But how much of a worry is China compared to Russia? Jason Soon will probably roll his eyes, but to my mind, there is something so personal about the tracking down of ex double agents for assassination by Russian authorities that the ruthlessness of Putin's Russia puts me at more unease than the actual potential global economic domination of Xi's China. Sure, China might soon be wanting to shoot at ships or planes testing their stupid mid-ocean territorial claims, but that feels more like regular military business, by comparison.
Let me expand on this. No doubt I am far from well informed, but every show I see lately about life in Russia fills me with pessimism about the Russian character and the future of the country. For example, despite the occasional bit of protest, it still appears that Putin is ridiculously popular with your average young Russian. The Washington Post reports:
According to a December survey by independent polling firm Levada Center, 81 percent of adults approve of Putin as president — including 86 percent of Russians 18 to 24 years old. Among the age group, 67 percent told Levada they believed the country was going in the right direction, compared to 56 percent of the general public.
The most internationally connected generation in Russian history, with access to more information than any of their predecessors, is now helping Putin solidify his authoritarianism.
Rather than dwell on Putin’s crackdown on his opponents, young Russians draw a sense of personal liberty from those freedoms they do enjoy — a mostly open Internet, an open job market and open borders. Many of them reject state TV as propaganda but nevertheless repeat its central tenet — that Russia needs Putin to stand up to U.S. aggression. And perhaps most important, these Russians seem shaped by a collective history they never knew — by fear of a return of the crisis-stricken 1990s or the stifling Soviet era.Potentially, it would seem, there is a bigger chance of democracy changing things in that country compared to China, but it seems culturally to be very much like a Trumpocracy - as if the wingnuts of America had been transplanted to an empty land where they get to continually re-affirm via a quasi democracy the power of the "strong man" who they think will re-instate their nation's former greatness. It's a very backwards looking sentiment; blind to the actual problems, and always putting more emphasis on perceived slights and propaganda than facts. (The only difference in Right wing propaganda being that Rupert Murdoch makes it for profit in the US; in Russian the poor government has to pay for its own.) Even how they treat themselves has similarities - Russian perpetual dissatisfaction leads to early death by alcohol in huge numbers; in Trumpkins, it's opioids.
So, it's easy to see Russia as playing the role of belligerently dangerous loser in the future of global geo-politics, lashing out with resentment at their lack of success and always wanting to blame other nations for their shortcomings. A bad psychology for a nuclear power to hold.
Now, while I feel I have no detailed knowledge of Chinese run propaganda, I currently find it hard to be as pessimistic about the psychology of the Chinese. Sure, nationalism is riding high (although perhaps not quite as high as it sometimes seems), and the level of technologically aided State surveillance is getting to be mind-blowingly powerful, but here's my current perception broad brush perception of the Chinese:
On the downside: too many people too concerned with making money, leading to a remarkable level of potential corruption and public hazards, such as the food contamination and environmental degradation of recent years, and at the cost of family life (with economic internal migration like nothing we've seen in the West.) On top of this, of course, lies a State which has exercised fascistic control over the most intimate details of life and death, such as the one child policy, and using prisoners as a smorgasbord for organ supply to those who could pay. Not to mention my great dislike for Chinese willingness to cast a swathe through wildlife to feed the fantasy belief system that is traditional Chinese medicine. They seem, by culture, to be about the least environmentally conscious people on the planet.
On the upside: well, to take those last few points in reverse order -
* the dire industrial pollution near major cities has perhaps reached a tipping point, whereby the government is recognizing that they just can't keep poisoning the air to the extent they have allowed thus far. When it comes to global warming, it's bizarre to find that a Communist nation actually acknowledges scientific reality while the science idiocy of the current American administration does not.
* it's reported that younger Chinese are developing a conscience of Western style when it comes to wanting to preserve wildlife internationally (and even regarding the love of domestic animals);
* the one child policy and use of prisoners for organs - which would surely have to count as the ultimate examples of State interference in free lives (short of actual genocide, I suppose) - have been wound back. Hopefully, this means the State is recognizing some limits, or at least, some unintended consequences (such as the massive gender imbalance) to such control.
There is also the prospect that materialism is being somewhat modified by the growth of religion (Christianity) and philosophy (Confucianism), although I see that there is good reason to view the government endorsing the latter with cynicism.
Even with their current activities in ingratiating themselves with African and other third world nations, obviously with self interest in access to resources and global control as motivation, I find it hard to take too much offence at this revival of economic colonialism. I mean, it (for now) feels less exploitative than the West's colonialism of the 19th and 20th century, and given the way many post-colonial nations have struggled, I am tempted to view Chinese investment as a case of soft exploitation that a lot of these nations need.
And besides, let's face it - they have become fantastically good at making stuff the rest of the world wants. I mean, even the most pro-Russian Western communist much have struggled with enthusiasm for driving a Lada, but everyone genuinely loves the wonders of high tech equipment coming out of this other communist regime.
Am I being swayed too much in my (guarded) optimism for how China will develop because I really love my smartphone? Maybe. But the country is devoting a lot of enthusiasm for research and development of all kinds, and is getting close to the same GDP spend on this as the US and other Western nations. For techno-optimists, it's easy to suspect that some huge breakthroughs might come out of China; whereas the ridiculous anti-environmental science of the Trump administrative gives me cause for pessimism.
So, have I made out at least a plausible case for why I feel vaguely optimistic about China? I think so. And Putin deserves a date with some of his own nerve gas.