The horizon is not so far as we can see, but as far as we can imagine

Why Am I Writing About China So Much?

Regular readers will have noted that for the past few years I’ve been writing far more about China than I used to.

Why?

The primary purpose of this blog is to explain the world: how it works, how it has worked, and how it will work.

China is probably the most important nation in the world right now: it has the most manufacturing, is about tied for population, is the largest trade partner of the greatest number of nations and leads in most scientific and technological fields.

If you don’t understand China, you don’t understand the world. In the same way that I spent so much time learning about and understanding America, I (and you) need to understand China. I’m so serious about this I’m probably going to learn Manadarin, and if you’re under fifty, I suggest that you should do the same. In ten to fifteen years not speaking Manadarin will be as crippling as not speaking English currently is.

As we move into a multipolar or cold-war period, nations are rising in importance: China, Russia, Iran, Vietnam, and so on. If we don’t understand the internal and external dynamics of those countries, we are ignorant of how the world works in the worst sense of that word.

As this happens, nations are losing importance: all of Europe, America and the Anglosphere, in particular. I live in Canada, I’m a member of the West and the Anglosphere, and of European descent, so I’m concerned with those countries. But maintaining too much of a focus on them would be foolish.

It is also important to understand what other countries are doing and have done right. If China is now the world’s most important nation, why? What is it doing? How are its policies likely to turn out? The same is true of Russia, whose economy is doing better than, say, Europe’s.

Of course, understanding what the West is doing wrong (and the rare things it’s doing right) matters too, but I’ve spent twenty years writing those articles.

The world is changing. To understand it and to operate skillfully within it, we must change with it.

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Open Thread

53 Comments

  1. As we move into a multipolar or cold-war period,
    ——
    So far in this period China has yet to engage in any armed conflicts. Contrast that with the West who has waged war in Afghanistan, Iraq, Ukraine, Yemen, Syria, the Palestine/Lebanon area, and Libya.
    Whereas the West uses war and coups to turn countries into Saltraps, China’s strategy is to go build roads, hospitals, and ports to gain allies.
    Let’s put it another way, China would have to destroy 7+ countries and kill 10+ million people in order to achieve the depravity and immorality as the West has in the last 2.5 decades.

  2. Willy

    There may be something to be said about China’s success today being built on its culture from yesterday.

    Wasn’t it the Mongols who conquered Korea, and not China? (not to mention the Ukraine) Sure, there was a lot to that, such knowing that most outside of Mongolia was better while most outside of China was worse. But maybe there’s a cultural pragmatism which constrained the brute ambition found in ancient Greece and Rome, Nazi Germany and Russia?

    In China we still have the general perception is that competency develops with experience and age, but the western perception involves feeble dotage and cynicism.
    The east seems to respect competency of achievement more than the west, while the west leans more in the direction of respecting control over another’s achievement.

    Maybe we should be examining the impacts Romanized Christianity still has over current western thought, vs the Buddhism/Taoism/Confucianism the CCP has to deal with?

  3. Ian Welsh

    The Han conquered many people, it’s just that almost all of them are now called Chinese because they’re good at assimilation.

  4. Feral Finster

    For the same reason that the United States occupied an outsized share of the world’s imagination in 1876.

  5. Daniil Adamov

    Willy, the Chinese tried to conquer Korea (under the Sui dynasty at least), and did transform it into an often mistreated client state (during the Imjin War, Koreans suffered heavily from both Japanese invaders and Ming defenders). The Chinese were largely successful imperialists and settler colonists both (the Hakka are a fascinating example of the latter); maybe not as audacious and destructive as the Europeans, but certainly no great respecters of the native peoples in their vicinity, except for maybe those that lived in places they couldn’t colonise effectively.

    I say all this not to moralise against China (if there is any point in talking about the morals of an entire civilisation, all civilisations have their sins), but to point out that their accomplishments had and have little to do with superior morality. It’s certainly important to pay attention to them regardless, and to acknowledge what they got right or wrong.

