Geoff Dyer reports in the Financial Times:
August 8 has already been pencilled in by some as a turning point in modern history, the day that authoritarianism stood up as a credible force for the first time since the end of the cold war. Television producers did not know where to look. On one screen Chinese drummers were launching the hi-tech opening extravaganza of the Olympics, while on another Russian tanks were filing into Georgian territory.
Each event seemed to be a snub to the idea of the inevitable advance of liberal democracy – Russia with its re-discovered military muscle and China celebrating its mixture of dynamism and political control. Like so many big narratives, however, the story about the rise of the new authoritarians leaves out a lot of important detail. While Russia has spent the past decade becoming more authoritarian, China has been slowly moving in the opposite direction – even if it took a lurch backwards in the run-up to the Olympics.
The story also misses how the actions of one authoritarian regime might affect the attitudes of the other, which is very much the case with Russia’s incursion into Georgia. At the start of the conflict, China was probably not too unhappy. But with Russia’s recognition of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, the attitude is likely to shift. If Russia ramps up the pressure much further, it could actually push China closer to the US.