Far Apart

Edward Lucas

China has more clout than Russia. But both face pushback

Did you read about Russia’s attempt to bully Hollywood? How any script that is critical of Vladimir Putin never makes it into the studio? How any actor who expresses public criticism of the Kremlin makes themselves almost unemployable? No, you didn’t. Because the idea that Russia would be able to conduct a successful influence operation in Tinseltown is laughable. For the same reason you will not read about Kremlin agents of influence choking off the critical study of Russia in western universities. It doesn’t happen. And if Russia did try to do any of those things, you would read about it.

But the Chinese Communist Party does all these things and more. And if you don’t read about it, it is because people are too nervous to talk about it. In fact, the party-state’s bullying of Hollywood is no secret: the free-speech campaign PEN wrote a big report about it in 2020. But it was exemplified again at the Oscars when China-born Chloe Zhao won best picture and best director. That should be cause for celebration: she is the first Asian woman to do so and gave her acceptance speech partly in Mandarin. But she has in the past criticized the lies the Beijing regime tells about history. Within hours of her victory, Chinese censors had removed social media posts about her Oscar triumph and ensured that searches for her Chinese name returned no relevant results.

Another recent example of sharp power was when China forced a German children’s publisher to withdraw a picture-book that had dared to say (truthfully) that the covid-19 pandemic originated in China. The Beijing regime’s main weapon is size: if you want to sell books there, or distribute films, make sure your content does not offend the authorities. Russia’s Italy-sized economy is not big enough to make that work.

Instead, the Kremlin’s main tactic in muzzling critics is the use of English libel and data-privacy laws. The most insightful book on the Kremlin regime is “Putin’s People” by Catherine Belton (disclosure: a friend). It outlines, in unsparing detail, how the clique that runs Russia has its roots in organized crime and the old KGB. She and her publishers are now facing a blizzard of lawsuits from rich Russians close to the regime who object to her characterization of their background and actions. At a minimum, the effect of these legal battles is to deter other people from conducting or publishing similar investigations. Leaving aside the colossal damages if you lose, defending these lawsuits is — I know this from my own experience — immensely costly and exhausting, even if you win.

Both Russia and China fear a return to effective US leadership, and constraint by a renewed rules-based international order. A big question therefore is whether the growing pushback against China encourages it to seek closer cooperation with Russia. I can see how China might learn from Russia, for example refining its use of lawsuits, and even assassinations. But it is hard to see expertise flowing the other way. Russia is a declining power, China a rising one. Russia regards the West with fear. China views it with contempt.

Yet China’s bullying is increasingly counterproductive. Last month, for example, officials in Beijing tried to stop the EU publishing a report on disinformation. That worked, but officials leaked the resulting correspondence. That stokes growing (if belated) worries in the EU and boosts the Biden administration’s efforts to bring Europe and the United States together in a united effort to deal with Chinese mischief. It would be a welcome outcome if that stiffened spines in dealing with Russia too.

(c) CEPA

7 comments

  • “That stokes growing (if belated) worries in the EU and boosts the Biden administration’s efforts to bring Europe and the United States together in a united effort to deal with Chinese mischief. It would be a welcome outcome if that stiffened spines in dealing with Russia too.”

    To stiffen a spine requires having one to begin with. Sadly most EU countries lost their spine many years ago, and replaced it with a white flag, and a sackful of rubles.

    Liked by 4 people

  • ‘Because the idea that Russia would be able to conduct a successful influence operation in Tinseltown is laughable’.
    I have to disagree with Edward on this one. How many major Hollywood movies have had anti-putler plot lines? As far as I am aware, the answer is almost zero.
    There was however one exception: a surprisingly good and extremely accurate portrayal of the 2008 invasion of Georgia. It was called Five Days of War and it was released in 2011. Despite being directed by Renny Harlin and having big name stars such as Heather Graham, Andy Garcia, Val Kilmer and Rupert Friend, it vanished without trace. It received little or no promotion and ended up on YouTube, where it is today, complete with filthy kremtroll comments at the bottom.
    So the only anti-putler Hollywood movie in 20 years bombed? I would say that there is a very good chance that putinoid scum in Hollywood trued to stop it from being promoted. Here are some of the Hollywood turds that grovel to the tiny poisoner: Kevin Costner, Goldie Hawn, Kurt Russell, Steven Seagal, Gerard Depardieu, Robert De Niro, Jeremy Irons, Bruce Willis, Vincent Cassel, Monica Belucci, Sharon Stone, Hilary Swank, Mickey Rourke. Other ‘celebs’: Bernie Eccleston, Quincey Jones, Fred Durst, Roy Jones Jr, Donald Trump, Silvio Berlusconi.
    Only one big name Hollywood star to my knowledge has openly criticised the tiny poisoner : Morgan Freeman.

    Liked by 3 people

  • onlyfactsplease

    The West is a very lethargic place. Trash countries like mafia land and bat virus land can do a lot of mischief without fear of suffering real punishment. As soon as we change our attitude, mafia land will continue its aggressive behavior towards us and its neighbors and the chink monster will one day have grown too powerful to keep it under control. The time was YESTERDAY to get into action.

    Liked by 4 people

    • If Carter hadn’t opened the door to trade with China in the late 70s, it would still be a country of no consequence. Unfortunately greedy multinationals saw huge profits in using Chinese sweatshops for their goods, now they are paying the price.

      Liked by 4 people

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.