Maurisa S. Coleman is a British–Trinidadian entrepreneur, currently working as a Parliamentary researcher. She is also an ambassador for the Notting Hill Carnival.
The world is facing two main flagbearers of soft power, Russia and China. Both have in common the desire to resurrect the empires of the past; it is as though, through the collection of neighbouring states, they race toward world dominance.
There is clear overlap between Russian and Chinese interests, but what was once a relationship of convenience seems to of late become, with their joint statement on ‘entering a new era’, an alliance.
Released on February 4, it called for a friendship with ‘no limits’ and no ‘forbidden’ areas of corporation. Was this statement a signal that China and Russia are ready to dominate their geographical regions?
This morning the world has woken up to a new period of war, one that we thought safely belonged to history only. Russia has made its move, which has been long planned to aggressively snatch Ukraine away from the world of sovereignty and independence.
As a statesman Putin has a reputation for being a risk taker, and for becoming fixated on a target. In this case it is clear that he blinded, through his thirst to hold Ukrainian land under the Russian flag once again, to the consequences on his actions from the western world.
Broadly speaking, the trans-Atlantic alliance has rallied to show Putin a united front, but the cracks in this unity have shown through disagreements in how far-reaching sanctions placed on Russia should go. Boris Johnson announced sanctions on Russian individuals and banks, but whilst the House welcomed his speech the measures are a little less than what is really needed
Many MPs made the point that despite the detailed Russia Report and recommendations, the investigations into Russian money flowing through the City of London, a promised Economic Crimes bill, this country has sold its integrity to the lure of economic growth. Today we see the proof that our sanctions was not enough to stay the hand of Putin.
While all this is going on, Beijing is watching closely. Just weeks ago, we were focussed on keeping Taiwan independent; it is essential that we keep them in mind whilst we keep Russia at bay. China is watching this crisis carefully to gauge how far the UK is willing to go to defend the sovereignty of another state – in other words, what might our reactions be to an assault on Taiwan.
Over the past two years, Beijing has tightened its control over Hong Kong, and Taiwan has seen a marked increase in intrusive Chinese military flights over its air defence identification zone. This island state is regarded by most Western states as the next target Xi Jinping’s regime. Tsai Ing-wen, Taiwan’s president, in fact has ordered her government to closely monitor the situation in Ukraine, knowing that China will be looking for the weakness on the part of the West.
Last year’s chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan was evidence to both Russia and China that the West are slow to recognise warnings signs, or perhaps that the West has become complacent after decades marked by the absence of major threats.
We were slow to realise the challenge of Putin’s foreign policy. He was clear about who he was and what he wanted in his speech in February 2007 in Munich. He posed himself as a deliberate leader, rejecting the post-Cold War European security architecture. (Regardless, he signed agreements of peace, including the Budapest Memorandum of 1994, which guaranteed Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.) The ghost of the Soviet Union, and dreams of reclaiming its territory, haunt him.
Xi follows the same pattern. He has always presented himself to the world as a communist leader hell-bent on extending the power of Beijing. Agreements such as the Sino-British Joint Declaration did not stop China from taking a strangle hold of Hong Kong. The ghost of an imperial past, embodied in the ‘One China Principle’, prevents China from reasoning that Taiwan is really not part of its territory.
In declaring war on Ukraine after world leaders have tried to reason with him, Putin signals to the world that social exclusion or sanctions is not something he fears. Our moves over the next few days could have ramifications far beyond Eastern Europe. If China thinks it has our measure, Ukraine could be just the first domino to fall.