By Rudy Barnes, Jr.
Putin made a mistake in timing his aggression in Ukraine. He must face an election in 2024 with increasing signs of public opposition. Xi Jinping will not make the same mistake if the Chinese Communist Congress affirms his continued leadership next week, as expected. While the U.S. is committed to defend democracy in Ukraine, defending Taiwan will be another matter.
Russia and China pose an existential threat to democracy. Putin has made it clear that even with military setbacks he will continue his efforts to destroy Ukraine’s democracy; but even if Ukraine can successfully end Russian aggression, protecting Taiwan from Chinese aggression may be beyond the capabilities (or the will) of the world’s democracies.
Materialism and hedonism in the U.S. and other western democracies have tarnished the ideal of libertarian democracy in authoritarian regimes. The traditional appeal of freedom and democracy to the masses in Russia and China has faded in favor of nationalism and economic security; and the nuclear threats of Russia and China only exacerbate the political dilemma.
President Biden has been less than forceful in opposing Putin’s increased aggression against civilian targets and his nuclear threats in Ukraine. Biden and the coalition of democracies assisting Ukraine must provide more air defense and long range weapons to defend against Russia’s missiles, and also be prepared to counter Putin’s nuclear threat.
Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping are both demagogues who oppose democracy, but they have their differences. Russia is a putative democracy while China remains a Communist regime, and the nations are divided by a continuing Sino-Soviet boundary dispute; and Putin is a classic demagogue bully, while Xi’s political persona is more patient and reserved.
Xi is watching Putin’s strategy in Ukraine closely as a guide for his recovery of Taiwan. While Xi has not been as quick as Putin to use force to accomplish his objectives, both nations are nuclear powers committed to extend their boundaries. Defending both Ukraine and Taiwan from aggression will require the support of all the world’s democracies. All share the danger.
Freedom isn’t free. Ukrainians are now experiencing the bloody cost of freedom in the face of the unprovoked and unlawful aggression of Russia. It’s making a mockery of the international laws of war and human decency. The U.S. and other democracies must help Ukraine pay the price of freedom now, or it will soon be even more costly.
America is accustomed to defeating authoritarianism based on the moral supremacy of its democracy and military supremacy. That expectation is now being put to the test in Ukraine, and will likely be challenged again in Taiwan. If the U.S. and democracies around the world aren’t committed to defend democracy in Ukraine followed by a repeat performance in Taiwan, democracy will concede its political and moral supremacy to the heavy hand of authoritarianism.
Fareed Zakaria has opined on What the West is still getting wrong about the rise of Xi Jinping at https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2022/10/06/xi-jinping-crackdown-china-economy-change/?utm.
On China returning to an imperial reign under Xi, see Behold, Emperor Xi, at https://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2022/10/xi-jinping-china-national-party-congress/671718/.
On The world according to Xi Jinping; What China’s ideologue in chief really believes. See
On XI’s looming third term in China raising threat of war over Taiwan, see https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/2022/10/12/china-taiwan-war-xi-jinping/?utm.
On giving in to Putin’s nuclear blackmail as a geopolitical disaster, see https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2022/10/11/we-cant-let-putin-win-with-nuclear-bluster-blackmail/?utm.
On the Sino-Soviet border dispute, see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sino-Soviet_border_conflict.