names don’t really matter. They all do as they are told.
China – and I know this will come as a surprise to anyone who follows our media uncritically – is an evil communist dictatorship. That is her essence and, no matter how assiduously the Chinese spread a camouflage net over it, the essence remains unchanged.
That’s why Xi and his gang have to be sympathetic to what Putin openly calls his war on the West. China is fighting exactly the same war against exactly the same enemy, but her strategy is more flexible – and so much more dangerous for it.
Both anti-Western dictatorships have tried to bring the West to its knees by economic means, Russia with only moderate and transient success, China much more menacingly.
The only weapons of economic blackmail at Russia’s disposal came in the tubular shape of hydrocarbon pipelines. However, over the past few months the West has shown that, at a pinch, it can do without Russian oil and gas. There goes that weapon, kicked out of Putin’s hand and turned against his own people.
China, on the other hand, has moulded herself into the West’s manufacturing base, something that would be hard, not to say impossible, to replace. Even worse, the country’s success in that area has created a benign aura around it.
Every conservative primer on political science will tell you that only private enterprise can create lasting economic success. And an economy based on private enterprise has to produce political virtue as well. Free up the markets and everything else will fall into place, say our libertarian economists from Hayek to Friedman to Gilder.
They share this faith in the absolute redemptive power of economics with the Marxists. Like Orwell’s animals, the two groups reduce everything to a single issue. They just can’t agree on the number of legs.
What I call economic totalitarianism can be refuted with a single word: China. The country did free up her markets, but not her people. Second only to the US in the number of billionaires, China is second to none in diabolical oppression, including her genocide of the Uighurs.
But Xi has also set his sights on Taiwan, as did all his predecessors from Mao on. Chinese maps identify Taiwan as Chinese territory, temporarily occupied by pro-Western insurgents. It’s only a matter of time before China moves in to claim what she sees as her rightful property.
Taiwan is to China what the Ukraine is to Russia, mutatis mutandis. An evil dictatorship can’t tolerate the adjacent presence of an ethnically similar free country that used to be its part. Such countries set a bad example for the dictators’ subjects who one day may rise in revolt.
Comparisons between West and East Germanies, North and South Vietnams or North and South Koreas are never favourable to the communists. China and Taiwan are another pair that makes the same point.
But the Chinese aren’t Russians. If the Russians are only half-Asian, the Chinese are fully so. Hence they tend to think on a much loftier timescale, displaying the kind of prudent patience that’s not the most salient trait of the impetuous Russians.
The Chinese do plan to rape Taiwan, but they are prepared to wait for the most propitious moment to do so. That’s why they doubtless regard Russia’s bandit raid on the Ukraine as a godsend, an invaluable testing ground.
Both the Ukraine and Taiwan have had defence treaties with the USA. For the former it was the Budapest Memorandum of 1994 (Britain was the other Western guarantor); for the latter, the Taiwan Relations Act of 1979 that replaced the Sino-American Mutual Defence Treaty of 1955.
That gives the Chinese pause to think. What if an amphibious raid on Taiwan provoked a destructive American response? That question has had a restraining effect on China’s predatory ambitions, and only a satisfactory empirical answer would be good enough.
By pouncing on the Ukraine, Putin has provided that answer, and Xi has to be grinning from ear to ear. The West will respond to evil aggression with condemnation, sanctions and arms supplies. But – and here Xi’s smile is getting wider – it won’t interfere directly.
A few threats of a nuclear strike and Mao’s your uncle, Jiang is your aunt. The West will stay put. Thanks, Vlad, that’s all Xi needs to know.
Everything else is just details. One such is that China has a vested interest in the war being as prolonged and sanguinary as possible. Ideally, both Russia and the West should emerge greatly weakened, the former economically and strategically, the latter morally.
Russia has already been downgraded to the role of China’s junior partner. Whatever the outcome of the on-going war, she’ll become China’s vassal, ceding vast tracts of Siberia to China de jure, as they’ve already been ceded de facto.
Then there is the logistical consideration: the Western arsenal is large but not limitless. As America showed in the Second World War, it can become limitless, but only when the West is involved directly. The requisite effort is unlikely to be made on behalf of any third party, defence treaty or no.
Coming to the fore there is the mathematical problem of a swimming pool with two pipes, one bringing water in, the other taking it out. I don’t remember the solution, but in this case it’s simple: the more armaments the West sends to the Ukraine, the less it’ll have left for Taiwan should the need soon arise.
Yet the moral arsenal is more vital than weaponry, and one detects signs of it being depleted in the West. Congressional support for helping the Ukraine is noticeably going down in the US, although it’s still robust at the grassroots. But for how long?
I’m sure China’s military computers are whirring round the clock, with the operators waiting for just the right intersection of all the relevant curves. I wouldn’t be surprised if those screens went on the blink later this year, screaming NOW!!!
I hope that smug nonagenarian Kissinger is satisfied with his handiwork. It was largely thanks to his heroic efforts that the West began to drag China up to her present status of a global powerhouse. Earlier in the last century, Kissinger’s predecessors provided the same service for the Soviet Union.
The mantra beloved of Putin’s historians is that “Stalin found Russia with a wooden plough and left her with the atom bomb”. A remarkable metamorphosis indeed. But it would have been impossible without the West, mainly America, industrialising Russia after the devastation wreaked by the Revolution and the Civil War.
Replace “the Revolution and the Civil War” with “the Cultural Revolution and the Great Leap Forward”, and America did exactly the same for China.
The two evil powers, Russia and China, have had their differences, which have been widely publicised in the West, but they were minor compared to the towering similarity: hostility to the West. This can be overt, as with Putin, or implicit, as with Xi. But it’s equally febrile in both cases.
We inevitably come to our senses in the end, but never in time to avert a disaster before it strikes. And then it turns out that the much-vaunted peace dividend is too dear at the price.
The West was in an ideal position to keep those two evil empires down. Now they are on the march, and one senses Taiwan will be the next victim to pay for our geopolitical myopia. Brace yourself: things may well get to be even more interesting before long.