December 6, 2023
News Opinion

MICHAEL WOLSEY: Why we must stop depending on Russia and China

Neville Chamberlain was the British prime minister whose appeasement allowed Hitler to dismantle Czechoslovakia, opening the way for World War Two.

Defending his agreement with the Nazi dictator, Chamberlain said he was keeping Britain out of “a quarrel in a
faraway country between people of whom we know nothing”.

The folly of his words was soon exposed as the German army swept through Poland, northern Europe and France.

For decades,  Chamberlain’s  folly served as a reminder to democracies not to get too close to countries that do not share our values. But in recent years we have abandoned that caution when dealing with the world’s two authoritarian superpowers, Russia and China.

We have not defended Western values but, like Chamberlain, have turned a blind eye to shocking behaviour because it was easier to ignore it than confront it.

Putin sent his agents into other states to murder opponents of his regime but these were people of whom we knew nothing, so we responded with only mild disapproval. Russia annexed Crimea and we did little more than shake our heads, because it was a  faraway country.

Russia’s puppet, Belarus, hijacked a Ryanair plane and arrested two passengers who had been outspoken critics of the government there. It was the plane of an Irish  airline but it was in a far away country and we knew nothing much about the two people arrested, so we registered a complaint, and carried on flying to, and trading with, both Russia and Belarus.

China occupied Tibet but, sure, that was a very faraway country. China’s army massacred dissenting students who protested in Tiananmen Square, but they were its own  people, of whom we knew nothing.

We could hardly claim such ignorance of Hong Kong but we stayed largely silent when Britain handed it over to Beijing and we did little more than glower as one freedom after another was removed.

At least Chamberlain was trying to keep Britain out of a war. The West has complied with  all this erosion of democracy just to keep the wheels of international commerce turning, to make sure the stock markets didn’t slump or the cost of living  rise.

I am not for a moment suggesting that Western countries should have gone to war over any of these issues but simply that we should have stopped cozying up to the enemies of democracy; stopped treating them like our pals, decent guys with whom it was a pleasure to do business.

When I say ‘we’, I am referring to the West in general, Europe in particular, because we live in a European country, and Ireland specifically, because it is where our individual voices can have the most impact.

Ireland does not have many economic links with Russia; we don’t directly buy its gas or its oil and if there are any oligarchs living here, they are keeping quiet. But that is just a matter of circumstance. We are happy to let Russia bank its money with Dublin-based institutions and have been keen to develop Russian markets for Irish exports.

We don’t buy a lot of consumer goods from Russia , simply because they don’t export them at a quality and price that is attractive. Look around your home, it is unlikely you will see anything that was made in Russia.

With China it is a different story. Irish society, like all Western societies, has become hugely dependent on China for all sorts of basic requirements and the Irish economy, like all Western economies, is underwritten by Chinese money.

In Ireland, we are keen to attract tourists from China and to sell them our farm products.

It’s a two-way street. China needs Western buyers to keep its huge production machine operating. But for us it is an unhealthy relationship because  China, like Russia, does not share our values. It can turn our dependence against us and will do so if it ever thinks that is necessary.

The invasion of Ukraine has forced Western countries to rethink our need for anything from Russia. We may have to live without their gas or oil or the bank deposits of their fat cats. The longterm gain will justify the short-term pain.

We should now start taking the same approach to China and stop relying on its loans and production lines.  I am not suggesting an instant or total break but a gradual return to self-sufficiency by the West..China, like Russia, will never prove to be a friend in need and we should stop treating it as a friend indeed


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