    I do also think that their cultural continuity offers some advantages, but it’s not so straightforward as them being wiser and more restrained. I think one advantage is their access to millenia of uncommonly well-documented and frequently accessed national history. Another is that the current Chinese leadership also seems to be pretty familiar with Western culture without being completely entranced by it. Combining those two elements grants them potentially superior, broader perspective compared to that of most Westerners (or/including Russians). But that’s just a surface impression from some of what I’ve read about the CCP over the years.

  6. During my undergraduate stint at a major land grant university pursuing dual B.S. degrees in physics and mathematics while tutoring math 30 hours a week to pay for food and board I had plenty of company studying late into the night at the dorm. That company was primarily Chinese students. Those people put in the effort to excel.
    It is no surprise to me that Chinese are doing the highest quality research in engineering fields and are dominating the associated journals with important papers published.
    Americans in general avoid studying ‘hard’ subjects that are judged objectively and flock to courses that have subjective metrics. We are reaping the rewards.

  7. bruce wilder

    some of those non-Han peoples migrated into Southeast Asia; others were reduced to relict aboriginal curiosities.

  8. mago

    Tíbet, 1959. The Chinese invasion was unpleasant to say the least. I know more than a few refugees and have read numerous accounts.
    Anyway, since the 90’s I’ve advocated learning Mandarin, not that I took my own advice. Many pooh poohed the idea back then.
    Amazing how quickly the world changes.

  9. different clue

    The Uighurs and Tibetans are the current targets of ” relict aboriginal curiosification” .

  10. Soredemos

    Haha at the learn Mandarin part. It’s a crap writing system that is shockingly ill-suited to international use. Every culture that has ever used it, including the Chinese themselves, have made various attempts to move away from it, some more successful than others.

    I agree China is the future (for a while at least, until climate change brings it down along with everyone else), but I seriously doubt there will be any serious attempts to make Chinese a new linga franca. A large number of young Chinese are already learning English; any interactions China needs to do beyond its borders will be done through them.

  11. Soredemos

    @Daniil Adamov

    The supposed continuity of Chinese civilization is largely a convenient fiction. Each new regime saw it as beneficial to present themselves as a Dynasty™ with continuity, and thus legitimacy, with the Dynasties™ of the past. To the extent there was any real direct continuity, it was during a fraction of the supposed age of ‘Chinese civilization’ among the elite who learned Classical Chinese and took the Imperial exams. But that clique was very out of step with the living civilization below and around them.

    In the modern era the CPC has essentially manufactured the idea of a contiguous 5,000 year old civilization as a nation building and propaganda exercise, mostly aimed at the Chinese themselves.

    There is at times some meaningful connection but in the same way there is between ancient Romans and Italians. Modern Italy isn’t Rome.

  12. different clue

    I wonder what per cent of Chinese, Japanese, Koreans, Vietnamese, etc. are learning eachothers’ languages. If the per cent is pretty low and remains pretty low, then they may all continue using English to speak to eachother. If they are nationalistically opposed to learning eachothers’ languages, then English may remain a useful Neutral Language for their international elites and interactors to talk to eachother in.

  13. bruce wilder

    The supposed continuity of Chinese civilization is largely a convenient fiction.

    A civilization and a state as well are built from such fictions. The continuity of Chinese civilization thru three millennia is also descriptively accurate in important respects, which can be appreciated in the contrast with the history of Europe and the Mediterranean.

    The Han Empire and the late Roman Republic and early Roman Empire were approximate contemporaries. The idea of the Empire was used in the West repeatedly to organize and revive a central and unifying state without much success. The German Kaiser and the Russian Czar used Julius Caesar’s name as a title. The Catholic Church used the adjective Roman and reanimated aspects of the Roman religion. Charlemagne and Otto founded a Holy Roman Empire. But, the language of Latin was displaced by Greek in the East and local vernaculars elsewhere.

    The Chinese Empire had to be reinvented repeatedly, that’s true. States are organic and they die. But with every rebirth, a recognizably Chinese state was put in place ruling in the same Chinese language over much the same core territory, extending from the Yellow River cradle to the Yangtze valley.

