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Letters to the Editor

Readers’ opinions on Vladimir Putin, China and the situation in Crimea

RUSSIA/

Sir,

When you enter a country by force that doesn’t want you, the world should be up in arms. United Nations to the fore!

However, when you enter a country that is composed of 90% of your own people, who not only speak your language as their primary tongue, but where you have had a presence for two hundred years  and  where the populace is screaming for you to come in – is it that bad???

If the Russians were taking over a country resisting their approach, it would be completely different; on a parallel with Hitler’s invasion of Czechoslovakia or Poland. The people of the Crimea are ecstatic. Watch the television screen.

Mr Cameron and Mr Obama say there will be consequences. Mrs Merkel – who probably has a better understanding of that part of the world – is far from frothing at the mouth over this. In fact, she appears completely unruffled.

And if Scotland votes to withdraw from the United Kingdom, I suppose there will be consequences. There always are consequences from everything we do. Indeed after a few years the people of the Crimea may be tired of living under the yoke of the Russian bear… But that will be their problem, not Mr Cameron’s.

And then there’s China. They would like to have some of those territories back. Taiwan, for example. They speak the same language and they are the same people; but Taiwan does not appear to want China to come back in. So China waits. That is the difference between Russia and the Crimea, and the China and Taiwan situations.

Simon Murray CBE, London, England

Sir,

First of all, as a Chinese I think that Putin’s Crimea policy is powerful and determined, which shows his resolution to protect his country’s national interests and his intelligence to get long-term benefits. But it is not easy to say whether or not I support how Putin has reacted to the West as there are multiple reasons for his chutzpah. Moreover, I think the reason why many Chinese people admire Putin’s behaviour is that they finally see someone opposing the West over a major international affair, especially America. Also, for these Chinese people, they think if Putin succeeds, we can get more advantages on the Diaoyu Islands’ issue. But they don’t think carefully about why Putin acts like this or the consequences of his actions.

Obviously, Russia has great military strength so it is capable of opposing the West. Likewise, Russia is a resource-rich country, which makes it one of the biggest food and gas exporters; therefore, Russia not only has great economic strength, but also has been depended on by many Western countries.

Similarly, America still needs to cooperate with Russia on the Syrian situation and Iranian nuclear problem. Above all, Putin’s chutzpah results from Russia’s absolute advantage of military, economy and politics. But even though these advantages may result in Russia’s success on the Crimea issue, they may exacerbate tension between America and Russia because without effective sanctions, America may lose its interests in Crimea and Ukraine, even in the whole Black Sea area. As a result, it may take tougher steps to prevent Russia from getting benefits or it may cause the second “Cold War” since Russia has been excluded from the G8 Summit and may face isolation in trade, diplomacy and politics. Also, accepting Crimea means that Russia may risk losing Ukraine and will need to put a great deal of money into Crimea’s infrastructure construction. Considering the advantages and disadvantages, I don’t share the positive view of Putin expressed by other Chinese people.

In some aspects, the Diaoyu islands’ issue has similarities with the Crimea issue. Therefore, China’s leaders can draw on Putin’s Crimea policies in some ways. First, when it comes to national interests and territorial sovereignty, China’s leaders need to be tough and determined; they don’t have to be tactful and friendly diplomatically. Instead they should show determination to defend China’s interests; for example, they must protect the Diaoyu islands as China’s territory without hesitation or concession.

Second, if it’s time to use military strength, they should seize the timing to do so. For China’s leaders, they don’t want to take military measures because they don’t want to be criticised by international public opinion and they don’t want war casualties. But if we give in repeatedly, we will eventually get hurt, so China’s leaders need to show power sometimes in order to let other countries know that China has great military strength, just like Russia sent troops to Crimea to protect its interests.

Third, China’s leaders should stop counting on international help since every country puts their own interests first, which makes them sit on the fence on most international issues. Like in this Crimea issue, Putin signed the file that Crimea is a part of Russia quickly just after the plebiscite whereas China counted on the UN to deal with the Diaoyu islands’ issue before, so it is time for China’s leaders to take steps on our own.

In addition to the positive lessons, China’s leaders also need to learn to take steps after deliberation. Before responding to international affairs, China’s leaders should consider all positive and negative outcomes. Although Putin gets Crimea, he may lose Ukraine, which means that if Ukraine turns to NATO, Russia will lose its buffer zone in the south and there may be a storm of opposition that may jeopardise Putin’s presidency. Above all, it is the final outcome that affects a country’s interests, so deliberation is the key point in a country’s development.

As far as I’m concerned, the Crimea issue and its subsequent affairs will affect Asia in some ways and its potential significance has far-reaching influence on Asia’s development. In economic terms, since America imposed economic sanctions on Russia, Moscow may improve its trading ties with Asia so that Asia’s economy will develop fast. In addition, the EU’s economic recovery process has been influenced by its economic sanctions against Russia, so to save its fragile economy, the EU may look to Asia for economic help, which will accelerate Asia’s economic development. In political terms, since the Crimea issue has commonalities with the Diaoyu islands’ issue, China and Japan may take action to make the islands their territory and other countries in Asia may change their stance toward this problem, too. What happened in Crimea may happen in the Diaoyu islands, which may cause another severe international affair in the future and make Asia’s situation tense. In energy terms, Japan and Korea’s gas supplies may be influenced because of the West’s sanctions against Russian gas exports.

