On 23 October, with a contribution from the Taipei Representative Office in Hungary, Political Capital (HU) and the Association for Sustainable Democracy held a panel discussion about democratic resilience in frontline states, focusing on Chinese and Russian threats. Eto Buziashvili, Research Associate at the Atlanta Council from Georgia; Fang-yu Chen, Assistant Professor of Political Science at Soochow University from Taiwan; Iryna Subota, Head of Analytics at the Centre for Strategic Communication and Information Security in Ukraine, participated in the discussion. The panel was led by Rudolf Berkes, analyst at Political Capital.
Gáspár Békés, president of the Association for Sustainable Democracy, welcomed everyone, and then the focus was on the participants.
We learned how China follows the sticks and carrots approach concerning numerous aspects of everyday life, including students’ opportunities, tax cards, and other policies. The awards-punishments strategy is explicitly successful as it targets civilians. Today’s trade war between these two countries has become a food war since 70-80% of Taiwan’s export ends in China. The United States was set as an approximate median line.
In the case of Georgia and Russia, Chinese-rooted websites and pages appear as the main challenges. These pro-Russia sites convince people about their worldview and spread propaganda throughout the country.
In Ukraine, next to the actual war, cyber attacks worry the population the most. Banks and government websites are often targeted to cause chaos and spread misinformation.
What about the military?
According to Chen, the military question can be seen in two ways. The first one focuses on actual raids. Hence, equipment and the entire system should be improved and ready to battle. A friendly relationship with the US is inevitable to defend the country, even though it triggers the Chinese government. Thus, the Chinese government also influences conflicts in the media and society.
Then Chan shared his concerns about the downgraded defence system of his country.
Buziashvili places emphasis on the real enemy. Fear, she explains, is the most potent weapon. Fear-caused situations can lead to mindsets that believe in Russia’s friendship and set a green light to misinformation throughout the country. This generates chaos in society since around 80% of the population has a pro-NATO and -EU mindset. The feud had shown its more aggressive side as well; on 5 July 2021, an LBTQ event was beaten up by pro-Russian groups, causing severe injuries, mostly among journalists and the death of a cameraman.
Concerning Ukraine, the protective side of the military was emphasized.
Then the talk turned to the task of the governments of the relevant countries. First, Chen stated that the government could not stand on the front line, as it could backfire regarding political representation. Therefore, the government’s primary task is to verify the facts and mitigate the spread of misinformation. Then, he drew attention to the importance of education, including the significance of teachers, since the worldview of the rising generation/s is significantly shaped by what they see and learn at school.
Concerning Georgia, the discussion shifted to research centres. These are the buildings for which specific tools are available such as education through publishing and training about other mechanisms, e.g. how to use open-source intelligence and social media to geolocate militaries. The overall goal is to teach inhabitants to become more resilient. Results of these methods are shown in previous examples like the Russian invasion had been reported two days prior. Hence, the conclusion was given; using such tools seemed inevitable for foreseeing and predicting other military moves.
Subota also mentioned the importance of civic organizations for research purposes.
Chen noted that they experience much more pro-Russia information in the country via China about the Russian-Ukrainian conflict.
Towards the end of the evening, all three participants emphasized the importance of civil movements and the free flow of accurate information. They all reported on the motivating effects of online activities and ally groups, such as the Milk Tea Alliance. Finally, they urged everyone to support their cause, at least in the virtual environment.
Questions raised at the end of the conversation received relatively quick and straightforward answers; the effects of the EU sanctions are primarily experienced in the daily Russian information pressure in response to them in Ukraine. Those who had re-registered on Twitter thanks to Elon Musk (e.g. Trump) did not arouse much interest or fear from the participants.
We, the members of the Fenntartható Demokráciáért Egyesület (Association for Sustainable Democracy), thank everyone for their participation. We are looking forward to seeing you at our upcoming events!