  14. Soredemos

    @different clue

    They aren’t mutually learning each others languages. The Japanese at least have maintained some version of hanzi, even lerserving (horribly mangled) classical Chinese pronunciations of many of them. But they don’t actually speak Chinese. Koreans often commit to essentially mandatory ‘extra’ classes to learn some of the root hanzi characters Korean hangul are derived from, in the hopes it gives some edge in Korea’s exam hell.

    The Chinese themselves couldn’t care less what the island barbarians who recently raped their country have debased their language into, and Korea is a cute novelty (they’ll happily import the pop culture of both and experience it in translation though).

  15. Willy

    if there is any point in talking about the morals of an entire civilisation, all civilisations have their sins

    Actually, there is. I for one, prefer modern Japanese morals to the civilization they had just a few generations ago. And I’d think many Chinese would as well.

    The Qing Dynasty was China’s largest ‘empire’ by geographic area, mostly because it included Mongolia. That one didn’t include Korea and was still a very long ways away from ever taking the Ukraine, unlike those inferior barbarian Mongols had done. After the latter left, China didn’t permanently break apart into its many competitive ethnicities. I see China as being a sorta-Roman Empire equivalent which seemed to always want to keep putting itself back together. If only the UK could be so lucky.

    their accomplishments had and have little to do with superior morality

    I wasn’t talking about accomplishing because of superior morality. I was imagining a superior basic common sense found at the generational cultural level of “the common mob” which all rulers have to deal with. I suppose China has gone through its own MAGA phases, with its own large number of Dear Leader cult worshippers, like a more recent one wearing the green caps with the little red star, and it’s been said that many died during those times. But they seem to have moved on.

    Or, maybe that’s why they moved on. Does every person, place and society have to hit bottom before it does the big WTF? And then re-civilizes itself? I don’t see myself as being one of those people, far too cautious. So who are those people and how do we control them?

    Or maybe, as I’ve suggested in previous posts, it’s all about the quality of the current Dear Leader. Maybe China is going through it’s own “Five Good Emperors” phase and will soon enough wind up with a period of imperial power nonsense after the cult-minded take over again. But I’d sure like to think that we wee folks can have a say in all that.

  16. Willy

    dc,

    My mother would preach that Estonia would’ve been the best lingua franca. Easy to learn easy to write. They try to limit nonsense like same-sound same-spelling different-meanings.

    I knew an Englishman who proudly announced that American English was lazy talk. He hated the way we were changing his beloved Queen’s English. And so I pointed to a bird outside and said what’s that? He said “it’s a bud.” I said okay smartass, then why don’t you spell it b-u-d?

  17. Daniil Adamov

    Soredemos, in many respects the continuity is a fiction (same as with, say, the continuity between Kievan Rus and modern East Slavic states, but stretched out over much longer). Yet modern China does benefit from the heritage of the region’s previous dynasties, whether we consider Han China, Tang China and PRC to be the same country or not. I’d also agree that the written culture of the literati was only a small part of historical Chinese (or “Chinese”; I understand it was also inevitably much more diverse) culture; but it is a treasure trove in its own right, one with few equivalents in other countries.

  18. Diane Mason

    Any recommendations for books that give an accessible introduction to the history and current affairs of China for a complete beginner? tia

  19. Ian Welsh

    Always liked the T’Ang dynasty most, myself.

  20. Jan Wiklund

    Concerning Russia doing better than Europe, I would like some statistics about that. Existing figures at for example WB, IMF and UN are not too impressive, see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_GDP_(nominal) and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_GDP_(PPP) – but I guess the European and north American figures are full of rentierist bubbles and rather unreliable.

  21. Jan Wiklund

    R Bin Wong: China transformed (1999) suggests that it’s the ruling Chinese state ideology that has helped it to stay – that the first duty of a government is to protect the living standard of the population, a kind of welfare state that was formulated two thousand years ago. This way they got acceptance and even support from a majority.

    The flip side is of course that if it can’t, there will be revolts. But the welfare state ideology is too conventient for a bureaucratic elite to resort to, so all revolts revived the same legitimating idea.

