The war in Ukraine is far from over, but a consensus is forming in Chinese political circles that one country will emerge victorious from the turmoil: China.
After a confused initial response to the Russian invasion, China has laid the foundations for a strategy to protect yourself from the worst economic and diplomatic fallout it could face, and to benefit from geopolitical changes once the smoke clears.
Chinese leader, Xi Jinpinghas avoided criticizing the Russian president Vladimir Putinbut has also tried to distance China from the carnage.
China’s Ambassador to the UN Zhang Jun addresses the United Nations Security Council, amid the Russian invasion of Ukraine, at the United Nations Headquarters in New York City, USA, on March 14, 2022. REUTERS/Andrew Kellyy
His government has denounced the international sanctions imposed on Russia but, so far at least, has hinted that Chinese companies might comply with them, to protect China’s economic interests in the West.
Last week, Xi turned to European leaders with vague offers of help brokering a deal, even as other Chinese officials amplified campaigns of disinformation Russian missions designed to discredit the United States and NATO.
Washington officials claimed, without providing evidence, that after the invasion Russia asked China for economic and military aid, which a Chinese official denounced on Monday as disinformation.
In the end, Chinese leaders have calculated that they must try to rise above what they see as a struggle between two exhausted powers and be seen as a pillar of stability in an increasingly turbulent world.
“This means that as long as we do not make terminal strategic mistakes, China’s modernization will not be cut short and, on the contrary, China will have an even greater capacity and willingness to play a most important role in building a new international order,” Zheng Yongnian, a professor at the Chinese University of Hong Kong in Shenzhen who has advised top officials, wrote in a widely circulated article after the invasion.
At the heart of China’s strategy is the conviction that the United States is weakened by its reckless adventures abroad, including, from Beijing’s perspective, bringing Putin into the Ukraine conflict.
From this point of view, which in recent days has been echoed in public statements and quasi-official analyses, the Russian invasion has drawn American power and attention to Europe, making it likely that the president Joe Bidenlike its recent predecessors, tries but fails to put more focus on China and the broader Asia-Pacific region.
“All the difficulties and all the balances and all the embarrassments The ones we’re talking about are short-term,” said Yun Sun, director of the China Program at the Stimson Center in Washington, who has studied Beijing’s actions in the run-up to the war.
“In the long run, Russia is going to be the pariah of the international community, and Russia will have no one to turn to but China.”
China’s path is by no means safe.
Getting too close to Russia would risk entrenching animosity toward China in Europe and beyond, a prospect that worries the Xi government, for all its bluster.
And yes Germany, France and other allies bolster their defenses as promised, the United States could be freed to commit more military resources to the fight against China.
Biden has vowed to assemble an “alliance of democracies,” while US military leaders say they won’t let Ukraine distract them from China.
“We also feel very, very anxious that the war between Russia and Ukraine will force Europe to lean towards the United States, and then China will be dragged into a deeper dilemma,” said Zhu Feng, a professor of international relations at Nanjing University. .
America’s allies in the Pacific, including Japan and Australia, “will also adopt a stronger military posture.”
So it all looks unfriendly to China.”
China’s initial stumbles after the Russian invasion have also raised concerns about Xi’s ability to weather aftershocks of war.
He has repeatedly warned Chinese officials that the world is entering a age of turmoil “such as has not been seen in a century.”
Yet those officials seemed ill-prepared for the upheaval of Putin’s assault on Ukraine.
Until the day of the invasion, they scoffed at warnings that Russia was prepared for war, instead accusing the United States of stoking tensions.
Since then, they have struggled to reconcile sympathy for Putin’s security concerns with their oft-avowed reverence for the principle of National sovereigntyincluding Ukraine.
Xi, in a video conference with French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor, Olaf Sholtzlamented “the rekindling of the flames of war” in Europe.
However, its diplomats have fanned the fire of Russian disinformation, accusing the United States of developing biological weapons in Ukraine.
“This is not good for China’s international reputation,” said Bobo Lo, an expert on China-Russia ties at the French Institute of International Relations.
“It’s not just China’s reputation in the West; I think it also affects China’s reputation in non-Western countries, because it’s essentially associating itself with an imperial power.”
China could also face economic disruption stemming from the war and Western efforts to punish Russia by restricting trade and cutting off its financial institutions.
Chinese officials have denounced such measures, and while the United States and its allies have shown remarkable unity in enforcing them, other countries share Beijing’s reservations about using powerful economic tools as weapons.
In any case, the Chinese economy is big enough to absorb shocks that would cripple others.
Chinese companies may even end up well-positioned to take advantage of Russia’s desperate need for trade, as happened when Moscow faced sanctions over its annexation of Crimea in 2014.
China’s strategy reflects a hardening of views toward the United States since Biden took office in 2021, in large part because officials hoped for some relaxation after the president’s chaotic and confrontational policies. donald trump
“In its China strategy, the political continuities of the Biden administration with the Trump administration clearly outweigh any differences,” Yuan Peng, president of the China Institutes for Contemporary International Relations in Beijing, wrote late last year.
“Biden has repeatedly stated that the United States is not in a ‘new cold war‘ with China, but China often feels the chill creeping everywhere.”
Whatever happens in the war, China sees deepening its ties with Russia as a way to cultivate a counterweight To united states.
The partnership that Xi and Putin forged last month at the Winter Olympics in Beijing has become too important to sacrifice, whatever misgivings some officials have about the war.
Arguing that the era of US dominance after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 was a historical anomaly, both Xi and Putin have embraced geopolitical doctrines that require their countries to reclaim great power status.
Just as Putin sees the United States as a threat to Russia on its western border, Xi sees US support for Taiwan, the autonomous island democracy that Beijing claims as its own, as a similar threat off the Chinese coast.
In recent weeks, Chinese analysts have repeatedly cited the centuries-old writings of a British geographer, Sir Halford John Mackinder.
Whoever controls Central Europe controls the vast landmass that stretches from Europe to Asia, he argued.
Who controls Eurasia can take over the world.
Aleksandr G. Dugin, a modern Russian who champions this idea, has written extensively on what he sees as a growing clash between a decadent liberal West and a conservative Eurasian continent with Russia as its soul.
Dugin, sometimes called “Putin’s philosopher,” has gained a following in China, appearing in state media and visiting Beijing in 2018 to deliver a series of lectures.
His host on that occasion was Zhang Weiwei, a propagandist-academician who has curried favor with Xi and who last year lectured the Politburo, a council of 25 top party officials.
“The West should not have become a hegemon in defining universal norms because the West or Europe, or the West in general, is only one part of humanity,” Dugin told a Chinese state television interviewer in 2019.
“And the other part, a majority of human beings, lives outside the West, in Asia.”
That aversion to international political or human rights norms, supposedly dictated by the West, has become a recurring theme in Chinese criticism of the United States.
It was the subject of a December government position paper, intended to counter Biden’s virtual summit of democratic countries, and of a lengthy statement Putin and Xi issued when they met in Beijing last month.
As it turns to Beijing for support against Western sanctions, Russia will be increasingly more in debt with China as its diplomatic and economic lifeline, while also serving as its strategic geopolitical ballast, analysts say.
“The old order is breaking down. disintegrating quickly, and strongman politics is rising again among the world’s great powers,” wrote Zheng, of the Chinese University of Hong Kong, Shenzhen.
“Countries are brimming with ambition, like tigers eyeing their prey, eager to find every opportunity among the ruins of the old order.”
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