In Other News – China endorses Putin, Omicron Responses Affected by Politics, & More – 2/11/2022

February 11, 2022

China publicly endorses Putin, but political consequences of a Ukraine invasion could limit just how far Beijing will go in its support. While Putin contemplates his next move, the West is uniting against Moscow. Ukraine and NATO allies are strengthening their defenses through weapons acquisition, bulked-up and repositioned troops, and increased agreement on what a response might entail. If Putin continues to shun all diplomacy and keeps building up troops on Ukraine’s border, he could be on his way to becoming an intractable outcast to the entire democratic world. This week, after Putin and President Xi met at the Beijing Olympics, China and Russia released a substantial long-term agreement that ups their mutual support to an unprecedented degree. But Putin may have a wrongfooted Cold War vision of recreating a Sino-Soviet alliance. In today’s context, it’s doubtful that words would materialize into actual Chinese cyber or military support during a Ukraine attack. Ultimately, China is going to do whatever it decides is in its own best economic and financial interests, and its relationship with the United States and Europe is so intertwined that it’s unlikely Beijing would jeopardize this with visible military support for Putin’s Ukraine grab.

Political systems are impacting Omicron response policies, but the long-term effects remain to be seen. There is wide variation in how nations are currently responding to the pandemic. For example, Denmark has lifted all Covid restrictions even while its infection rate remains high. This policy is informed by a high vaccination rate, wide availability of effective treatments, and adequate hospital capacity to care for those who need it; to keep restrictions in place would be a deleterious constraint on a free society. Hong Kong, however, has adapted a zero-Covid policy that’s resulted in a new lockdown. On top of low vaccination rates and strained hospital capacity, Hong Kong now faces a food shortage and no income from tourism.

These prolonged restrictions coupled with the antidemocratic legislation passed in Hong Kong during the pandemic has prompted a flight of human and investment capital that is likely to endure. Hong Kong, like China, continues to opportunistically use the pandemic to entrench a totalitarian hold over its populace. While the pandemic responses in Denmark and Hong Kong demonstrate vastly different governmental approaches, it remains to be seen if national policies will continue along their current trajectories and wind-up having a long-term impact on economic growth and political freedom.

United States removed the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia “FARC” organization from its Foreign Terrorist Organizations (FTO) list, but FARC affiliates are still named. The FARC is notorious for its bloody history in Colombia spanning over 50 years replete with hundreds of thousands of deaths. In 2016, the FARC signed a peace agreement with the government of Colombia, but mass killings have continued along with violent territorial disputes over land and control of the narcotics trade. However, in late 2021 – in a move that upset several US politicians and some members of the Colombian government, the United States removed the FARC from the FTO list, noting that the broader FARC organization had adhered to the main terms of the peace agreement. At the same time, the Biden administration added two new Colombian organizations and their leadership to the list, including FARC splinter group “FARC-EP” and “Segunda Marquetalia.” While the removal of FARC from the FTO list was intended to send the message that becoming part of the political process will be rewarded, and that the list targets those most active today, concurrently naming two successor organizations to that same list, with many of the same members, will likely reduce the impact of the removal.