Gideon Rachman of the FT asks some good questions in his new article “Russia and China’s challenge for the west”
Dmitry Peskov, official spokesman for the Russian president, likes a joke. Visitors to his Kremlin office last week noticed that the screensaver on his computer is a series of revolving quotes from George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four: “Big Brother is watching you”, “war is peace”, “freedom is slavery”, “ignorance is strength”. Since Mr Peskov works from the same building from which Stalin operated – and now speaks for Vladimir Putin, who is often accused of establishing a new Russian autocracy – this is all rather daring. Or tasteless. Possibly both. … Russian and Chinese nationalism – backed by economic strength – poses obvious foreign policy dilemmas for the west. The issues involved are both practical and philosophical. On the practical level, western countries have to decide how hard a line to take when China threatens Taiwan, or Russia squeezes Georgia. How much of a fuss should we make about human rights? What should we do when Russian and Chinese “sovereign wealth funds” try to buy western companies? How do we cope with the fact that Russia and China frequently block western efforts at the United Nations Security Council – over Burma, Kosovo and Iran for example? Behind these day-to-day issues are some bigger philosophical questions. Was it wrong to suppose that globalisation and economic growth would eventually mean that Russia and China would become liberal democracies? If that was too glib, are the new China and Russia threatening to western interests? It is too soon to answer these questions definitively. China and Russia once again pose an ideological challenge to the west. But authoritarian nationalism, backed by massive foreign reserves, may turn out to be simply a phase on the long march to liberal democracy. Or it may turn out to be something more durable – and Orwellian.