China/Taiwan, Russia/Georgia:an Inconvenient Case of Cause and Effect?

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Wednesday August 20, by Jerome F. Keating Ph.D.

Russia recently shocked the world. With a swift show of military might it steamrolled into Georgia, grabbed key strategic locations and took aim at punishing what it considers an annoying democratic gnat at its doorstep. The timing was perfect; Russia's neighbor China, one that also cares little for democracy, was hosting the Olympics, a good distraction for all. George Bush, the named leader of the free world was enjoying the games. He gave a condemnatory speech and went back to enjoying the Olympics. The world remained shocked but how much should it be?

Some took the occasion to express concern that this aggression would give China a precedent as regards Taiwan. In this regard, let me offer a counter position. It has been the US State Department's mishandling of the China/Taiwan issue that has set the precedent for Russia/Georgia and the US State Department is caught in the conundrum of its own double standard.

So what gave Putin the confidence to give the orders to attack? What possible link could this have with China/Taiwan? What had Russia seen? Examine this scenario.

In a mystifying example of how the right hand does not know what the left hand is doing, the US has continuously treated China and Russia in two totally different, inconsistent ways, politically, economically and academically. What relation has academics to do with this? Unfortunately it is often from the levels of academia that so many of the "experts" that make up the advisors of US Foreign Policy are drawn.

Begin then with academia, examine how US scholars in Russian Studies have always been able to separate culture from government with Russia; they can appreciate Russian art, architecture, writing, culture etc. but condemn its authoritarian rule. With China it is the opposite; US Sinologists have become so enamored with their self-perceived mystique of Chinese culture, art, etc. that they then use this to make excuses for China's authoritarian rule. Who has not heard this excusatory refrain, "See how far China has come in the last century." Have you ever heard a similar refrain about Russia?

As US Sinologists seek their free invites to Chinese universities and Chinese backing for their research, they go to great lengths to defend and explain how this poor country is being misunderstood. You don't find that same kind of pandering by US Russian scholars. From a different angle, if one were to look inside the Soviet Union, you likewise would not find Russian Sinologists as enthralled about China as their American counterparts. No Russian Sinologists and or advisers suffer from a debilitating awe of Chinese culture or tradition; they have a sounder base in reality.

Move on to economics. Russia and China have a large work force that can be exploited and utilized. Why then does the USA approach China economically as a key part of its policy of engagement and growth? True, Kissinger started this ball rolling when Russia was seen as the greater threat, but that is long past and glasnost has happened. China has not had its glasnost, but the US pretends it has and has made China the factory of the world. Russia is not seen with the same rose-colored glasses as China. Why? US businesses follow suit. To gain a few dollars more, US corporations have been willing to accept poisoned toys, pet food etc. from China. You would never find that kind of deal made with Russia.

Economics leads to diplomacy and political response, though an argument could also be vice-versa, nevertheless the results come out the same. The US approaches Russia in a confrontational way, but it engages and placates China. Why so? Look how the US led NATO has pushed itself far beyond Berlin and the former East German Republic. With total suspicion, Russia is seen as a major threat; China on the other hand is eagerly accommodated even though it yearly grows in military strength. Does the US left hand know what the right is doing?

Herein enters the revealing case of Taiwan, a similar annoying democratic gnat as Georgia, but this time on the doorstep of China. It is now over sixty years since the end of World War II and Taiwan has created for itself a vibrant democracy. Ironically while the US State Department willingly celebrates the democracy of Georgia and its independence from Russia, on the other hand it officially states that Taiwan's status is still "undetermined." It won't even touch Taiwan's independence from China. Undetermined, that is the answer you get when US state officials are deeply pressed. More often than not however, they mouth the mantra of "we have a one-China policy." It is a policy whose actual meaning is fully understood by only a few. In practice, the majority acquiesce to China's interpretation of what "one China" means. The media, in the USA and in the world are party to this acquiescence; few have the integrity to challenge this utterance.

George Bush has publicly met with Georgia's president; Taiwan's president is treated as a pariah. Taiwan's democracy, like an unwanted stepchild, is pushed to the back; in embarrassment the US State Department wishes that Taiwan would shut up about its membership in the democratic family of the world because it hampers the US pipe dream policy of engagement with China. Perhaps this explains why the US State Department is enamored with Taiwan's new president, Ma Ying-jeou because he cares little for his title of President and Taiwan's right to sovereignty.

How does this translate to Russia? Taiwan's democracy and independence are not a matter of principle for the USA, rather Taiwan is a pawn, a bargaining chip that the US has used in the game of Russian containment started by Nixon and Kissinger. Putin sees through this and is not afraid to challenge it. He senses that if the US will play an accommodating game with China a lesser power than Russia, then it won't confront Russia when the chips are down. Authoritarianism is authoritarianism regardless of its cloak, but the US has been totally inconsistent in acknowledging this and Putin exposes this.

Countries are different in their styles. Russia does not have the finesse and patience at long term duplicity that China has; it does not need it; Russia's style is an overt Machiavellianism; it will first try extortion and blackmail; if these fail it resorts to ham-handedness as in the case of Georgia.

The US State Department tries to condemn the authoritarian devil in Russia and dance with the same devil in China. Russia won't let it have it both ways. Bush should be well aware of that old Texas saying, "If you dance with the devil, it's not the devil that changes." Putin, who is not from Texas, knows this. He knows that Bush is faking it. And the US State Department? They have been dancing for so long with the devil since the Shanghai Communique that they have lost track of what its original purpose was. They are playing an unprincipled game of convenience and Russia has called their bluff.

This essay is not a nave plea that the US should be the policeman of the world; nor is it saying that war should be declared whenever a democracy is threatened, but it is saying a consistent policy is needed. You can't have the economic cake of China and eat it. Selective accommodation won't work. If a lesser power like China is accommodated, Russia knows it can demand the same.