STALIN AND MAO: GREAT AGAIN?
In his speech at the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow before a concert to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Russia and China, Xi Jinping, President of the People’s Republic of China, started by telling a story about Mao Zedong. It turned out to be very symbolic, all the more so in the context of the nostalgia that we are experiencing in Russia today for the darkest Soviet times. We have found an ally who is proud of a leader who crippled and maimed the lives of dozens of millions people all over China.
According to various estimates, Mao Zedong’s senseless and brutal political campaigns destroyed from half a million to 20 million people, while another 100 million were subjected to various reprisals. However, as the rural population accounted for most of the victims, even an approximate number of the victims characterising the scale of the disaster is unknown. Not unreasonably in 1979 even Ye Jianying, Chairman of the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress (NPC) and member of the Political Bureau of the Communist Party of China. described the period of Mao Zedong’s rule as a “feudal-fascist dictatorship”.
However, Mao is held in high esteem in China today. And it goes without saying that during his speech at the anniversary in Moscow, Xi Jinping did not even mention another tragic event — the 30th anniversary of the bloody suppression of the peaceful mass demonstration in Tiananmen Square. With such friends, one should not be surprised at the rehabilitation of Stalinism and the police brutality during the dispersal of meetings in our own country.
Incidentally, it is highly likely that the leadership of the Celestial Empire perceives as one of the distinctive attributes of the new era in relations between China and Russia the fact that Mao was in 1949 the follower of the USSR and depended on the country, whereas the opposite is true today. And it is indeed true that China has been exploiting Russia for its own purposes for a long time. You have only to talk to the inhabitants of Russia’s Far East, the Trans-Baikal Territory, East Siberia, environmentalists, timber-cutters and businessmen — and then everything becomes clear.
MADE IN CHINA
However, the key event of the recent visit of the President of the People’s Republic of China to Russia was the signing of a contract between Russia’s mobile operator MTS and China’s Huawei on the development of a 5G network in Russia, and not reminiscences about Mao Zedong. For the sake of this event Chairman of the Board of Directors of Huawei Guo Ping flew to Russia together with Xi Jinping. In the coming year, Huawei and MTS will conduct pilot launches of the fifth-generation mobile network in Russia. The document on cooperation was signed in the most stately manner — in the Kremlin in the presence of Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping.
Everybody knows that Huawei has direct links to the Chinese government and secret services. Strictly speaking, that is why the US authorities actually ejected this Chinese company from the US market.
Four years ago, the government of the People’s Republic of China announced the “Made in China — 2025” modernisation programme, stipulating government subsidies to Chinese companies in a bid to transform them into global leaders in the production of supercomputers, artificial intelligence, new materials, 3D printing, image recognition software, robotics, electric vehicles, autonomous vehicles, 5G wireless networks and state-of-the-art microchips. Such an approach is driven by China’s natural desire to extricate itself from the countries lagging behind and establish a foothold among the leaders, thereby reducing its dependence on modern Western technologies.
And this policy is bearing fruit. Today Huawei’s leadership in 5G networks is undisputed, perhaps even globally. Chinese subsidies, protectionism, sophisticated trade violations, coercion to secure technology transfers and the theft of intellectual property in the United States since the 1970s – as a result it has become a real threat to a number of countries, including Russia.
Today we are living in a “dual purpose” world. On the one hand, 5G networks and corresponding equipment from Huawei will soon become the core and foundation of digital commerce, communications, healthcare, transportation and education, as these technologies will facilitate the transfer of information at hyper speed. At the same time, however, the same equipment can easily serve as a platform for espionage, whenever the Chinese secret services so desire. Furthermore, once the 5G technologies and standards have been implemented (including Chinese ones) in a country, they will be extremely difficult to remove.
Incidentally, it would be an act of utter recklessness if the US and the EU were to allow the Chinese to continue operating in the market on the basis of the same rules that enabled China to develop from one of the poorest countries into a competitor in all the promising technologies out there today. According to The New York Times’s columnist Thomas L. Friedman, «when we were just buying China’s tennis shoes and solar panels and it our soybeans and Boeings, who cared if the Chinese were Communists, Maoists, socialists — or cheats». But when Huawei competes for leadership in 5G technology with Qualcomm, AT & T and Verizon, while 5G networks permeate the entire economy, values do matter, differences in values do matter, trust does matter, as well as the rule of law, says Friedman. By the way, even in China, the central authorities are already being confronted by the categorical reluctance of Hong Kong residents to live according to Beijing’s rules: a legislative initiative implying the possible extradition of Hong Kong residents to face trial in mainland China caused a protest of over a million people in the former British colony and was withdrawn.
Against this backdrop, it should come as no surprise that even the Democrats in the United States believe that Trump is right about Huawei. However, does this actually matter for Russia?
Cover of The Economist dated 13 June 2019
STUCK AT THE MIDDLE
Eric Schmidt, former CEO of Google, warns of a fault line that will divide the world into «the Internet driven by China and the non-Chinese Internet driven by the US». It is clear that we are already moving in this direction today. At the same time, the technological rupture is aggravated by a political rift: the trade wars between China and the United States, confrontation between the United States and Russia. And these two fault lines could have unpredictable consequences for the whole world. Every state will literally have to choose whose technologies and platforms to use to avoid falling behind, and this choice will subsequently be difficult to change.
