China and Russia give authoritarianism worse fame

FILE PHOTO: Russian President Vladimir Putin shakes hands with Chinese President Xi Jinping during their meeting on the sidelines of a BRICS summit, in Brasilia, Brazil, November 13, 2019. Sputnik/Ramil Sitdikov/Kremlin via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS – THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY/File PhotoThe last decade seemed good for authoritarian regimes and difficult for democratic ones. Cyber tools, drones, facial recognition technology and social media seemed to make authoritarians even more efficient and democracies more ungovernable.The West lost its self-confidence, and both Russian and Chinese leaders rubbed it in, making it seem that these chaotic democratic systems were a spent force.And then something totally unexpected happened: Russia and China overstepped.Vladimir Putin invaded Ukraine and, to his surprise, invited an indirect war with NATO and the West. China insisted that it was smart enough to have its own local solution to a pandemic, leaving millions of Chinese unprotected or unprotected and, in fact, inviting war with one of Mother Nature’s most contagious viruses: the Omicron mutation of SARS-CoV-2. This has led China to shut down all of Shanghai and parts of 44 other cities, some 370 million people. In short, both Moscow and Beijing are suddenly fighting forces and systems that are far more powerful and relentless than they had ever anticipated. And the battles are exposing – to the whole world and its own peoples – the weaknesses of their own systems. So much so that the world now has to worry about instability in both countries.Be afraid.Russia is a key supplier of wheat, fertilizer, oil and natural gas to the world. And China is the origin or crucial link in thousands of global manufacturing supply chains. If Russia is left out and China is blocked for an extended period of time, every corner of the planet will be affected. And that’s no longer a long shot.Let’s start with Putin. He fell asleep thinking that because his army had crushed a bunch of rag military opponents in Syria, Georgia, Crimea and Chechnya, it could quickly devour a country of 44 million people — Ukraine — that for the past decade had been moving forward to join the West and was being tacitly armed and trained by NATO.So far it has been a military and economic debacle for Russia. But just as important is that it has shown the extent to which Putin’s “system” is based both on lying upwards – everyone tells superiors what they want to hear, all the way to Putin – and on drilling down, exploiting Russia’s natural resources, enriching a few Russians, in rather than freeing up the country’s human resources and empowering the majority.Putin’s Russia is basically based on oil, lies and corruption, and that is not a resilient system.It could be seen since the eve of the war, when Putin led a nationwide televised meeting of his top national security advisers, and none other than Sergei Naryshkin, head of Russia’s Foreign Intelligence Service, seemed confused about what lie Putin meant.Putin said that the eastern Ukrainian provinces of Donetsk and Luhansk should be allowed to become independent states, and then asked these advisers to confirm this. But Naryshkin seemed to believe that Putin wanted to be told that the two provinces should be annexed to Russia. While Naryshkin stammered about the wrong answer, Putin, without a hint of irony, blurted him twice to “speak directly”, as if that were already possible in Putin’s Russia. Only after Naryshkin gave Putin the lie he obviously wanted him to tell him, did he growl at him: “You can sit down now.”How many Russian servicemen who saw that humiliation were willing to tell Putin the truth about Ukraine once the war started to go wrong? When the Russian army faced enemies in Georgia, Syria, Crimea and Chechnya, Russia could simply bomb indiscriminately to get out of any trouble. But now that Putin’s army has found itself in a war with Ukraine’s highly motivated army and its domestic arms industry, backed by some of NATO’s finest precision and training weapons, the rot has really begun to show. Russian tank and logistics forces have turned into multiple burning junkyards in western Ukraine.And it is impossible to overstate how incompetent the Russian Navy had to be to allow the command warship of the Russian Black Sea Fleet, the Moskva missile cruiser, to be so damaged, reportedly, by two Ukrainian-made anti-ship cruise missiles, called Neptune, that the Moskva sank into the sea off Ukraine last week, the biggest loss of a naval ship in battle in 40 years.The fact that the Russian flagship responsible for coordinating all the air defenses of the flotilla, carrying 64 S-300F Rif air defense missiles, was hit by enemy anti-ship missiles had to be the result of a cascade of failures in the detection and response systems to an attack.Besides, Neptune missiles are not necessarily “ship killers”. It is more likely that they were designed to be “mission killers” – to disable the radar and electronics of sophisticated destroyers such as Moskva – rather than to specifically sink them.So I pity the commander who had to tell Putin that Russia’s baddest and most monstrous warship on the Black Sea, rumored to be his favorite, had been sunk by a Ukrainian missile fired in war for the first time.China is a much more serious country than Russia: it is not based on oil, lies and corruption (although it has a lot of the latter), but on the hard work and manufacturing talent of its people, led by a Chinese Communist Party from top to bottom, with an iron fist but eager to learn from abroad. At least, eager to learn in the past, but less recently.China’s economic success, and the sense of pride it has generated, seems to have numbed its leaders into thinking that they can basically act alone against a pandemic. By producing its own vaccines, rather than importing better ones from the West, and by reusing its highly efficient surveillance and authoritarian control system to stop travel, carry out mass tests and quarantine any individual or neighborhood where COVID-19 appeared, China opted for a policy of” Covid zero”. If it managed to overcome the pandemic with fewer deaths and a more open economy, it would be another sign to the world – a great sign – that Chinese communism was superior to American democracy.But Beijing, while mocking the West, was outrageously negligent when it came to vaccinating its own elders. That didn’t matter so much when China was able to slow the spread of previous variants of the coronavirus with strict population controls. But it does matter now, because the Chinese Sinopharm and Sinovac vaccines do not seem to be as effective against Omicron as the mRNA vaccines manufactured in the West, although they are still effective in reducing hospitalizations and deaths. Today, in China, more than 130 million people “over the age of 60 are not vaccinated or have received fewer than three doses”, putting them “at greater risk of developing severe symptoms of Covid or dying if they contract the virus,” the Financial Times recently reported, citing a study by the University of Hong Kong.This has led Beijing to opt for that total closure of Shanghai, which has been so poorly managed that residents have reportedly had to struggle for food.Dr. David L. Katz, a public health and preventive medicine expert from the United States who wrote one of the first most clairvoyant guest essays in this paper on Covid management at first, explained to me that the problem with having the kind of draconian closure policy that China maintained is that you are ensuring that your population develops little native immunity because they have acquired and survived the virus. So, Katz said, if the virus mutates globally, as happened with Omicron, and you have “a less than effective vaccine, virtually no natural immunity in the population, and millions of elderly people unvaccinated, you’re in a bad situation and there’s no easy way out.”You cannot deceive or make propaganda to ward off Mother Nature; it is relentless.The moral of this story? Authoritarian systems of high coercion are systems of low information, so they often lead blindly more than you think. And even when truth leaks in, or reality in the form of a more powerful enemy or Mother Nature hits them in the face so hard that it cannot be ignored, their leaders find it difficult to change course because their claims to be lifelong presidents rest on their claims of infallibility. And that’s why Russia and China are fighting now.I am very concerned about our own democratic system. But as long as we can drive out incompetent leaders and maintain information ecosystems that expose systemic lies and challenge censorship, we can adapt in a time of rapid change, and that is the most important competitive advantage a country can have today.(C) The New York Times.-KEEP READING:Invasion of Ukraine LIVE: The “butcher of Mariupol” released another ultimatum for the resistance to leave the cityThe shocking leap into the void of Russian pilots and the specter of a sabotage of their own generals