The Ukrainian crisis could upset Sino-Russian relations

Amid the looming threat of a Russian invasion of Ukraine, Western nations continue to use a wide range of policy options, including diplomacy and security assistance, to avert the risk of a total war in Eastern Europe. The UK supplies short-range anti-tank missiles to Ukraine. Canada is deploying a special operations forces unit. And a delegation of US senators met with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Monday, followed today by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

But while Western countries have reacted vocally to the buildup of 100,000 Russian troops on the border with Ukraine, China has mostly remained silent.

Speaking at a press briefing on Monday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian offered what Taylor Fravel, a Chinese foreign policy expert, described on Twitter as “a salad of diplomatic words”, revealing little about Beijing’s position.

“We embrace a vision of common, comprehensive, cooperative and sustainable global security, advocate balanced and fair treatment of security issues and security initiatives of relevant countries, and resolve differences through dialogue and consultation,” he said. said Mr. Zhao during the briefing.

China’s muted response to rising tensions between Ukraine and Russia underscores its generally wait-and-see approach to managing geopolitical crises, of which it has relatively little experience. Beijing has taken a similar stance on Russia’s recent intervention in Kazakhstan, prioritizing short-term economic and political stability above all else, but only calling for the restoration of order several days after the onset of violent disturbances.

China hopes to “strike a balance in its relationship with Russia and the United States by not taking a clear public position that might antagonize either,” said Fravel, director of the China Studies program. security at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. , told the World Politics Review.

Beijing’s reluctance to make bold statements also reflects its lack of a clear political framework to deal with the crisis, given its conflicting interests, Fravel added. On the one hand, China might want to support Russia, its apparent ally, especially in the face of their shared rivalry with the United States. On the other, Beijing insists on adhering to its longstanding policy of non-interference in other countries’ internal affairs. In addition, Beijing has its own economic and political interests in Ukraine, which is an important trading partner and a major supplier of arms and military expertise to China.

Beijing is unlikely to sacrifice its long term interests in Ukraine only for warmer relations with Russia, said Temur Umarov, China and Central Asia expert at the Carnegie Moscow Center. Despite the budding partnership between the two countries and their leaders, “people overestimate the level of unity in the foreign policies of Russia and China, as well as the level of understanding between the two countries,” he said. said, citing Russia’s refusal to support Beijing’s position. on thorny disputes in the South China Sea, for example.

Likewise, even if Russia does eventually invade Ukraine, China is unlikely to play an active role in diplomatic efforts to defuse the situation. “China would not be involved in the crisis,” Umarov stressed. “He doesn’t have the instrument to influence the situation and he doesn’t have any visible bonuses.”

Mathieu Duchatel, director of the Asia program at the Institut Montaigne in Paris, believes that, despite its passive role as a distant observer, Beijing has everything to gain from the situation.

“At a minimum, the crisis is a test of the Biden administration’s resolve and strength. The US response will provide important answers as Beijing pursues its own plans to change the status quo in East Asia,” Duchatel said. At best, he added, it will permanently distract Washington’s attention from the Indo-Pacific.

Although China has not openly endorsed Russia’s list of demands aimed at defusing the situation – including a permanent revocation of Ukraine’s 2008 NATO membership offer and the withdrawal of troops and NATO missiles from Eastern Europe – the absence of vocal opposition can be implicitly interpreted as tacit. support, Duchatel said.

“Overall, Russian actions are consistent with Chinese plans to transform the balance of power between liberal democracies and authoritarian regimes and to overthrow the US-led international security order,” he said. -he adds.

Similarly, Michael Schuman, a nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Global China Hub, argued in the Atlantic that the outcome of the standoff in Ukraine has broader implications for security and stability in other countries. other regions. In particular, Beijing is likely to see the Ukraine-Russia conflict as an opportunity to gauge the strength of Washington’s response, adjusting its own political calculations regarding the use of force for unification with Taiwan accordingly.

Fravel and Umarov, however, caution against drawing hasty parallels between Ukraine and Taiwan, given differences in historical background, political circumstances, and the level of Washington’s security engagement with the two states, among many many other factors distinguishing the two issues.

Although China continues to watch Ukraine with keen interest, it does so from a distance and with a dose of caution.

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Worth reading

Months after China’s brutal crackdown on the private education sector, Chinese parents are still feeling the effects of new rules banning private lessons, Wenxin Fan of the Wall Street Journal reported. The new regulations were ostensibly implemented to relieve parents and children of academic pressure. Instead, they fueled anxiety about falling behind in an already pronounced context. social inequality, as low-income households cannot afford workarounds, such as hiring live-in nannies who effectively fulfill the role of guardian.

China Note-Taker writes anonymously for personal security reasons.

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