In a word, the Crimea issue will affect the whole world in many ways and could cause tension between countries, but China will not only get benefits from the issue regardless, but also show its strength on the international stage.

Shen Shen, China

Sir,

Thanks for your cover story on ‘Why Chinese Love Putin’. As a Westerner who has read a lot of Chinese history, though, I think that those who do admire him for whatever reason(s) should hit the books too. There are good reasons for the strained relations between the two countries over long periods throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

When I was studying politics at Sydney University in the 1970s, one of the books on the syllabus was The Coming War Between Russia and China by Harrison E Salisbury. It was published in 1969 by Martin Secker & Warburg of London. While the book focused on recent tensions at the time and was not, luckily, prescient, it highlighted some of the many battles and subsequent treaties between the two countries, mostly due to the annexing of parts of Mongolia and Manchuria by the Russians. There were eight such treaties during the final years of the Qing Dynasty, the last involving Russia taking effective control of Port Arthur, now Lushunkou District, for a period and another seven after China became a republic in 1911. Russia was just as aggressive as the other major powers, with the exception of Japan, in trying to carve up China before the country’s eventual unification under Chairman Mao.

I am not suggesting modern-day relations in any way reflect the previously tumultuous times, but the two countries are not natural allies. Even during the Civil War with the Nationalists and the early years of Mao’s ‘New China’, the Communist Party of China could not always rely on material or moral support from Moscow.

So that’s the political history of differences between China and Russia. What about cultural differences? These are arguably greater. Russia simply does not have the same depth of achievements in language, medicine, education and innovation as China. And in the modern day, no country has come close to the economic successes of China which has lifted hundreds of millions of people out of poverty in just 20 years.

I’d like to hear more views from Chinese people, both within China and among the diaspora, on Putin. I’d like to ask them whether they really do like this macho-man political leader for reasons which are related solely to his physical appearance and cartoon-character antics rather than his policies, foresight and economic stewardship, all of which are sadly lacking.

Greg Bright, Sydney, Australia

Sir,

My humble view is that prima facie there is no evidence, historically or politically for China to mimic Putin’s action in Crimea. Expansionism is not their style.

Politically, the current heads have more than nine years to run. Their priority is always the economy. They seem to be doing their utmost not to upset the balance, hence the anti-corruption drives. I think they will tread very carefully not to wrap themselves up with unpopular actions which will draw international condemnation. For the admiration Putin earned from the Chinese, might it be a bit of celebrity culture there? The government today will be wise enough not to stoke the nationalistic sentiment.

That is not to say if they fail in their quest to keep the economy firing, they will not take such action (to capture disputed territory) in order to gain popularity and to divert attention at home.

[Name withheld by request, ethnic Chinese]

Sir,

First, regarding the Chinese view on Putin, I would have to say it fits with the general mentality of the entire nation whereby a person with power and authority is unilaterally recognised by the populace without the followers putting much thought into who he is and what he stands for. This can be seen by the Chinese love for (auto)biographies in bookstores. There seems to be a fascination for figureheads: Obama, Mao, Putin, Steve Jobs, etc. It’s built into the Chinese culture to follow and admire one person just because of the power and aura, and not so much for the accomplishments. A perfect example of this is the use of celebrities to endorse the most random products (Jackie Chan selling Chinese herbal medicine), where the ad posters contain the celebrity holding the barely visible product (reminiscent of expensive watch commercials). Without getting too deep into this, it’s clear that admiration for Putin also comes from a similar thought process.

The point here is that comments about Putin do not stem from a deep and knowledgeable understanding of the man and his vision, but from the fact that he is a powerful and recognisable figure.

The point about Chinese leaders drawing conclusions from Russia’s Crimea policy is difficult to answer. On the one hand the Chinese want to show strength in their policy towards the Diaoyu Islands and other territories. On the other, they know that any engagement would prove deadly and have vast consequences. It is also difficult to compare a strategically important chunk of warm water ports with a Russian-speaking population to an uninhabited set of islands with little value other than pride. If only the birds on the island could have their own referendum, then it might make sense to forcibly take the islands.

One example of why the situation in Ukraine is unlikely to be of consequence in Asia is China abstaining from the Security Council vote. China clearly does not want to be involved in any territorial disputes.  In my personal opinion, the US navy’s decision to make a statement about Asia is only to pressure Russia into rethinking the consequences and has no real effect on Asian borders.

In all honesty, I do not believe Beijing has a very concrete stance on Ukraine. The countries have marginal trade, primarily in agricultural and military goods (only because of Russia’s reluctance to sell certain technologies to China) and offers no strong relationship. By remaining neutral, China has sought to watch events from afar, so as not to take sides with the losing party. In addition, with the current (Western supported) regime in Ukraine, China may not have access to the same relationship in the future, something I don’t think China has fully understood yet. This means that China will move closer to Russia for the time being. Overall, the events will only allow for closer ties between the two and the repeated humiliation of the West. The West’s weakness in handling these situations is the only real outcome of all these events.

With the completion of the annexation of Crimea, I don’t foresee other events taking place outside the territory unless there is clear oppression of Russian minorities. Problems between the east and west parts of Ukraine will have to be settled by themselves without interference. Yet because of the historical difficulties, this may prove to be a problem. I can only hope there will be no fighting.

[Name withheld by request, the writer told WiC he is an expatriate working in China, and is of Russian descent]


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