Why the Russians and the Chinese are winning the Great Power battles

In the 1980s I worked in Hong Kong for a multinational corporation intent on benefitting from the opening up of China. We were one of the bees buzzing excitedly around a rapidly growing honeypot. In 1989 the events of Tiananmen Square caused only a brief pause in business. There was a little bid of hand wringing but we soon buzzed back and were doing deals. Coincidentally in the same year the Berlin Wall fell. In Russia as well as China money talked and in both big countries we in the West salivated at the commercial opportunities – we didn’t ask too many awkward questions.

The threats posed by present day China and Russia are of the West’s making. Both changing great powers could see that capitalism works – not least for the fat cats at the top. And they could see that the muted cries in the West that economic change should be accompanied by democratic change could safely be ignored. The Chinese, as ever, could see that time was on their size, as was scale. “China is Very Big” said my Hong Kong Chief Executive back in 1989 – never mind the quality of the regime feels its width, it’s breadth, it’s size and its prospects. Let’s get some of the action.

MultinatIonals like the one I worked for sourced people and money globally and our partners in Peking or Moscow welcomed the global benefits that doing deals with us brought. Two nations traditionally closed became open if there was a buck to be made, which there was. As bridges were built the Chinese and Russians crossed them bringing their newly acquired bucks with them. From football clubs to telecoms it was Russian and, especially, Chinese money that swept up western assets. Apple as well as Huawei rely on an alliance of western demand and Chinese business acumen and labour.

The Chinese and the Russians knew that they needed to protect what they were creating – information is power and they weren’t too bothered about how they obtained it. Were there spies in our business operation in Hong King back in the late 1980s ? Anecdotal evidence suggested that there were. And now? Do you really think the People’s Republic would have moved against Hong Kong recently without insider information that they could get away with it ? The political, commercial and military intelligence operations of the Chinese and Russians are substantial and designed to focus on keeping what they have and building on it.

Hand in hand with the spooks are the greeks bearing gifts. If the Chinese, and more so the Russians, believe that their relative strength is enhanced by weakening the solidarity of the West they’ll happily throw money at the challenge. The Russia Report doesn’t confirm the extent to which Russian money helped achieve Brexit but the evidence is more than anecdotal. A united Europe , especially one with plans for a Defence Force (EDF) , presents a threat to an increasingly militaristic and totalitarian Russia. An EDF without British participation would be weaker. A European Union without British membership weaker then one with us. Go figure.

China, America, Russia, Europe. Modern day Great Powers

One of the oldest messages in the political strategy textbook is “Divide and Rule” . And nothing is more divisive than flag-waving nationalism. Trump’s nationalism and that of Britain’s Conservatives were just what the Russians and Chinese ordered – and paid for. In a world where there are just four great powers, and with two of them (China and Russia) a threat to the West, the events of the last four years will have put smiles on the faces in Moscow and Peking. The madman in the White House throwing insults every day at the Chinese won’t worry them one bit. The Great Power that is the United States shooting itself clumsily in the foot every day won’t worry the Russians either. And the fourth undisputed great power – a uniting Europe pursuing ever closer union – has been hugely damaged by Britain petulantly picking up its ball and running away.

3 thoughts on “Why the Russians and the Chinese are winning the Great Power battles

  1. The problem for democratic governments is they are still essentially struggling with an outdated concept of good versus evil. The power tectonic plates of the world have shifted. ‘Evil’ is not necessarily seen any longer in negative terms and the ‘good’ often appears simply weakness. China and Russia are ruled by strongmen. Men who appear to know what they are doing. Are successful in achieving their long term aims. Whilst western democracies, especially the US and Britain have comic blowhard characters in charge. Then in Europe mostly technocrat functionaries at the helm less the one exceptional example of Angela Merkle.
    Western democracies desperately need new leadership. Trump has proved to be a great postwar political disaster. The enemies of freedom and democracy have taken great advantage as they look on with mild amusement at the clown’s performance from The White House.
    The problem is Biden is not really the man to turn the situation around. To begin with, he is far too old. That’s not ageist either. I am 75 and the very thought of running a country at this age would fill me with pure dread. Biden might be exceptional but the human body once it reaches a certain stage declines in everyone. The second reason is Biden will have to spend his first and probably only term undoing the damage Trump has wreaked both domestically and around the world. It will be exhausting even for a younger man.
    Britain is heading for economic meltdown in 2021. The country faces so many problems politically, economically and socially. Government will be overwhelmed. Johnson has not the slightest clue how to deal with these challenges. The sad factor is they could mostly have been avoided with better more enlightened steerage.
    So Presidents Putin and Xi can look on with much satisfaction for a future that is bright for their nations. The ‘good’ lost the fight and ‘evil’ prospers. That’s the Trump and Brexit legacy.


    1. Totally agree. I’m 73 and not too decrepit but the last thing I’d want is full time job responsibility anywhere – let alone in the White House! Agree with your other points as well.


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