China and Russia are two key revisionist challengers for U.S. positions in the world, but maturing authoritarian tendencies in their regimes do not make them natural allies. Many parochial features determine profound differences in China’s and Russia’s strategic agendas, and the heavy impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has aggravated hidden tensions and accentuated mutual mistrust. U.S. policymakers should not therefore assume the need to counter their emerging military alliance, but could rather aim at exploiting their disagreements.
China is a rising power and focuses on a return to the growth trajectory after the sharp spasm caused by the pandemic, while Russia may sink into another deep crisis, so its leadership is compelled to engage in revisionism from the position of weakness. The deep cultural differences between the most influential elite groups in China and Russia impede cooperative initiatives, and structural corruption inherent to both regimes does not provide for better connectivity. China is emerging as a cyber superpower and shows reasonable restraint in deploying this strength, while Russia experiments with using its limited cyber capabilities recklessly. The particular “friendship” between Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin cannot provide a reliable foundation for further upgrades in the partnership. China is much more interested in sorting out its trade and economic issues with the United States than in backing Russia, which is stuck in an essentially unwinnable confrontation with the West. Russia is not able to provide any support to China in the trade wars and expects a steady aggravation of U.S.- China relations, seeing in this global conflict its only chance for escaping from the tight corner of unequal face-off with NATO. Both regimes performed poorly in dealing with the COVID-19 threat, but Russia, facing a deepening domestic crisis, may decide to challenge the West yet further in order to stimulate a mobilization of “patriotic” support for Putin’s leadership. China, instead of helping its overstretched and troubled neighbor, may opt to take advantage of this calamity.
AAPI Heritage Month: Safeguarding Asian American inclusion and belonging
President López Obrador's extension of the term of Supreme Court chief Arturo Zaldívar is part of his strong effort to recentralize power in the Mexican presidency and hollow out the independence and power of other Mexican institutions. His other moves to bend the justice system to his will include a reform that lowered the salary of judges but did not improve the quality of prosecutors and his unwillingness to allow an independent selection of the attorney general, with López Obrador himself retaining the power of appointment. His latest move with the two-year extension of Zaldívar’s term is especially worrisome. Zaldívar is also the president of the powerful Federal Judiciary Council. The council appoints and dismisses judges, sets career advancement rules and disciplines judges. Zaldívar will be setting the council’s and, thus, the whole judiciary’s, agenda and priorities for two years. This allows López Obrador to influence how courts will rule in cases regarding the executive branch, what cases they take up and the legality of new policies. These moves are taking place when the effectiveness of the judiciary in Mexico remains limited and deeply concerning. The attorney general’s office has proven weak, unwilling to take up key cases such as against the suspects in the brazen attack on Mexico City’s security minister, Omar García Harfuch—an event that symbolized the impunity with which Mexican criminal groups operate. Mexico’s justice system showed itself equally meek and disappointing in inadequately investigating the alleged complicity of former Mexican Defense Minister Salvador Cienfuegos and dismissing the case, potentially the most significant case of corruption and criminal collusion charges against a high-ranking Mexican official in two decades. A decade and a half after Mexico initiated its justice system reforms, 95 percent of federal cases still go unpunished. President López Obrador has scored some points, but the already precariously weak rule of law in Mexico, and thus the Mexican people, will suffer.