As Putin’s War Drags On, China’s Discomfiture Increases

There is a lot of conjecture about the strategic relationship between China and Russia, and the degree of knowledge that Chairman Xi Jinping had before President Vladimir Putin launched his lamentable invasion of Ukraine.

This war is proving to be fraught with risks for China, putting Beijing in an awkward nexus as it tries to juggle support for its ally while pretending to be neutral.

As the Ministry of Truth’s adage in George Orwell’s classic book Nineteen Eighty-Four went, “War is peace; Freedom is slavery; Ignorance is strength”. This is the kind of absurd contradictions that Beijing tries to get away with, obfuscating the truth. In fact, China cannot even bring itself to label Putin’s gambit as an “invasion” or “war”.

China has tried hard to portray itself as neutral in this conflict, but it is patently obvious that it is not easy walking such a tightrope. Russian talking points are blithely repeated by Chinese officials, one example being the ridiculous notion that the USA has biological warfare laboratories in Ukraine.

Zhang Jun, China’s Ambassador to the United Nations (UN), told the General Assembly, “The situation has evolved to a point which China does not wish to see. It is not in the interest of any party.” This comment went further than any other Chinese official has gone, and sounded positive.

However, the same ambassador also remarked that “intensifying unilateral sanctions” was more “deeply concerning” than the intensifying invasion of an independent country. “War is peace; Freedom is slavery; Ignorance is strength”.

China’s twisted thinking forces it to be creative in its verbal gymnastics as it defends the indefensible. One key principle that China cannot reconcile is the inviolable nature of sovereign territory, which it loves to preach about. Additionally, it decries anyone interfering in the internal affairs of others. Yet Russia has broken both of China’s cardinal rules, and has received no criticism from Beijing. How can Beijing be so hypocritical?

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi thus told Ukrainian counterpart Dmytro Kuleba in a phone call, “The security of one country shouldn’t be achieved at the expense of the security of other countries, and the regional security can’t be achieved by expanding military blocs.”

These are empty words, for Xi refuses to criticize Putin. Not only that, but Beijing has supported Putin’s narrative that Russia is the aggrieved party, that NATO is a guilty party, and that Ukraine has deservingly brought this attack upon itself. At home on the internet, for example, or on the world stage, China has staunchly shielded Russia from criticism.

In February, during the Beijing Winter Olympics, China and Russia signed a strategic agreement for a partnership that has “no limits”. That seems to be holding true, even as one of the parties wantonly invades another nation.

China and Russia do not implicitly trust each other, but their leaders, who have met 38 times since 2013, have built up rapport. They certainly share values such as spurning human rights, seeking imperial expansionism, and desiring to leave a legacy as strongman leaders who oversaw their nation’s rise to the proper place in the world.

The two countries certainly share similar ambitions of sidelining and diminishing the West, particularly the USA. Other than bland calls for negotiations, there is no evidence that Xi has put any pressure on Putin to end the conflict.

Those who are calling upon Xi to help broker a ceasefire are simply naive. China’s principles are no better than Russia’s, and it harbors the same militaristic ambitions against Taiwan as Putin does with Ukraine.

Interestingly, a report in the Financial Times quoted US intelligence officials as saying that Moscow may have approached Beijing to obtain military equipment and supplies for use in Ukraine. It is impossible to corroborate this, but as Putin’s war enters its third week, the Russian military has made far slower progress than expected and has suffered colossal losses.

In terms of armored vehicles, for example, the Russian Army has already lost more than the equivalent of the entire British Army’s entire armored vehicle fleet. If China were to offer such overt support, it would underscore Chinese complicity. It is

difficult to see what benefit that would bring to China, as it would make the Ukraine conflict a proxy war involving China.

Jake Sullivan, the US National Security Advisor, was due to meet China’s Yang Jiechi in Rome on 14 March. Before Sullivan’s departure, he warned China not to “bail out” Russia by circumventing Western sanctions.

For a week partway through the Olympics, the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) top leadership disappeared from public view. Presumably, the seven members of the Politburo Standing Committee (PSC) were discussing the brewing Ukraine crisis and how to play it.

Siding with Putin might have brought reward if Russia had knifed through Ukraine militarily, and NATO and the USA had shown weakness and internal dissension. However, the longer the conflict goes on, the heavier is the price for China, and it becomes harder to plead neutrality.

It is unknown whether there was internal debate among the PSC as to the wisest course of action. Xi’s style of leadership is top down, and he has been dismantling the collective leadership model since grabbing the reins of power. If the PSC were to demand a change of policy regarding Ukraine, this would amount to personal defeat for Xi.

A year ago, Xi declared, “The East is rising, and the West is in decline.” However, he might have been premature in such a conclusion. Indeed, China may have ignored or missed all the danger signs, so serious was Xi in aligning with Russia.

Kurt Campbell, the US senior coordinator for Indo-Pacific Policy at the National Security Council, said, “It’s undeniable that, right now, China is occupying an awkward nexus in which they’re trying to sustain their deep and fundamental relationship with Russia.” Campbell added that China chose not to weigh in to US-led discouragement of any Russian invasion.

General Kenneth Wilsbach, commander of US Pacific Air Forces, also mused about the Xi-Putin summit in early February: “I’d like to know what happened there because, clearly, we’ve seen that Russia did invade. Did Xi lie to the world? Was he propagating the Russian misinformation? Was he duped by the Russians? Or was he just wrong?”