Russia, however, has a special position. We could largely rely on our own capabilities instead of choosing between other people’s proposals. Russia’s strategic national interest is specifically to avoid becoming fully dependent on American or Chinese online technologies.
In the context of confrontation between the United States and China, the development of 5G networks, artificial intelligence, the Internet of things, unmanned vehicles, and much else besides, Russia should develop drawing on home talent. And if we truly desire real sovereignty, we must resolve this issue on our own. Experts will probably say that at present we cannot match the US and China in these areas, and that we lack the necessary technologies and experience. It may well be true that today we don’t have the required potential. At the same time, however, this does not mean that Russia should simply hand over all future technological prospects to the Chinese. It is clear that the new Chinese technologies, after invading Russia, will inevitably destroy similar fledgling Russian production facilities, and that we will not only fail to catch up — we will lag behind forever.
And this is where we must finally ask ourselves: what is stopping us, why are we unable to build our own 5G networks and corresponding equipment? In my opinion, this is due to the absence of one key aspect necessary for technological and economic progress in the 21st century — freedom. Our lives are driven by fear, we have a state that does not respect the individual. And that is the reason why there is no real creativity. Furthermore, we not only lack confidence about the future, but we also have no idea about what will happen to the country in just five years.
I know this is the case as I have been convinced on many occasions personally: our people are exceptionally talented and incredibly creative. However, everything is being suppressed and destroyed by the authoritarian mafia system and trampled on by the bureaucratic state. In this sense, technological interconnectedness with China will strengthen the repressive nature of the regime in Russia, as China’s experience of using state-of-the-art technologies for surveillance purposes and control over its citizens will be adopted by Russia’s secret services. This is doubly true, as Huawei is the key developer of censorship and espionage systems in China.
By contrast, China’s model of economic and technological development recalls the industrialisation of the USSR, the purchase of factories and modern technologies from abroad during the Great Depression, invitations to foreign specialists, the training of Soviet specialists abroad, the admiration displayed by foreign intellectuals in… the Stalinist system. A repressive political system, the “Experimental Design Bureau” (“Sharashka”) in Soviet labour camps, intimidation, arrests… The use of Western achievements to create nuclear weapons and the most advanced Soviet achievements in certain important sectors such as space and the aircraft industry, and military equipment. We all know how it culminated in a world of lies, the absence of any freedom or human rights.
Such developments do show that totalitarian-authoritarian regimes and their methods can result in significant technological breakthroughs and achievements in cooperation with global technological leaders. However, historically such successes are ephemeral.
Another obstacle to technological development is the anti-European policy adopted by the Russian authorities. Individual scientists and entire companies in Russia could effectively cooperate in the development of new technologies with Europeans, who are traditionally much closer and more understandable to us than the Chinese. Analysts have already noted that measures adopted against Huawei globally offer a chance to European developers and manufacturers of high-tech equipment, such as Ericsson and Nokia.
The observed fault line between the USA and China also brings to the foreground the issue of the role of the European Union. In the middle of this century there will probably be two centres of economic power: North America and South-East Asia. Europe could well become the competitive third economic development centre. However, such a position will be contingent on economic, technological, defensive and in part political integration with Russia and a significant share of the post-Soviet space. This is a vital interest both for Russia, and also Europe. Unfortunately, this is something that European politicians and analysts have yet to grasp.
However, after being transformed into an active participant in the US-China spat on China’s side and finding itself at the very centre of the global rift, Russia has been moved by two pandas temporarily transferred to the Moscow Zoo by the President of the People’s Republic of China. The unexpected arrival of Huawei on the Russian market is virtually never discussed. And it is far from a given that Putin or anyone in his entourage perceives developments from the perspective of this global conflict. Only recently, the Russian President declared the need to «ensure technological sovereignty in artificial intelligence». Judging by the context in which this statement was made, however, Putin believes that, as in politics, the prospects of an American monopoly represent the key threat, and perceives the existence of several sovereign poles as an alternative.
BEWARE OF FLATTERS
Meanwhile, when Xi Jinping was talking about the onset of a “new era” at the Bolshoi Theatre, he did not simply mean that China was acquiring a new status. The President of the People’s Republic of China perceives himself more as a global leader than a national one. Xi Jinping’s China is fighting for monopoly leadership in the world, aspiring to replace the United States. Consequently, any discussion about a multipolar world and “sovereign poles” is a perception from the past that diverges from the trend today of replacing one global leader with another and the associated serious challenges.
It is quite possible that soon the economic interdependence of Americans and Chinese will be so great that they will still have to find common ground in order to continue to grow and develop. However, the struggle for global leadership between the United States and China will certainly continue. And no one can predict the final outcome.
And what will happen to Russia? How will our country determine its place in the world by the middle of the 21st century?
I would not like Russia to become too absorbed in the intrigues of transitory political ambitions that it succumbs like the Crow from Aesop’s fable to the flattery of the Fox, And this Crow being weak, / Cawed the bit from her beak. / “Music charms,” said the Fox, “and here’s cheese!”