Beijing doesn’t know exactly what role to play: it needs to maintain good relations with Russia’s allies, not get into trouble with the United States and Europe, and face its complex domestic agenda.
“The US warns its allies that China is willing to help Russia militarily against Ukraine”. I woke up last Monday to the headlines in the Financial Times and New York Times that sent a cold sweat down my spine: Has Beijing clearly taken a side in this war? Can an unstable chessboard of forces and counter forces become completely unbalanced? Are we already on the brink of a new world war?
The Chinese government categorically denies it will take any steps in this direction, but the debate – which has been on the table since the first day of the invasion – has intensified these days. No one knows exactly what his role will be, as he needs to get along with his “priority” Russian allies, keep out of trouble with important clients such as the US and the EU, and deal with his complex domestic agenda if the situation forces him to look outside.
“Right now, Beijing is playing the neutrality game,” albeit a “twisted” neutrality that always leans in favor of Russia, explained Rosana Chiryak, a researcher from the Institute of European and Asian Studies. “In international organisations such as the UN, they refused to condemn the invasion and restricted themselves to seeking diplomatic and negotiated solutions, but never talked about war publicly. He was reluctant. In his speeches and communiques he spoke of respecting the Sovereignty and integrity. This obviously includes the country being attacked, which is Ukraine, but also Russia, because they agree that NATO’s expansion into Eastern Europe is a threat to Moscow’s interests. The only thing they say about action is that it says it “supports” and encourages”efforts to provide humanitarian assistance and prevent” massive crises”.
His response to the so-called military and economic aid disclosed by the United States is that we are faced with “completely false, pure false information.” “China’s position on the Ukraine crisis is clear and consistent. We play a constructive role and assess the situation impartially and independently. It is unacceptable to discredit China’s position,”Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said on March 14. It is the words of one man against the words of another.
To analysts, this was an expected response, as China “generally does not enter a war as a direct party unless it is a so-called younger brother, such as North Korea or Pakistan, whose influence and patronage are historical.” On the one hand, Europe is “far away” and explicitly supporting Russia would complicate its relationship with the European Union (EU), which is important because community clubs are as good buyers of it as the US. “It would also force it to change its relationship with NATO,” he recalled, which was also not in his plans. Chiriac salvaged a statement made by the Chinese ambassador to Ukraine earlier this week. “China will never attack Ukraine. We will help, especially economically,”Fan Xianrong said. This appears to be the ultimate position, even though it shares many interests with Russia.
However, the alliance with Russia is “dramatic” and he affirmed that their friendship “has no limits” and that they share a common vision, as opposed to American loyalty and blockade. “It’s at a crossroads. He knows which side he’s on while trying to avoid conflict. It’s lip service to Russia without further angering Washington. Complicated.”
There is one important fact to support the decision to stay on the sidelines: “Xi Jinping – the current Chinese President – will have a very difficult year, with a Communist Party Congress in the second half of the year and changes that will allow him to go back to the presidency in November, he has to adjust to these changes. He understandably prefers to have a calmer situation in front of him, so he will measure his pace more often, and more with that seriousness,”he said. Don’t forget, when it comes to independence and sovereignty, Taiwan is always behind the scenes in the case of China.
In a question-and-answer session posted on the website of Harvard’s Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation, China expert Anthony Saich noted that there are three possible actions that “are aligned with China.” Russia”, finally. He spoke of Beijing’s use of a veto rather than abstention from any UN resolution to criticize Russia’s actions in the Security Council, both of which are permanent members; recognizing the Russian puppet regime in Ukraine if Volodymyr Zelensky falls; refused to call the attack an “invasion” even after civilian deaths were independently confirmed.
He understands that Russia’s decision two weeks ago to put its nuclear forces on alert, escalating the crisis, could make China more cautious. Launching a lifeline to Moscow in these circumstances becomes even more difficult, and of course, he understands, it will not come from the military.
If a side is not formally chosen, if it does not change the balance of funds, some analysts have suggested that China could be a mediator in the war between Kyiv and Moscow. It is a country with enormous influence and influence, and its voice can be heard, which is a common reading, but the question is how effective it is as an interlocutor given its agreement with Russia. How will the Gordian knot work? It’s one thing to pick up the phone, it’s another to be at the center of a conflict dealing with parties. China is not a focal point, so the options will likely continue to be those countries that are now fighting behind the scenes, such as Israel and Turkey.
fear of the impact of sanctions
China is Russia’s largest trading partner, a role that has been strengthened since 2014, when Western sanctions were tightened precisely because of the war in Ukraine’s Donbass, the rise of pro-Russian rebels and Moscow’s annexation of Crimea. Since then, friendships that were once “preferred” are now “rock solid,” in Minister Wang’s words.
No alliance lasts forever, but when trade between the two countries hit an all-time record of $147 billion, it weighed heavily. Just before the war began, on February 24, Beijing and Moscow signed two important agreements that showed good relations between the two countries: lifting restrictions on the sale of Russian wheat and barley in China and buying $20 billion worth of Chinese coal. its allies.