  22. Soredemos

    @Jan Wiklund

    Hard to square with the reality that the vast majority of Chinese for most of history have been illiterate farmers barely scraping by. This is a basic fact the CPC have spent a lot of effort trying to rectify.

  23. Mel

    RE: books

    Project Gutenberg has some books by Paul Linebarger about Chinese politics in the early 20th century.

    https://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/50465

    https://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/40350

    https://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/39356

    They may have been input to U.S. government decision making at the time (~1950 +/-).

  24. Purple Library Guy

    Quick quibble: The Chinese writing system is a crappy writing system that is actually oddly WELL suited to international use. It’s crappy because it’s complicated, unsystematic and has nothing to do with the Chinese spoken language, there’s nothing remotely phonetic about it and such. It’s oddly well suited to international use because it has nothing to do with the Chinese spoken language. That was always the point, really–most of China speaks Chinese NOW, but there were a lot more languages in the Chinese empire in the past. With the Chinese written language, bureaucrats who spoke a dozen different languages could all write to each other with no difficulty.

    None of that matters nearly as much these days, we have instant crappy machine translation.

  25. Curt Kastens

    I think a better idea than learning Chinese of any variety is to buy several decks of playing cards and a book that has all the rules of the card games that your grandparents and great grand parents played. So that you will have some to do to keep your mind off of your hunger when the internet goes down. War is a very simple game that even a child can understand. Buy the time your cards are all war(n) out the great game will be over.

    Reprinted with the permission of Sun Sat Zu.

  26. Kevin

    Curious why you say Russia is doing well. early in Ukraine war they were facing real economic difficulties. have they worked them out?

  27. Ian Welsh

    Russia’s economy is doing better than most of the West’s, though there are, of course, some issues due to sanctions.

  28. someofparts

    I wish Astrid were still around. It would be interesting to hear what someone who does speak Mandarin would contribute to the conversation.

  29. Jynxie

    I mean it’s doing better in relative terms if you’re looking just at rate of GDP growth, but it’s still a middle income kleptocracy with suicidal demographics that have been pushed forward several years by a needless war. It’s doing far worse in absolute terms than most of the West, and it will not catch up in any of our lifetimes.

    The West’s sanctions have backfired; it’s enough simply to make that point on its own, no need to resort to cheap point-scoring.

  30. Ian Welsh

    Russia is now the world’s 4th largest economy, overtaking Japan:

    https://www.intellinews.com/russia-overtakes-japan-to-become-the-fourth-largest-economy-in-the-world-in-ppp-terms-328108/

    The Russian gini coefficient (a measure of inequality) is lower than America’s and is declining, while the American gini coefficient is increasing.

    Although it’s a hard thing for an American to accept, Russia is a less corrupt country than America: the government is not owned by the oligarchs, Putin keeps them on a leash.

    That said, it’s still a corrupt country, and its gini coefficient is higher than European ones. But Russia isn’t what Americans think it is. (It also imprisons less people per capita than America.)

    Further, economic growth has recovered from sanctions: Russia’s GDP growth rate in 2020 was -2.7%. In 2019 it was 2.2%, in 2022, the GDP growth rate was -1.2%, and in 2023, it was 3.6%. The growth rate is expected to be 3.2% in 2024.

    I’m not a huge fan of GDP to measure economic strength, but the Russian economy is not in any particular danger. In fact, the sanctions have acted to force import substitution and to weaken the oligarchs, both good things. The primary danger now is being swamped by China, but that’s hardly unique to Russia.

  31. Willy

    Not sure if I could sell the Russia overtaking Japan bit. I mean, everybody’s familiar with Japanese products and culture. Don’t we all know somebody who owns a Toshiba stereo with karaoke capability?

    But do you know anybody who owns a Russian TV? Car? Fighter plane? At best, they might have a bottle of Smirnoff with a couple glasnost shot glasses lying around, maybe a Hopak howto video. Wait a sec. Smirnoff is owned by the Brits these days, the shot glasses are made in China, and Hopak actually Ukrainian. Where’s all this Russian economy?