Additionally, CIA Director William Burns commented, “I do think…that they have been surprised and unsettled to some extent by what they’ve seen in Ukraine over the last 12 days, everything from the strength of the Western reaction to the way in which Ukrainians have fiercely resisted.”

An ongoing war will hurt China economically too. Last year, China imported 320 million tons of coal, 512.98 million tons of crude oil, and 121.36 million tons of natural gas. This represented a 19.9% year-on-year jump, cementing China as the world’s largest energy consumer. The cost of oil and transport – essential for China’s factories – will hit home.

While China may buy Russian farm and energy exports, it is still largely complying with Western financial sanctions, since Beijing fears losing access to the dollar-based global trading system.

China’s military has often turned to Ukraine for military technology too. The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) obtained its first aircraft carrier from Ukraine, although at the time it had been stripped of equipment. It also obtained plans of the Su-33 aircraft, on which it based its J-15 carrier-borne fighter. Engines for JL-10 trainer jets, tanks and amphibious assault vehicles have come from Ukraine, as did the first 30 turbines for Type 052D destroyers (the turbines are now license-produced in China).

Command systems for Chinese missiles probably also emanated from Ukraine. Furthermore, Ukraine has also been a fertile hunting ground for China to employ various technical experts. So there will be a price for the PLA from this war.

It was never likely that China would use the cover of the Ukraine war to attempt an invasion of Taiwan. Nonetheless, China will be drawing numerous lessons from the Ukraine conflict. Thus, Taiwan Foreign Minister Joseph Wu warned on day twelve of the Russian invasion: “I believe that China’s leaders are…watching the situation and trying to draw their own conclusions. The danger is that if they believe that the West’s response to the Russian invasion is weak, and lacks impact, they could take that as a positive sign [for an invasion of Taiwan].”

One lesson is the danger of underestimating the resolve of people defending their homeland. Certainly, Xi failed to predict the strength of feeling among Hong Kongers when he tried to restrict their freedoms. This was a major blunder by Xi, even though Hong Kong people are among the world’s most pragmatic. Taiwan might well put up ferocious resistance as Ukraine has.

Another lesson is how Russian aggression helped forge unexpected unity in Europe and around the world in support of Ukraine. International corporations have pulled entirely out of the Russian market, and would likely do the same in China. Like Russia, many countries at the UN would condemn China for any unprovoked Chinese attack on Taiwan.

Russian actions against Ukraine are pushing Finland and Sweden into seriously considering joining NATO. Likewise, continued Chinese aggression could force other Asian counties even closer into alliances with the USA. If China continues to support Russia, this will further alarm Southeast Asian nations already concerned about Chinese belligerence.

A troubling lesson that Chinese strategists might take is the need for overwhelming firepower at the start of a conflict. Any invasion of Taiwan would not be as restrained as Russia’s was, as the PLA could pursue a far more vigorous and aggressive doctrine.

The CCP insists that Taiwan is part of China, and that its fate is therefore a domestic matter. Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said, “Taiwan is an inalienable part of China’s territory, and the Taiwan issue is entirely China’s internal affair.” He labeled it a “naked double standard” to conflate the Taiwan and Ukraine issues.

Of course, this is how the CCP tries to worm its way out of the fact that it is militarily bullying an independent nation. Wang argued, “We have seen that some people emphasise the principle of sovereignty on the Ukraine issue, but continue to undermine China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity on the Taiwan issue.” He blamed Taiwan for current tensions because it refuses to be part of China. In fact, Taiwan has never in its history been ruled by the CCP.

No matter what happens now in Ukraine, Russia has been incredibly weakened. Its GDP was already just a sixth of China’s, and new sanctions will only magnify the difference. Moscow has been excommunicated from the world stage and, more than ever, Russia will be subservient to China. Beijing even may be able to exact a steeper price in such things as technological and military transfers.

This war could turn Russia into just a larger version of North Korea in terms of its relations with China. Significantly, however, China has never abandoned North Korea, no matter how much Pyongyang has antagonized others. China will presumably support Russia the same way. Xi certainly does not want Putin toppled, so he will continue to support his neighbor as much as he can get away with. Historically, China has been leery of having a militarily strong Russia on its border, but Russia’s strength is seeping away.

China tries to paint itself as a responsible global leader, but this image is being tarnished daily, as is Beijing’s relations with Europe. If China comes to be seen as part of an axis alongside Russia, this will represent a serious diplomatic and economic setback. China does not want to become more isolated for having thrown its weight behind Moscow, and so its tightrope act continues. (ANI)

0 0 votes
Article Rating
Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

We use cookies to give you the best online experience. By agreeing you accept the use of cookies in accordance with our cookie policy.

Privacy Settings saved!
Privacy Settings

When you visit any web site, it may store or retrieve information on your browser, mostly in the form of cookies. Control your personal Cookie Services here.

These cookies are essential in order to enable you to move around the website and use its features. Without these cookies basic services cannot be provided.

Cookie generated by applications based on the PHP language. This is a general purpose identifier used to maintain user session variables. It is normally a random generated number, how it is used can be specific to the site, but a good example is maintaining a logged-in status for a user between pages.

Used on sites built with Wordpress. Tests whether or not the browser has cookies enabled
  • wordpress_test_cookie

In order to use this website we use the following technically required cookies
  • wordpress_test_cookie
  • wordpress_logged_in_
  • wordpress_sec

Decline all Services
Accept all Services
Would love your thoughts, please comment.x