Taiwan has fallen to China. The war lasted years, cost tens of thousands of lives, and ruined the economy – but that was a cost Xi Jinping was willing to pay to write his name into history.
America fought back, but despite having the superior military there was simply too much political division at home and amongst its allies to put up a proper defence.
Beijing’s iron will won the day, and the world has taken note. Autocracy has triumphed over democracy. The war of ideals has been lost.
It is Xi’s world now. We just live in it.
That is the apocalyptic vision put forward by expert Charles Dunst in his new book ‘Defeating the Dictators’ as he warns that democracy is now in a fight with autocracy for control of the future, and is in danger of losing unless it rapidly gets its act together.
In his new book ‘Defeating the Dictators’, expert Charles Dunst warns that democracy is now in a fight with autocracy for control of the future, and is in danger of losing unless it rapidly gets its act together. Pictured: China’s president Xi Jinping (right) and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin share a toast during their meeting in Moscow on Tuesday
But victory will not belong to whoever has the biggest army, he argues. It will be won by whoever can prove their system works best.
In his doomsday vision, America loses to China not because it lacks weapons – but because it lacks conviction in its own way of life.
The author’s warning comes as China’s President Xi Jinping delivered a chilling warning to the West, telling his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin that ‘change is coming’ in an ominous parting message as he left Moscow on Wednesday night.
Xi met Putin at the Kremlin amid Russia’s on-going invasion of Ukraine. The pair signed a series of memorandums and agreements designed to boost bilateral co-operation on a number of issues, and hailed a ‘new era’ in their relationship.
In February 2022, the pair announced they had forged a ‘no limits’ friendship and Putin invited Xi to visit the Russian capital. They have since publicly talked of strengthening their ‘special relationship’, with Moscow and Beijing both rejecting what they say are US attempts to create a ‘unipolar world’ controlled by Washington.
The meeting between the autocrats is the latest sign of a growing divide between the three superpowers – with China and Russia on one side, and the US on the other.
Mr Dunst, an adjunct fellow at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies, said: ‘We’ve seen this kind of clash of ideals before during the Cold War. But the challenge we face today is more severe than it was against the Soviets.
‘Nobody going to Moscow in the 1980s came home and thought “I want my city to be like that.” But there is a danger of people going to the likes of China today and seeing their skyscrapers and their highways and coming home thinking that.
‘That has weakened support for democracy around the world. The military is important, but our focus cannot only be on defence, it needs to be good governance – that is ultimately more important.
‘How can we stand up for democracy abroad if it doesn’t work for people at home?’
Looking around the world today, it is easy to see what he means. Two decades ago, democracy looked like the best system of governance because all the richest and most powerful countries, with the best living standards, used that system.
But in 2020, life expectancy in the UAE overtook that in the US for the first time. The same year, the World Economic Forum ranked Singapore – which has lived under a one-party system since 1959 – above the UK for social mobility.
China – which has outstripped the West in terms of economic growth for decades – now spends more on infrastructure each year than the US and Europe combined. It also pioneered the roll-out of technologies such as 5G.
Perhaps that helps to explain why The Economist, which produces a yearly ‘democracy index’ on the strength of the system worldwide, has seen a decline every year since 2015.
The largest fall on record came between 2020 and 2021 to hit an all-time low since the index was first published in 2006, and has stagnated since then.
But in 2020, life expectancy in the UAE overtook that in the US for the first time. The same year, the World Economic Forum ranked Singapore – which has lived under a one-party system since 1959 – above the UK for social mobility. Dissatisfaction is growing in democratic societies. Pictured: Railway workers on strike are seen demonstrating in Britain on March 18
Pictured: Nurses picket outside North Memorial Hospital in Robbinsdale, Minnesota last year
While the index’s authors blame Covid and draconian policies brought in to tackle the virus, Mr Dunst believes the rot set in far earlier and will take far longer to fix.
‘When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991 there was a perception that democracy had won,’ he said. ‘We got complacent and we took our foot off the gas.
‘We felt we would never have to face off against a rich autocracy because as everyone got richer they would become more friendly to the West.
‘Well, that hasn’t happened. As China has shown, when autocrats get rich what actually happens is they turn around and say: “Why should we be listening to you?”‘
And waiting for modern autocracies to fall apart just as the Soviet Union did is not the answer either, Mr Dunst argues.
Of course, there is always a chance that a country ruled by a virtual dictator could implode. A world in which one man makes all the decisions is vulnerable if those decisions are bad. Just look at the current state of Putin’s Russia.
But modern dictators are savvy to the mistakes of the past, and eager not to repeat them. It was Xi Jinping – not Vladimir Putin – who first described the collapse of the Soviet Union as the biggest geopolitical tragedy of modern times.
That perhaps helps to explain why he dropped his draconian zero-Covid policy so quickly when mass protests broke out earlier this year. Xi knows that even his regime cannot survive long without the support of at least some of its people.
Or, as Mr Dunst puts it: ‘Autocracies wager that people would rather live comfortably and without freedom than deal with a messy democracy.’
So, how do we save democracy? ‘By making democracy work better at home,’ Mr Dunst argues. ‘By setting an example so people want to be more like us.’
That means a return to basics: Investing in infrastructure so our trains run on time and our highways aren’t clogged with traffic; making sure our schools promote those with the most talent and not just the best connections; making sure criminals, no matter how powerful, are properly punished by the courts.
‘Fixing the NHS and getting rid of the cost of living crisis are just as important as foreign policy,’ he argues.
Most of his ideas are unlikely to meet opposition. It is hard to imagine anyone wanting broken roads, huge wait-times for a doctor’s appointment, or crooked courts. But others will not be so popular. Immigration, for example.
The West needs more immigrants, he argues, because declining birth rates mean we are headed for economic disaster if we cannot find some way to boost our population.
But it is hard to imagine any politician running for election in either the US or UK on a promise to bring in more immigrants, or people voting en-masse for such a policy.
None-the-less, Mr Dunst believes there is support on both sides of the Atlantic for most of his agenda.
He added: ‘I wanted to think about things that could actually get done… and to use the book as a roadmap. Even in the US, the left and right agree that making more of our own semiconductor chips’ – the kind used in most high-tech devices, and now mostly produced in Taiwan – ‘is sensible.’
China has not yet launched a war for control of Taiwan, and a future in which it decides to do so is far from certain – particularly after Putin’s invasion of Ukraine backfired so spectacularly.
But if the West fails to get its own house in order, then the Chinese way of doing things will get progressively more attractive.
It may even be that Xi doesn’t have to wage a war at all, and can simply afford to sit and wait while the world comes around to his way of thinking.
The author’s warning comes as China’s President Xi Jinping delivered a chilling warning to the West, telling his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin that ‘change is coming’ in an ominous parting message as he left Moscow on Wednesday night. Pictured: Putin and Xi Jinping leave after a reception following their talks at the Kremlin in Moscow on March 21
As Mr Dunst writes: ‘The future has not yet been written. China, Russia and their partners do not yet rule the world.
‘More power may still reside in Washington, but there is no guarantee that this will be true tomorrow… It’s all the better if Beijing can simply beat us by improving its governance and expanding Chinese influence while we remain complacent and then decay.
‘If democracies are to retain their way of life… we will need to defeat the dictators both at home and abroad. To do so… we must deliver on the promise that our system offers.’
Defeating the Dictators is available now on Amazon
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