Lessons of history haunt Europe and baffle China

Eastern European nations fear Russia and see the specter of the Soviet Union’s repressive regime

Is there a single person in President Xi Jinping’s inner circle that understands modern European history?

The lack of knowledge about the origins of the Ukraine conflict has been staggering and the broader historical context of Europe after World War II.

In editorials written under the eagle eye of the ruling Communist Party censors, China’s state-run media have peddled the usual propaganda.

There is no mention of the “no limits” partnership agreement hammered out between Xi and Russian President Vladimir Putin before the Beijing Winter Olympics last month.

Increasingly, this is looking like a deal that allows the Russian Federation to wage an all-out war against Ukraine.

Russia’s illegal invasion

Even academia in China has toed the Party line. Independent thinking is in short supply when it comes to Russia’s illegal invasion of an Eastern European democracy.

“The US has been talking up the prospect of an imminent Russian invasion of Ukraine and continues to fan the flames, or create an atmosphere, for a war that would plunge Europe into chaos,” Han Liqun, a researcher with the Institute of World Political Studies at the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations, said.

“Germany, France, Britain and even Ukraine itself are working to take the heat out and praying that war can be avoided. Russia acts with calm and poise, demonstrating it is on top of the situation and that it will not be intimidated either in talks or in the event of war,” Han wrote in a commentary for China-US Focus, an academic website, on February 20.

Four days later, Putin’s army invaded the Ukraine which China refused to acknowledge Instead, it stuck with Moscow’s definition of a “special military operation.” Only in the past few days has state-media used the word “conflict.”

There is a deeper misconception about European history that Beijing fails to grasp.

As for impartiality, the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations is “affiliated with China’s Ministry of State Security of the People’s Republic of China and overseen by the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China.”

Hardly independent. But then there is a deeper misconception about European history that Beijing fails to grasp.

A warning from the past:

  • There are people alive today who witnessed Soviet Union tanks crushing the Hungarian Uprising in 1956. All the Hungarians wanted was to be free from the rule of the oppressive Soviet Union with the Supreme Soviet and Moscow at the core.
  • There are people alive today who witnessed the Soviet Union’s Cold War move to build the Berlin Wall in 1961. It was a permanent monument of a divided Europe and illustrated the failed ideology of Soviet communism.
  • There are people alive today who witnessed the Prague Spring in 1968. It was ruthlessly crushed by Soviet troops as the people of then Czechoslovakia fought for their freedom after their country was invaded.
  • There are people alive today that witnessed the rise of the ‘Solidarity’ movement in Poland. It was brutally suppressed in the early 1980s under the orders from Moscow but still survived.
  • There are people alive today that witnessed the collapse of the Soviet Union in the late 1980s. It was symbolized by the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989.

Delve deeper: Eastern European nations that were once held hostage and incorporated into the Soviet Union empire have embraced democracy and prospered economically. 

President Xi’s domestic propaganda revolves around ‘the East is rising and the West is declining.’

National psyche: Yet with the scars of occupation deep in their national psyche, they have been quick to join NATO to combat the threat of Putin’s plans to resurrect a Soviet Union-style sphere of influence for the Russian Federation.

Big picture: Comrade Xi faces a PR nightmare as images flash around the world of Ukrainian cities being bombed by the Russian military, killing innocent civilians. All this is down to his “best friend” Putin and what they described in last month’s communique as the “true democratic spirit.” 

Friend or foe: “China is going to be very cautious on how they’re going to come in [to] support Russia’s [economy]. The risks for China are incredible,” Max Zenglein, of the Mercator Institute for China Studies in Berlin, told Politico.

Pragmatic view: “If China is perceived as undermining Western sanctions it also needs to realize that it will be dealing with a stronger voice in a united Europe, US and Japan, which can quickly put China in a more uncomfortable position,” Jonathan Hackenbroich at the European Council on Foreign Relations told the geopolitical media site.

Official line: President Xi’s domestic propaganda revolves around “the East is rising and the West is declining.” This might play well to a nationalistic audience at home but it portrays insecurity abroad.

Waning leadership: “The US is making geopolitical calculations. This reveals its anxiety in the face of a China-Russia entente. The underlying reason is waning leadership and diplomatic flexibility in regional crises,” China’s state-run tabloid Global Times stressed in an editorial earlier this week.

China Factor comment: Beijing is in a mess of its own making as it spins a line of disinformation. Even so, Xi is unlikely to throw Putin under a democratic bus that is gathering speed as sanctions from the United States, the European Union and other allies strangle Russia’s economy.