Taiwan is to Xi Jinping as Ukraine is to Vladimir Putin… | Charles Duelfer

Taiwan is to Xi Jinping as Ukraine is to Vladimir Putin…

This analogy is too simple, but helps to think about the vise jaws that the Biden Administration now finds itself between. 

The similarities:  Both Xie and Putin have maneuvered to be in power for the foreseeable future.  The duration of “foreseeable” is limited by domestic dynamics not susceptible to outside understanding, much less manipulation.

Both leaders have a desire to rebuild an empire they believe is historically founded.  They both accrue domestic stature/security to the extent they promote national aggrandizement to include territorial gain.  Nationalism is good in their frame of reference.  Both leaders gain more than they lose by diminishing the United States. (Their behavior does not suggest belief in “Win-Win” vice “Zero Sum” in any relevant timeframes.)

Dis-similarities:  Putin cannot afford to be as patient.  He heads an inherently much weaker state, albeit with a lot of nuclear weapons, natural gas and geography. The Russian economy is weak and not strengthening.  This implies a more fragile internal base.  Putin can, however, leverage his military and energy advantages over weaker neighboring states in slices that are small enough to avoid unacceptable penalties.  Nothing has caused a unified “West” led by the United States to make him role back what he as seized by force.  He has the advantage of having less to lose and more to gain.

Xi has a lot to lose. Chinese economic growth and expansion seems to be continuing at a decent pace.  His incremental territorial gains have been achieved on implicit not explicit military dominance.  This has paid off in the South China Sea expansion and Hong Kong—at virtually no cost.  Probably not a Chinese proverb, but slowly boiling the frog seems to be working. Xi could have confidence of success in absorbing Taiwan (a very big economic prize) with the win coming garnished with another rollback of Western dominance.  Probably there is a proverb along the lines of “revenge is a dish best served cold….”

So we are now in circumstances where the apparently weaker United States is vulnerable to internal fractures open to external manipulation.  It’s as though the Chinese and Russians had discovered both the Permian basin in the US and hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) technology. And Putin is riffing off the Xi lead to his own advantage. 

Even some of our smaller, but strategic Allies see this.  NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg made a tough case publicly following a meeting with Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba at NATO today.  This former Norwegian Prime Minister gave a more potent case than Washington for pushing back against the inherently weak Putin. 

The best way to signal China is by pushing back against Putin.  We need to interrupt their riff.  If Ukraine falls due to limp Western support, Taiwan doesn’t stand a chance. Japan is watching carefully to say nothing of the Gulf States, Africa, Argentina, etc. 

My guess is Bill Burns at CIA sees this, but there may be climate change fog elsewhere.  Probably Wall Street realists see this. Watch Wall Street investments in Taiwan.  Betting on an independent Taiwan next year is one thing. But going long on Taiwan companies?  Not so much. 

Just before the Russian invasion of Crimea (shortly after the Olympics in Russia) there was a massive trade from Russian rubles into Japanese Yen. An indication of intentions especially given the absence of firewalls between policy decisions and Putin’s cronies. Watch for same in regarding Ukraine.

There are important differences between Putin and Xi. Putin is more: L’audace, tourjours l’audace. And Xi more: A little impatience will spoil great gains.

Where are we?

This entry was posted in Allies, China, Cyber Threat, Elections, Intelligence, NATO, Russia, Ukraine. Bookmark the permalink.

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