  32. Soredemos

    @Ian Welsh

    Something I find interesting in all of this is that fundamentally Putin and his cronies are pretty bogstandard shitty neoliberals. Their inclinations are to just let everything be driven by the market. To the extent they’re turning away from that it’s because it so clearly doesn’t work. There’s a Roman-style pragmatism going on where they zealously stick with the old way until it’s just too obvious that it isn’t working. As the big example, privatized military industry doesn’t work well and so a bunch of it is being returned to state production, and they’re kicking our asses as a result.

  33. Ian Welsh

    Japan is an island nation, highly industrialized and technologically advanced.

    Russia is the largest nation in the world in terms of land mass, and while they have some advanced tech, their trade is primarily resource based, including food.

    This makes them a good fit for China, for example.

    However the sanctions have forced them to work more on domestic industry, and thus have been good for them in many ways. Putin’s always been too willing to be a resource economy, though to be fair, the resource trap is hard to get out of for a variety of reasons. (I’ve written about this before, but damned if I can find the articles.)

    Soredemos: yeah. Putin is very conservative in the old sense of the word. Cautious, prefers to use normal methods, etc… It’s ironic, played right he’d be part of NATO and the West and very happy to be so.

  34. Revelo

    @Willy: most economic activity everywhere is local. Local construction labor builds, maintains, operates physical capital (buildings, roads, power stations), government is all local labor, most of non government medical industry is labor with small percentage goods ( pharmaceuticals, supplies, equipment). And so on. When an economy is famous for its manufactured exports, like Japan, it’s typically also famous for its resource imports (famous among sellers of whatever it imports, that is). Russia is almost entirely self sufficient, other than a small amount of manufactured goods from resource poor countries like Japan, Korea. China is not resource poor overall but it is resource poor per capita compared to Russia . Resource exporter does not mean Russia is low tech or lacks manufacturing capability. But its manufacturing is focused on military and industrial equipment, versus consumer goods.

  35. Willy

    Why’s Russia accepting Iranian and North Korean help for their Ukraine situation? Seems a bit like Texas accepting Guatamalan national aid in its battle against unwanted abortions. Personally, I’d be embarrassed.

    When I look up nations’ exports (of any kind) I see the usual China, USA, Japan, Germany… rankings. They’re leaving me thinking, where’s Russia? Oh wait, there it is, right between Canada and Mexico. Is this including the black market or something? Just sayin.

  36. Jorge

    About China and assimilation: the language map of China and Southeast Asia looks very much like the language map of North and Central America. The temperate climate zone is one or two languages with many small pockets of other languages, where the other languages have no relation to the dominant language but are of several families with strong relations to each other. Obviously, a conqueror came in from far away and took over, pushing the indigenes into small enclaves. The sub-tropical and tropical zones contain much larger populations speaking languages which share lineage with the “preserved pocket” languages of the temperate zone.

    Southeast Asia contains many large masses of languages, which are often in the same language families as the small pockets in the temperate zone. Central America has a different dominant invader language, but also has much larger sections of the original indigenous language speakers than the US and Canada.

    The details of these two conquests are very different; the Han from-the-North conquest took a few millennia while the European conquest of North America was only about 400 years from start to finish.

  37. Jorge

    About China and continuity: the Mandarin class is the core technology of continuity. It is the most valuable invention of Chinese civilization. The Mandarins are people chosen for government jobs by a “mostly fair” job aptitude test. You paid tutors to teach you an endless amount of literature and philosphy for at least a decade, and then every few years you took a test where you barfed it all out.

    The value of this test is that it propagandized a generation to believe the core values of the governing class, down to folk tales and party games. If two Mandarins from different provinces met, they often could not speak each other’s native dialect, but they had studied the same literature and could play the same party games. This acculturation knit the government together, and gave the ruling class the personnel and intellectual infrastructure to govern very large and fractious empires.

    The invading Brits saw the value of the standardized test, and stole the idea for college admissions. We in the US stole it from them and called it the SAT (Standardized Aptitude Test) for college admissions. But, in China it was not for college admissions, but actual job evaluation.

  38. Ian Welsh

    Much of the West hired most civil servants thru testing, up until relatively recently – started phasing out in the 70s, but was still around in some form into the early 90s in many jurisdictions.

