Western Elites Unite to Condemn Putin—Would They Do the Same to Xi?

Commentary The Western world has united in its condemnation of Russian military action in Ukraine. Government officials, media pundits, business leaders and tech tycoons have all been quick to denounce what they perceive to be Moscow’s aggression against its neighbor Ukraine. Such a fact would seem to be reassuring for those who support a unified front against extraterritorial aggression by revisionist powers. That means that should another major military force seek to expand its borders or rectify historical grievances—say, the Chinese regime forcibly seizing Taiwan—a similar outpouring by a coordinated anti-aggressor coalition of business and political interests can be expected. Right? Not quite. Those who believe that the world would come down on Beijing as adamantly as it has on Moscow should temper their predictions. Russian President Vladimir Putin has certainly been in ill repute among establishment figures in U.S. and European politics for some time. In power since the turn of the century, opinions of Putin in Western elitist circles have steadily declined throughout the years. With plenty of other contributing factors, some major events include the following: the 2008 Russo-Georgian war; the passage of an anti-LGBT propaganda law in 2013; the 2013-14 Euromaidan movement in Ukraine, as well as Russia’s annexation of Crimea and support for separatists in Eastern Ukraine; and the alleged Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. These developments were certainly disturbing to liberal democratic sensibilities; however, don’t let Western reactions lead you to believe that just because they purport to denounce tyranny in Russia, this will always be the standard reaction to geopolitical power politics everywhere. This is especially true in regards to China, where the response would certainly be qualified by important factors, primarily in the economic realm. To establish a baseline, consider these key economic indicators. The European Union—one of the most outspoken critics of Putin’s move into Ukraine—has 11 times the GDP of the Russian Federation, as well as 3.5 times the population. Once the United States is factored into these numbers, the imbalance is significantly exacerbated. The comparisons with China are quite different. In terms of GDP according to Purchasing Power Parity (PPP), the United States and the EU both land around $20 trillion each. China, at around $24 trillion, is larger than either separately, and still over half of the two combined. This presents a much more formidable economic force than the Russian Federation. In terms of population, China (around 1.4 billion people) is still almost 2 times larger than the United States (around 330 million) and the EU (around 450 million) combined. Military and political considerations aside, the business world following a similar reaction to Chinese aggression as it has to Russia would equate to shutting the door on billions of potential consumers. Customers use escalators in a shopping center in Beijing, China, on July 25, 2021. (Wang Zhao/AFP via Getty Images) Patterns of trade are equally alarming. Russia is the EU’s fifth largest trading partner, and the United States’ 23rd largest. China, on the other hand, was the EU’s single-largest trading partner and the third for the United States (although China was the number one country from which the United States received imports—for example, the most goods flowing into this country from foreign shores were Chinese). Of note, Russia is the top source of imported gas for both Europe and the United States. Sanctioning Russian oil and gas has largely been avoided due to the deleterious effects it would have on U.S. and European energy security (or, rather, energy prices). The two regions have largely taken steps to reduce their ability to independently produce energy from dirtier sources—although some are now arguing for a change in strategy, with Putin single-handedly shaking the world awake from its climate dream. The efficacy of sanctions is questionable in general, but targeting the sector that the Russian economy is built on would likely be the most effective approach. China, unlike Russia, is a preeminent economic partner for both the United States and the EU. If this is the level of resolve that we demonstrate toward a minor economic player, what type of response would China expect to see? It should also be noted that although this article discusses widespread condemnation, a major section of the international community has not been as quick to sever ties with Moscow. Most prominently, there have been reservations among Middle Eastern countries. Russia’s firm bilateral relationship with Syria was cemented in the crucibles of Damascus’ own civil war, and Moscow’s support for authoritarian regimes has reverberated throughout the region. The Kremlin is a firm ally for those who value order and stability above foreign Western notions of human rights and liberal de

Western Elites Unite to Condemn Putin—Would They Do the Same to Xi?

Commentary

The Western world has united in its condemnation of Russian military action in Ukraine. Government officials, media pundits, business leaders and tech tycoons have all been quick to denounce what they perceive to be Moscow’s aggression against its neighbor Ukraine.

Such a fact would seem to be reassuring for those who support a unified front against extraterritorial aggression by revisionist powers. That means that should another major military force seek to expand its borders or rectify historical grievances—say, the Chinese regime forcibly seizing Taiwan—a similar outpouring by a coordinated anti-aggressor coalition of business and political interests can be expected. Right?

Not quite. Those who believe that the world would come down on Beijing as adamantly as it has on Moscow should temper their predictions.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has certainly been in ill repute among establishment figures in U.S. and European politics for some time. In power since the turn of the century, opinions of Putin in Western elitist circles have steadily declined throughout the years. With plenty of other contributing factors, some major events include the following: the 2008 Russo-Georgian war; the passage of an anti-LGBT propaganda law in 2013; the 2013-14 Euromaidan movement in Ukraine, as well as Russia’s annexation of Crimea and support for separatists in Eastern Ukraine; and the alleged Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

These developments were certainly disturbing to liberal democratic sensibilities; however, don’t let Western reactions lead you to believe that just because they purport to denounce tyranny in Russia, this will always be the standard reaction to geopolitical power politics everywhere. This is especially true in regards to China, where the response would certainly be qualified by important factors, primarily in the economic realm.

To establish a baseline, consider these key economic indicators. The European Union—one of the most outspoken critics of Putin’s move into Ukraine—has 11 times the GDP of the Russian Federation, as well as 3.5 times the population. Once the United States is factored into these numbers, the imbalance is significantly exacerbated.

