Russia and China: Friends, or Foes?

(I wrote the following for The Washington Times‘ online edition, and it was published on 8 August 2013. The global situation has changed somewhat since then, but I think that this column is still relevant.)

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s recent comments in defense of Christianity attracted a lot of attention. Is he genuinely devout, or was this pure political maneuvering? The truth is both, but this is all a part of a broader strategy.

Putin is no fool. The Russian government has long colluded with religion, but under Putin’s reign, the connection has grown stronger. He understands the importance of social morals, and he knows that Russia is plagued by many problems: catastrophic abortion rates, high suicide rates, and an entrenched sex trafficking market, to name a few. He sees Christianity — Russian Orthodoxy, in particular — as a solution to his country’s problems.

Putin is positioning himself as a modern-day religious crusader. This will kill three birds with one stone. First, it will put his country on the path to fixing many of its underlying problems. Second, it will allow him to refashion Christianity to accommodate the dictatorial system he favors. And most importantly, it will divide America and Europe between religious supporters and secular opponents, thus limiting the likelihood of unified condemnation of any of his future actions.

China is more than happy to accept this arrangement. China has its own interests in this high-stakes game. The recent lobbying of the Russian Orthodox Church to reestablish itself within China went largely unnoticed, but it is key. Orthodoxy is favorable to state control, a major positive in the eyes of the Chinese government. If China agrees, which it is likely to do, it will accomplish its goal of further limiting the influence of the Catholic Church, which has always been a thorn in its side. And by cozying up with the leaders of the most influential church in Russia, it will create an even-stronger relationship with that country, further weakening the influence of America, its primary economic and military adversary, in the East.

President Obama’s decision to dispel the possibility of a private meeting with Putin underscores these facts.

In light of all of this, the world will no longer be principally divided by geography, ethnicity, or wealth, but by the two prominent systems of government: democracy and authoritarianism. Both worldviews will fight to the death and make the existence of the other untenable.

The rest of the world serves as the backdrop for this massive conflict. The turmoil in the Middle East is not an isolated set of circumstances that we should stay out of, but part of the great proxy war between the world powers. Iran has a particularly important role in this. Linked to Russia by ideology, Iran is Russia’s useful puppet, gobbling up the West’s attention with its nuclear programs and radical proclamations. As for Syria, it is less important in the grand scheme of things, but because it is a major ally of Iran, the West is keen to negate its importance.

Africa has not yet been thoroughly polluted by these events, but it is actively courted by America and China in everything from healthcare to economic development. Because of the continent’s vast resources, it is destined to be the subject of more attention later on. Unfortunately, Obama has already damaged America’s relationship with the region by touting tolerance of homosexuality and other ideas that the solid majority of Africans find repugnant.

Under these conditions, China is set to be the economic powerhouse, and Russia is set to be the dominant moral authority.

To defeat this unholy alliance of autocracy, an impediment to liberty and civilization, the West must unite its three most powerful entities: America, Europe, and the Catholic Church. This trinity vanquished Communism once, and it can do it again.

But for such a partnership to work effectively, the elitist, anti-religious attitude of some of our leaders must be abandoned. Ronald Reagan once said, “If we ever forget that we are ‘one nation under God,’ then we will be a nation gone under.”

The West must remain hyper-vigilant in protecting democratic values, taking care to shield liberties while also not belittling spirituality.

The globe can shift from a civilization characterized by nationalism and a lack of cooperation, to a more peaceful and multicultural civilization, if Russia and China are reformed or beaten. If they win, however, the future is less clear.

Humanity must soon choose: democracy or autocracy.

Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping (kremlin.ru / Wikimedia)

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Matthew Olson is a student in the Diocese of Little Rock.

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Posted in Current, Politics

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