[Martin Schram] Here’s what Xi can learn from Putin

In his quest to make his country the undisputed leader of the global economy, China’s President Xi Jinping can learn a lot from his next-door neighbor, Russia’s President Vladimir Putin.

Not about what to do, but about what not to do.

Except Xi just doesn’t seem to get it.

Putin has been putting on a cram course of a clinic that you would think would be helping his nominally still-communist neighbor figure out how to out-capitalist the capitalists. Someday in the not-far-off future, Xi’s China could prove capable of capturing the global economy’s statistically figurative golden cup.

Yet a number of times, in recent years and especially this year, Xi has seemed as if he is imitating Putin’s mindset and mistakes, not learning from them. China seems determined to showcase itself as the bully in the ‘hood — and maybe even much worse.

So today let’s take a close look at the conduct and choices made by Putin and then by Xi. We’ll see parallels that undoubtedly have pleased Russia’s dapper despot — but should have caused Xi to hit rewind and rethink.

First, let’s rewind and rethink Putin: Success in the global economy must start with at least the appearance of a Good Neighbor Policy. But Putin has been willing to massively invade or mysteriously kidnap and poison to get what he wants. Also, we recall Putin’s planned Sochi Two Step of 2014: To showcase Russia’s global economy potential, Putin planned to host the Sochi Winter Olympics — and then host the G-8 economic summit in Sochi. But in between, Ukraine sought new economic ties with Europe — and Putin exploded at having the world see Ukraine rejecting Russia. So he invaded and captured Crimea — causing the G-8 to cancel its Sochi summit and kick Russia out, making it the G-7.

Today, Putin has amassed some 100,000 troops along Russia’s border with Ukraine. He did it either to invade and conquer his neighbor that was once part of the Soviet Union, or just as a foolhardy way to get the United States and Europe to pledge Ukraine will never be admitted into NATO. President Joe Biden warned Putin if he invades Ukraine, Russia will suffer economic repercussions “like ones he’s never seen.” Russia will become an economic shell of its already Potemkin economic self.

Of course, there is a world of difference between Putin’s Russia and Xi’s China. Putin’s Russia is a nuclear superpower, otherwise just borderline above much of the Third World — and often seems unable to fend for itself. Overwhelmed by COVID-19, Russia reportedly suffers more than 1,000 deaths and 35,000 new infections a day. Russian independent journalist Alexey Kovalev wrote in The New York Times that “only 41 percent of the country’s people are fully vaccinated, a lower number than in Laos or Cape Verde.”

In contrast, China swiftly protected and vaccinated itself. And last September, The Economist reported the success story that means most to Xi’s China: “Is China already the world’s most dominant economy? By one measure, yes.” One expert’s statistical analysis of countries’ “economic dominance” showed that China surpassed the United States and became the world’s dominant economy in 2020. Other analyses show the USA still has a narrow lead.

Now let’s rewind and rethink Xi: First, China used a Summer Olympics in 2008 to introduce its sparkling new high-tech self to the world. Now it is about to host the Winter Olympics. But Xi’s China has shamed itself by what the United States has called its “genocide” and abuses against the Uyghur Muslims. Also by its crackdown on democracy in Hong Kong and its recent military harassment flights in the skies around Taiwan.

Does Xi plan to invade Taiwan someday? Or is he just bullying and menacing, Putin-style, to get the West’s attention? Xi must ask himself: Does atrocious conduct mean more to me than seeing China emerge from the economic backwaters that Richard Nixon first saw to lead the world’s economy?

Because that’s what he is ultimately risking. The international corporations, global markets and the politicians who front for the global economy have pocketed huge profits and meekly overlooked all the above inhumanity that was “Made in China.”

But they, too, bend and inevitably buckle under the demands of a greater power. And that power is you — and all the decent consumers throughout the world.

When you “Just say No!” and refuse to buy anything bearing the badge of proven genocidal criminals and humanity’s bullies — well, that is the one power that can buckle and even break the dominance of both China’s abusive rulers and capitalism‘s maxi-profit moralists who have too long served as China’s silent collaborators.

Martin Schram
Martin Schram, an op-ed columnist for Tribune News Service, is a veteran Washington journalist, author and TV documentary executive. — Ed.

(Tribune Content Agency)

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