    This was directly inspired by China’s civil service exam. Still used a lot in India, but there’ve been a lot of problems with leaked tests and cheating lately.

  39. Jorge

    What Westerners don’t understand about China is that 1) it is not an evangelistic culture; they don’t care if you agree with them, and 2) their culture has a continuous governing class (the Mandarins) who believe they know what is best for society.

    Europeans had a similar pan-government class, the Church, which also arrogated to itself the doing of good works for humanity. We neutered this section of European culture around 1500, and since then the elites have only cared about power and money. The concept that Chinese elites would not believe in the creation and perpetuation of billionaires is an anathematic shock to our elites, because we don’t have a muscular “good works for humanity” sector in our governance.

    (“Anathematic shock” is a phrase I just now made up, and I am very proud of it.)

  40. Revelo

    >Why’s Russia accepting Iranian and North Korean help for their Ukraine situation?

    Same reason the mighty USA alliance (NATO plus Pacific Rim), largest military, 1 billion population, 40% of world manufacturing capacity is desperately scrounging around the cupboard for spare artillery shells: Ukraine war demands massive amounts of ammunition on both sides.

  41. Daniil Adamov

    Jorge, I agree to a large extent, including that a lot of things went horribly wrong around the 1500, but I wouldn’t say the Church was the only public-minded power group in European history. It’s just that the others, even if arguably better in some ways, never had its power, ubiquity and resilience. There were certainly many attempts to cobble together a public-minded ruling class in the West in the 18th century and thereafter, and it’s not like the people elevated by those attempts accomplished nothing in their time. By now that’s largely done, though, I’m afraid.

  42. SocalJimObjects

    @Jorge, nothing wrong with your observation about the languages of South East Asia, but I wanted to add one thing, the richest people in South East Asia are all of Chinese descent, so if anything, Mandarin and some of its dialects have become the language of power in the region, other than money that is :). I can tell you from personal experience that there are still enclaves in countries like Indonesia and Thailand where only Mandarin and/or its numerous dialects are spoken. 70% of the population in Singapore and as many as 30% of the population in Malaysia are also of Chinese descent. Together with many Chinese diasporas around the world, they make up what’s called the Bamboo Network.

    I am currently studying both Mandarin and Japanese, and the later contains many old Chinese characters imported from the old country. I am not saying that knowing Mandarin will allow you to speak Japanese (you can’t), because there are quite a lot of differences in terms of grammar, pronounciation, etc, but you will probably be able to somehow comprehend things written in newspapers and magazines because formal publications usually would use a ton of Kanji. And yes, knowing Chinese characters has allowed me to make a much more rapid progress in terms of studying Japanese.

    For me it’s worth it to learn the two languages because I am currently living in East Asia, and I don’t see myself ever living in the West again. For people who don’t live here, I can say with certainty that most locals don’t speak English beyond the level of simple pleasantries and order taking/completion.

    For people who are contemplating of picking up Mandarin, I can only say that it will be a super challenging undertaking, and you better possess a stronger motivation than simply wanting to learn the language. The good news is that I have met quite a few Westerners who jumped in without hesitation and many of them are now quite proficient in the language, but then again they too all live in East Asia. You can find some of those people through their Youtube channels.

    Last but not least, people who want to follow a structured route should study with the aim of passing the HSK exams. It’s not a very popular exam in the West, but for some reason, it’s pretty popular in South Korea with up to 50K people taking it every year.

  43. Jan Wiklund

    Soredemos: The vast majority of people everywhere have been illiterate farmers. But the conditions have been very different in spite of that. European visitors to China in the 18th century were impressed by what they saw. But then, of course, Europe got better warships.

  44. Soredemos

    I wouldnt idealize the Chinese elite system too much. In practice it amounted to rote memorization of what was often bullshit.

    Over time this produced the state of affairs of multiple ‘barbarian’ cultures coming through and absolutely curbstomping China, subjecting it to a century of humiliation, often with technologies that at one point originated in China, but that were never elaborated on further because everyone was too busy writing poetry, or debating Taoist or I Ching bullshit.

