Two perspectives are dominating the Chinese media's analysis of Vladimir Putin's return to the Kremlin. One is Western emphasis of Putin's violations of democratic principles, and the other is the relationship between Putin's return and China's interests.
The first perspective is obviously passive. As we're sick of overwhelming rebukes from the Western media of Putin's supposedly anti-democratic rule in Russia, and as democracy is also repeatedly used as a Western lance to prick China, we feel that we want to see a tough Russia unyielding to Western commands. Putin's return meets our psychological expectations.
In fact, besides Russia, any country that doesn't want to respond to US-led Western pressures can win sympathy or acclaim from the Chinese media.
The second perspective is active. We care about the future of this powerful neighbor, for its every single move relates to our vital interests. It benefits China that Russian politics remain stable, and that Putin has a second chance to continue his policies toward China.
China wants to see a Russia with enough strength to balance Europe and the US on the international political stage. This is also needed for balance in a multi-polar world.
However, there is the other side of the coin. When we look at Russia from these two perspectives, we may ignore something more important. What are the real problems in Russian politics?
The anti-Putin protestors in street are a minority, but they are not a small group. The number of protestors on the Moscow streets reportedly reached 20,000 Tuesday, and more than 500 were arrested by the police.
Why did they protest - simply for democracy? Apparently not. These protestors are mainly unhappy with the severe corruption in Russian society. They believe it was under Putin's rule that corruption became an ordinary part of Russian society.
What's interesting is that many of those who voted for Putin also abhor corruption. The difference is that they hope powerful figures like Putin can check the severe balance. As a result, anti-corruption will become the biggest political problem facing Putin in the future.
According to the NGO Transparency International's International Corruption Perceptions Index, which ranks countries and regions from least to most corrupt, Russia comes in at 154 out of the 178 countries and regions. The organization also found that in 2006, as much as $240 billion was spent on bribes, making up 20 percent of Russian GDP of the year before.
I have heard more than a few stories about the corruption in Russia. A Chinese businessman once bragged that Russia indeed has severe corruption, but this also means Chinese businessmen could get all their problems solved with money.
However, if money becomes the order of the day, social order no longer exists. It's imaginable what costs a businessman will pay in a nation without order. I've also heard Chinese businessmen complaining about the difficulty of doing business in Russia. If you carelessly fail to smooth connections with a particular government department, you won't know what twists and turns may harass you in the future.
More severely, corruption restrains the opening-up of Russia's economy. In an era of globalization, it's bizarre that a large economy like Russia has grown, mostly from oil and gas revenue, while staying relatively isolated from the rest of the world. In a corrupt environment, to what extent will Russia open up to foreign investments, and how many foreign investors will want to come?
Oil and gas revenue can feed the Russians well. But it's tough to get by in a society with such severe corruption, not to mention to lead it, however large its energy resources, to a grand dream of rejuvenation.
If Putin is determined to wake the Russian bear from hibernation, he has to come up with methods to tackle corruption. There are many challenges in front of him, and I'm afraid the biggest is corruption. What Putin needs is not only wisdom, but also courage and resolve.
The author is a senior editor with the People's Daily. He is now based in Bangkok. firstname.lastname@example.org
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