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Democracy under threat (2)

What this Russia-Ukraine war has done is it has upset the whole world order. Coupled with COVID, a growing number of authoritarian regimes, and poor governance in many places, the world is in a crisis. Foodstuffs are in short supply, if available at all. Hundreds of millions have been forced into poverty or, worse, starvation and death. World trade is in disarray and hugely more expensive. Oil supplies have been disrupted, and their cost through the roof. Inflation is hurting everyone. The disparity between the rich and poor has widened. With recession possible in a number of countries.

We’re in an alarming situation. One that is being exacerbated by a ruthless tyrant going beyond his due date in China. President Xi Jinping is about to enter a previously not allowed third term as dictator of his country. China’s trade war with America is threatening the latter’s economy, and in doing so, also the global economy given Beijing’s enormous influence on the world. Xi’s tacit support for Putin is undermining the West’s attempts to bring this destructive war to a closure.

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Then, there’s Taiwan. Xi has made it abundantly clear he believes Taiwan is part of China, and intends to ensure it becomes so—by force if necessary. And by force it would have to be. The Taiwanese, like the Ukrainians, are determined to protect their democracy, their freedom, their independence. They have no wish to be subjugated like Hong Kong, or the Uyghurs. The Russia-Ukraine war and the Ukrainian reaction may give him pause, but only pause. So, US President Joe Biden’s announcement of active support for Taiwan is a welcome announcement that had to be said. Xi needs to be warned a war he initiates will have consequences far beyond a local confrontation. He may think it is, but China is not invincible.

The problem here is that China is not Russia, a country that accounts for only 1.9 percent of the global exports of goods as of 2020. China delivers 14.7 percent — the biggest in the world. A war between China and Taiwan wouldn’t be just higher oil and food prices, but higher prices and shortages of almost everything. Xi would know this and be emboldened by it to believe the Western world couldn’t afford the consequences of trying to stop him. Yet, the world can’t allow the democratic freedom and independence Taiwan’s democratic peoples have enjoyed to be threatened in this way. The trouble with dictators is that they increasingly believe they’re god, able to accomplish anything they desire, and no one has the courage to tell them otherwise. They are eventually brought down, but the cost can be horrendous — Hitler with two world wars is but the worst of many examples. Are Putin or Xi to start the third? Remote at this time, but when madmen rule, it can’t be entirely ruled out.

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As Bret Stephens so well said in the New York Times: “Xi Jinping has changed the rules of the game. He did so in Beijing by setting himself up as leader for life. He did so in Hong Kong by doing away with the ‘one country, two systems’ formula and crushing pro-democracy protests. He did so by flouting the Permanent Court of Arbitration’s ruling against China’s outrageous claims to possess most of the South China Sea. He did so through a policy of industrial-scale theft of US intellectual property and government data. He did so through a policy of COVID-19 stonewalling and misinformation. He did so with pledges of friendship to Russia that reassured Vladimir Putin that he could invade Ukraine with relative impunity.

“And he’s changed the rules of the game through some of the most aggressive military provocations against Taiwan in decades. Countries that spoil for fights tend to get them.”

Biden needs to make it clear to Xi that the US, even though stretched, will give, at the very least, the same support to Taiwan as it has given to Ukraine. And that he’ll do all in his power to have other nations follow. A war would be calamitous to the world order of a magnitude far exceeding what we’re witnessing today.

Democracy is in decline, slowly but inexorably (see my column “Free — or not,” 05/02/22). It needs to be reversed. With all its Trumpian weaknesses, democracy is still the best way for people to enjoy their lives, which surely is the main goal of being in this world. Personal enjoyment and fulfillment, not subjugation to a megalomaniac, yet that seems to be the trend in much of the world.

Somehow it needs to be reversed, democracy brought back to the ascendant. This is why the West’s remarkably strong reaction to Putin’s misadventure and support of Ukraine is so important. It’s the protection of the democratic order.

The message has to be clear: big, powerful countries with overbearing leaders can’t take over smaller, vulnerable ones just because they want to.

Email: [email protected]

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