Orwellian ‘inflection point’: World’s top two authoritarians team up


This is big.

Never since World War II have the leading authoritarians of their time been so strategically aligned or personally close – at a time when both have an eye on their historic legacies, notes Frederick Kempe, the President and Chief Executive Officer of the Atlantic Council:

The two leading authoritarians of our time have declared unprecedented common cause, perhaps even a de facto security alliance, with aspirations of shaping a new world order to replace the one fashioned by the United States and its partners after World War II. … A joint statement, from Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin tries to redefine the very meaning of democracy to embrace their repressive systems that censor media, prohibit dissent, lock up political opponents and support like-minded authoritarian systems.

Politically, the document claimed that there is “no one-size-fits-all” type of democracy, and heralded both forms of authoritarian rule in Moscow and Beijing as successful democracies in language U.S. experts described as startling, The New Yorker’s Robin Wright adds:

“I’ve never seen a joint statement from both leaders using this kind of language. They’ve joined forces,” Angela Stent, a Russia expert who served at the National Intelligence Council and wrote “Putin’s World: Russia Against the West and with the Rest,” told me. She described the communiqué as “quite Orwellian” and called it an “inflection point” in which Russia and China are challenging the balance of power that has defined the global order since the Cold War ended, three decades ago. “We could be at the beginning of a new era as the Russian relationship with the West deteriorates and China’s does as well.” The agreement puts Washington and its key allies “in a terrible bind,” she added. “The fact is, whatever we do to counter what Russia is doing only reinforces its reliance on China.”

While not formally allied, the two “are making common cause as a tactical matter to better defend their … authoritarian systems from Western pressure”, said Daniel Russel of the Asia Society think tank, who served as the U.S. State Department’s top diplomat for East Asia in the Obama administration.

Committee for Freedom in Hong Kong

“The sides note,” reads the statement, “that Russia and China as world powers with rich cultural and historical heritage have long-standing traditions of democracy, which rely on thousand-years of experience of development, broad popular support and consider of the need and interests of citizens.”

Ludicrous as this democracy embrace might sound, adds Kempe, it’s further evidence that China and Russia are trying to wrest the high moral ground from electoral democracies through Orwellian gobbledygook.

There is still the need for a permanent change in psychology. It is a fact many non-democracies can be our friends and partners, but our most serious rivals are autocratic, notes analyst John Lee. It is important to see Russia and China as they see us. Co-operation is sometimes possible but democracies must accept they are already engaged in a comprehensive material and normative competition. This means always identifying and using leverage, imposing costs and a willingness to absorb harmful measures against us. Deterrence will otherwise fail.

Can the world’s democracies manage their divisions and rally their resolve to meet the challenge posed by resurgent authoritarianism? Stanford’s Larry Diamond asks. Democracy is at risk. Its survival is endangered by a perfect storm of threats, both from within and from a rising tide of authoritarianism, he writes in the latest issue of the Journal of Democracy.

By asserting that “human rights should be protected in accordance w/the specific situation in every particular country,” the statement affirms that “there are no inalienable rights at all,” amounting to an “authoritarian manifesto,” the Atlantic Council’s Daniel Fried, a National Endowment for Democracy board member, tweeted (below).

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