The comparisons with China are quite different. In terms of GDP according to Purchasing Power Parity (PPP), the United States and the EU both land around $20 trillion each. China, at around $24 trillion, is larger than either separately, and still over half of the two combined. This presents a much more formidable economic force than the Russian Federation.

In terms of population, China (around 1.4 billion people) is still almost 2 times larger than the United States (around 330 million) and the EU (around 450 million) combined. Military and political considerations aside, the business world following a similar reaction to Chinese aggression as it has to Russia would equate to shutting the door on billions of potential consumers.

Epoch Times Photo
Customers use escalators in a shopping center in Beijing, China, on July 25, 2021. (Wang Zhao/AFP via Getty Images)

Patterns of trade are equally alarming. Russia is the EU’s fifth largest trading partner, and the United States’ 23rd largest. China, on the other hand, was the EU’s single-largest trading partner and the third for the United States (although China was the number one country from which the United States received imports—for example, the most goods flowing into this country from foreign shores were Chinese).

Of note, Russia is the top source of imported gas for both Europe and the United States. Sanctioning Russian oil and gas has largely been avoided due to the deleterious effects it would have on U.S. and European energy security (or, rather, energy prices). The two regions have largely taken steps to reduce their ability to independently produce energy from dirtier sources—although some are now arguing for a change in strategy, with Putin single-handedly shaking the world awake from its climate dream.

The efficacy of sanctions is questionable in general, but targeting the sector that the Russian economy is built on would likely be the most effective approach. China, unlike Russia, is a preeminent economic partner for both the United States and the EU. If this is the level of resolve that we demonstrate toward a minor economic player, what type of response would China expect to see?

It should also be noted that although this article discusses widespread condemnation, a major section of the international community has not been as quick to sever ties with Moscow. Most prominently, there have been reservations among Middle Eastern countries. Russia’s firm bilateral relationship with Syria was cemented in the crucibles of Damascus’ own civil war, and Moscow’s support for authoritarian regimes has reverberated throughout the region.

The Kremlin is a firm ally for those who value order and stability above foreign Western notions of human rights and liberal democracy. Iran is another major regional player that is firmly in the latter camp. While denouncing violations of state sovereignty, it is more likely to commiserate with a government that claims to have had its hand forced by the intervening Americans.

Additionally, the gas exporting Gulf countries have remained mostly neutral in their statements as they share important economic relations with Russia. Moscow as a major oil exporter plays an important role in OPEC Plus and its deliberations over oil production levels.

oil-russia
A general view shows an oil treatment plant in the Yarakta Oil Field, owned by Irkutsk Oil Company (INK), in Irkutsk Region, Russia, on March 10, 2019. (Vasily Fedosenko/Reuters)

The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has been continuously expanding China’s economic reach throughout the world, as it seeks to increase its geopolitical influence. One of the primary avenues through which it has done this is the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI, also known as “One Belt, One Road”) investment project. Beijing floods developing countries with readily available capital that often leads to defaults and subsequent debt traps. This provides significant leverage over foreign economies and political administrations.

Should CCP leader Xi Jinping move to retake Taiwan, or commit to any other type of contentious foreign policy decision, it is easy to see many of the 141 BRI member states either abstaining from or voting no to a United Nations resolution condemning such an action. Conversely, many may actually express explicit support for their economic big brother in Beijing.

CEOs and Big Tech giants have gladly jumped into the current fray over Ukraine to denounce vague concepts of authoritarianism and despotic behavior. They may believe in what they say, but at the end of the day it is much more likely that it is their bottom line—not any abstract value assessment—that will likely dictate their business decision-making.

For example, consider a recent announcement by Apple that it has “paused all product sales in Russia” and removed Russian state-funded media from their App Store outside of Russia. Jason Snell at Macworld puts together an excellent assessment as to whether large tech companies such as Apple would have the same response toward China in the event of Beijing seizing Taiwan. Snell doubts it, and I agree.

Supply chain considerations over factors such as product assembly and various other steps in the production process make Apple largely dependent on China. This is an important consideration across not only the extent of the tech field, but for the production of many other products as well. One need only look at the persistent and pervasive supply chain problems that the United States has had to deal with over the CCP virus pandemic.

A large part of this has had to do with the reliance of U.S. companies on China in their supply chains. Beijing’s “zero-COVID” policy and its decision to often shut down production in reported areas experiencing an outbreak of the CCP virus are indicative of the type of danger that U.S. companies face by their overreliance on China.

Many in the Western world have been outraged over Putin’s actions in Ukraine. The social media hashtags and public outpour of support for Kyiv has been constant since the announcement of the “Special Military Operation.” This outcry has been supported by the U.S. political establishment and its allies in the mainstream media.

Without questioning the authenticity of these heartfelt cries for peace, one is left to wonder if the same reaction would ensue should the economic heavyweight China make a similar move in its perceived sphere of influence.

Unsurprisingly, many of these Twitter commentaries have been accompanied by a call for the downfall of Putin from the Kremlin. With the amount of vested interest that Western elites across the spectrum—politics and media, business and finance, sports and culture—have in China, would the response to Beijing’s aggression be met with similar calls for Xi’s head?

I wouldn’t bet on it.

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.


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Dominick Sansone writes on international relations with a focus on comparative politics, U.S. foreign policy, and Russia-China relations. Previously a Fulbright recipient in Bulgaria, he has also lived in North Macedonia and Bologna, Italy. His writing has been published in the National Interest, RealClear Defense, and the American Conservative.