    Vietnam was even worse, from what I’ve read, and even more stagnate, which is what allowed the French to take over.

    The Japanese certainly saw the dynamic at play, and when finally forced to open and abandon isolation and neo-Confucianism they rapidly advanced, lest they ended up like China. Within a few decades they had joined the ‘rape China in turn’ club.

  45. Willy

    The Soviets drove the largest invasion force the world had ever seen 1700 miles from Stalingrad to Berlin in just over 2 ½ years. Today’s distance from the Russian border to Kharkiv is less than 25 miles. So in about that same amount of time, Putin’s Russia has driven the “hapless and corrupt” Ukrainian forces back just over 20 miles. No doubt there are further penetrations, but are they even worth mentioning?

    The times between then and now seem very different to me. If somebody told me that the 1940’s Red Army was being powered by the world’s 4th largest economy (with a bit of pre-NATO lend lease assistance), I’d probably buy it. But I’m still having a hard time believing that today’s Russia is the 4th largest economy. Whatever. I’ve been wrong before.

    Whatever the economic ranking, it’s a whole lot easier for me to admire what China has accomplished in the roughly same 25-year time frame as the one seen from the Bolshevik Revolution to wartime Stalin, or during Putin’s tenure since Yeltsin. I say we must analyze all the causal differences, obvious or not, for posterity.

  46. Soredemos

    @Willy

    I see it’s never occurred to you that the Russian goal isn’t conquest, it’s a neutral Ukraine (though when it’s all done they’ll have carved off various bits to landlock a stubborn Kiev). While also running the whole war as essentially a side show that doesn’t inconvenience the Russian population too much, and provides ample opportunity to test weapons and rotate men and officers through to get experience (even the BBC has been forced to concede the number of Russian war dead is only around 50,000. The Russian military is bigger and better equipped now than when it started).

  47. Willy

    There are an awful lot of military analysts and commentators out there providing stats and videos every day which counters what you just said. Too many. For example, there’s a guy who seems to enjoy itemizing the cost differentials between one modified Ukrainian battle drone ($2000) and one late model T-90 ($3,000,000+) who he claims the drones are severely damaging or even destroying. Another guy’s into itemizing the amount and value of Black Sea Fleet the Russians have lost to backyard technologies.

    Since I can’t physically go out there to see for myself, I rely on corroborating sources, such as commentary about battle line maps so I can try to determine trends, patterns, and veracities. I’ve noticed that whenever line movements favor Putin, certain people always cheer and do “Itoldyasos”, yet when the situation reverses they’ll poopoo the significance claiming it’s all part of the plan. Seems biased to me. In this place we’ve read about how the Houthis can stymie expensive American warships with backyard technologies which helps increase the plausibility of the tales the drone guy is telling. And so on.

    Back on topic, something tells me that China, with its current leadership and citizenry, is too common sense rational to get themselves into any of the kind of ‘planned quagmires’ which both Russians and Americans have become famous for. Maybe their cause-effect analysis relies less on emotion? Maybe their military manufacturer lobbying technologies suck? Maybe their culture keeps them saner? When the Vietnamese were so weak against the French yet so strong against the Americans, what role did curbstomped China play in all that, if any? I have many questions.

  48. Purple Library Guy

    War tech is different now from how it was during WW II. Although, even in WW II, nobody gets the real lesson of the Maginot Line: The Germans won by going AROUND it, because it was too tough to take head on.
    So right now, antitank weapons, particularly drones, are very effective. A good-enough military can hang pretty tough on the defensive. Even if you’re overmatched, which the Ukrainians certainly are, you can take down attacking armoured vehicles with good reliability and make everyone else pay a lot for any advance, if you have at least semi-solid defensive positions. If you have big solid buildings, you can hang REALLY tough on the defensive.

