Ukraine war
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A man enjoys an artwork featuring Mao Zedong at the M+ museum in the West Kowloon Cultural District. Photo: Felix Wong

Letters | Ukraine conflict: Mao’s insights on protracted war still hold lessons

  • Mao’s work on a long war of resistance against Japan may be applicable to the Ukraine war
  • As realpolitik considerations wear down support for Ukraine, there will be many losers and no winners
Ukraine war
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Eighty-four years ago, at the beginning of the Sino-Japanese War, chairman Mao Zedong published “On Protracted War”, which would prove prescient about the duration and outcome of the conflict. I think Mao’s essay is relevant when we look at the Ukraine conflict.

Just like China in the late 1930s, Russia is fighting a lonely war. In fighting to stop Nato’s eastward expansion, Russia has faced setbacks such as cutthroat economic sanctions and the transatlantic security alliance’s expansion with the possible addition of Sweden and Finland.
But with the timely rebound of the Russian currency and Europe’s energy dependence, Russia can afford to wait. The high cost of living, especially in western Europe, could eventually change public opinion and the perception of Nato.

Even supporters of Ukraine, such as British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, are facing challenging political realities – Scotland and Northern Ireland might slowly be moving away from the United Kingdom. Recent local elections have consolidated Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon’s position and strengthened her resolve to push through a second independence referendum.

The long-term trend may be for a more pragmatic western Europe, and bread-and-butter issues might prevail over the temporary public sympathy for the actor-turned-President Volodymyr Zelensky. The only solution for Ukraine is neutrality; it would be unsustainable for Zelensky to keep on begging for billions.

Nato’s favoured position in eastern and northern Europe is also unsustainable. More countries in eastern Europe, burdened by millions of refugees, could sooner or later adopt a Hungary-style pragmatism. The regional conflict is likely to be finally settled by energy and food prices, and other market forces.

Thirty years after the dissolution of the Soviet Union, key international relations phrases such as “balance of power” and “spheres of influence” have been deemed obsolete. But without such considerations, a third world war would be just around the corner.

Chairman Mao’s essay showed a touch of realpolitik, a much-needed mindset to prevent regional conflicts from escalating. In the case of Ukraine, there will be many losers and no winners, not unlike the Korean war that broke out 72 years ago. Largely forgotten by many Americans, that war still served its purpose, by redefining the balance of power and recognising the spheres of influence.

Khaw Wei Kang, Macau