Russia and China


The stark contrast between what once were the world's great communist powers has again been clearly illustrated. As the British Prime Minister, Mr Tony Blair, set out to woo China's trade and industry leaders in Beijing, the centre of Russia's far-eastern metropolis, Vladivostok, was filled with demonstrators, including sailors of the pacific fleet, demanding the resignation of President Yeltsin.

China remains nominally communist, is governed by a single party organisation, is manifestly lacking in human rights but its economy is booming despite the huge Asian downturn. Russia is nominally democratic and is governed by a president who Western countries have supported through thick and thin, but its parliament, in which the Communist Party is the largest minority grouping, has very little power.

It is paradoxical that the almost powerless Russian communists have been blamed for economic collapse while the extremely powerful Chinese communists have been given the credit for a burgeoning economy. Such judgments are superficial and specious. China's governing party has indeed fostered economic growth and the establishment of a market economy. But the Chinese market has been far less subject to controls than have the human rights of its citizens. The Chinese experiment has given the lie to the theory that democracy and a successful market must go hand in hand.

Russia's plight proves the same point in a different way. Democracy in Russia has advanced much further than in China but its market reforms have clearly failed. Privatisation - a word Mr Blair was advised by British diplomats to eschew in his Beijing speech yesterday - was undertaken on a massive scale in Russia.

That this was done in an extremely corrupt manner, seemed not to worry western economic experts in the slightest. The argument put forward was that corrupt accumulation of wealth would inevitably - after a generation or so - lead to a clean and healthy economy. This, the experts argued, was what had happened in the United States. This suggestion was as insulting to America as it was to Russia. The United States owes its ethos and its strength not to the efforts of Al Capone and Billy the Kid but to those of Thomas Jefferson and George Washington. Its founding fathers were men of intense probity, a quality distinctly lacking in many of those who have laid the foundations for the new Russia.

President Yeltsin and his supporters will take some comfort in the fact that yesterday's nationwide demonstrations attracted much fewer people than their communist organisers had forecast. However, it is likely that this was due more to the common sense of ordinary Russians than any support that is left for Mr Yeltsin. Russians have been extremely badly done by but the current economic disaster is far from the worst they have suffered in their recent history. Clearly the vast majority do not now support their president. That they did not turn out in huge numbers yesterday simply indicates their unwillingness to be used as political pawns by Mr Gennady Zyuganov and the Communist Party of the Russian Federation.