    The Russians, contrary to the once-constant claims of mainstream Western media, are not willing to pay a lot for most advances. So they do it slow. The downside for the Ukrainians is that if the enemy is patient, and has much more standoff weaponry than you do, they can advance slowly while still imposing very lopsided casualties on you. The Russians are more interested in destroying the Ukrainian armed forces than they are in gaining territory, although territory is a nice bonus. Still, if anything, the process of attacking is as much about forcing the Ukrainians to identify defensive positions, move reinforcements in so they can be spotted en route and so on, so the Russians can bomb and drone the piss out of them, as it is about actually gaining the territory being attacked. Often they don’t actually move in until the Ukrainians realize a defensive position is untenable and retreat.

    It’s been interesting to watch the shifting tech, though; drones are more important than I really expected, and in different ways. I always imagined drones as things like the US Predator that is high up and carries missiles, or flying firing platforms with machine guns, or something. Instead they’re more like human-controlled loitering munitions. But they kill armoured vehicles like crazy. Both sides are using them, the Russians probably even more than the Ukrainians, but even so without drones the Ukrainians would have lost ages ago because they wouldn’t have been able to stop armour-led attacks.

  49. Curt Kastens

    “only” 50,000. Since when is 50,000 dead young people in a country of 150 million old people an insiginficant number?

    If the Russian goal is not conquest I have to wonder if there is some flawed thinking at high levels in the Russian Govenment. Maybe there is a good reason that the Russians are advancing at such a slow pace. But I have to wonder what that reason might be. Putting an end to the war would bring an end to the death of young Russian Men.
    Though I maintain a bit of open mindedness that bringing a quick end to the war might not be the best solution to the Western War of Agression against Russia. I do wonder if the Russian leadership perfers to dealing with the Ukranian NATO puppets in a conventional war rather than dealing with them a partisans in a guerillia war or as members of an IRA type movement that wages low intenisty armed conflict. But even though I wonder if that is what the Russian Leadership is thinking I suspect that the real reason that Russian progress has been so slow is that up until now the Russians have been unable to defeat an Ukrainian Army that is reported to be badly outnumbered by the Russians in many key measurements. Hopefully the pace of events will change in the near future.
    I am sure that everyone reads the two different types of reports that are constantly appearing in the media from Russophobic sources. One is that the Russians are corrupt and incompetent and are constantly suffering embarrasing defeats with their attempted liberation of the Ukraine. The other type of report is that the Russians are so powerful, or at least the the Russian leadership thinks that it is so powerful, that the Russians will soon attack the Baltics and or Poland and or Romania. Of course the implication of these types of reports is that Europeans and Americans need to mobalize to protect their “sacred” democracies from hordes of Russian “Untermention”
    Well where I am headed with all of this is, Ultimately the responsibility for the deaths of 50,000 young Russian men and the wounding of many many more than that does not lay with Russian Generals. It is on the shoulders of NATO officers. Therefore when this war finally ends every NATO officer including Non Commissioned Officers have to have his/her shoulders dislocated and his/her hands amputated as a form of repatriations to the families of those Russian Soldiers who sacrificed their sacred lives to prevent the imperialist breakup and take over of the Sovi I mean Russia which the west hoped to achieve to ensure that Russia’s raw materials go (went) to benifit the West rather than Russia and China and or India.

    Along this line of thinking when the war in the Middle East ends every NATO officer & NCO has to have their knees dislocated and their feet amputated as a form of repatriations to Palestinian families for the Role that NATOE plaed in supporting the attempt by the Israelis to murder the Palestinian Population of Palestine. y

  50. Willy

    Another question: Why are the rest of us writing about Russia so much?

  51. Ian Welsh

    Willy,

    why you and others are writing about Russia so much seems like a question you’re more qualified to answer than I am.

  52. Willy

    Well, at least I’d agree that China is more important than Russia these days, and that the USA is in decline, what with their desperate-looking turtle tanks and redcoat (or redhat) kingmaking. Not sure how accurate this little National GDP graphic is:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4-2nqd6-ZXg

    …but it does tell a story. It’d be completer and more insightful for everyday Joes and Ivans if texts about major economy impacting policies were flashed at the bottom.

  53. Ian Welsh

    I write more about China for exactly the reason you say: China is more important than Russia. In fact, I think it’s the most important country in the world now.

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