Mar 21st 2022

Ukraine: why China is not yet bailing out Russia

by Aglaya Snetkov and Marc Lanteigne

 

Aglaya Snetkov

Lecturer in International Politics, School of Slavonic and East European Studies (SSEES)

 

Marc Lanteigne

Associate Professor of Political Science, University of Tromsø

 

 

As Russia’s war in Ukraine continues, China’s role has been thrown into sharp relief. Prior to the war, some commentators suggested that China would openly side with Russia or seek to act as a mediator – so far Beijing appears to have resisted doing either.

As Qin Gang, China’s ambassador to the US, wrote recently in the Washington Post, Beijing has nothing to gain from this war, arguing “wielding the baton of sanctions at Chinese companies while seeking China’s support and cooperation simply won’t work”. Ambassador Qin also stressed that Beijing had no prior knowledge of the conflict, rejected any attempts to profit from the crisis and called on all sides to join peace negotiations.

Since Russia began the war in Ukraine, China has declared a de facto policy of neutrality. So far, Chinese foreign minister, Wang Yi, has been at pains to point out “China is not a party to the crisis, nor does it want sanctions to affect China”. The decision to stay neutral reflects Beijing’s precarious position in the conflict. China had previously sought greater alignment with the Putin regime, based on shared antipathy to US and western power, including via a joint statement struck earlier this year, which confirmed a partnership with “no limits” and “no forbidden areas of cooperation”.

Since the Ukraine invasion, Beijing has not explicitly condoned nor condemned Russia’s actions in Ukraine and has hesitated to refer to the crisis as a war. Crucially, it also chose to abstain from both a United Nations Security Council resolution vote to end the Ukraine crisis and a UN General Assembly vote condemning Moscow’s actions. It has, however, recently described its relationship with Russia as “iron-clad”.

There have been fears that China could use the cover of this crisis to press its territorial claims on Taiwan. But the pervasive international condemnation of the Ukraine invasion, and the mounting list of tactical failures of the Russian military, makes the chances of action by Beijing against Taiwan less likely.

Treading a careful line

However, China has also been very careful not to make enemies in Europe. Ukraine and much of the former Soviet Union are key components in China’s ongoing Belt-and-Road initiatives to build a massive international infrastructure of trade routes. In his Washington Post article, ambassador Qin explicitly talks about China’s history of trade with Ukraine, as well as with Russia. These moves all clearly signal that China is trying to steer a complex course between Russia and the west.

Beijing is, of course, also mindful of the reputational damage that siding with Moscow would have. While many of the Chinese brands have not pulled out of Russia, unlike their western counterparts, the withdrawal of Chinese-owned TikTok was a sign that Beijing was also keeping an eye on its international reputation.

Western sanctions and rouble volatility mean Chinese firms are not keen to jump into the Russian market to replace departing western companies. This is especially since any foreign assistance to Russia would be swiftly noticed by the international community. But the Chinese leadership has also been critical of US threats to retaliate should Beijing be seen as assisting Russia in evading international sanctions.

Rather than trying to get Beijing to act as a mediator in the conflict, western powers seem most concerned about China offering an economic or military lifeline to Russia. This would undermine the myriad sanctions and punitive measures that the west has put in place against the Putin regime, effectively unplugging Russia from the global economy.

A map in yellow and pink of China's Belt and Road initiative.
China’s Belt and Road inititative, above, is a plan to create international trade routes. Shutterstock

There have been worrying reports, since denied by both governments, that Chinese-Russian logistical and military cooperation was under discussion. This concern was the subject of talks between US and Chinese officials in Rome on March 14. President Xi is not in the best position to face international ire over Russia given China’s slowing economy and ongoing internal battles over rising cases of COVID. There’s also a Chinese Communist Party Congress later this year when Xi is expected to be granted a third term in office, but will face questions about the country’s economic reforms and post-pandemic recovery.

While China’s economy is far more robust than Russia’s, the Xi government is still not able to risk the same global ostracism as Moscow. China’s ambitious economic expansion plans are based on a globalised economy. It is in Chinese interests now to protect that economy from a volatile period exacerbated by the pandemic, supply chain questions and a conflict which is already rattling numerous markets around the world.

Aglaya Snetkov, Lecturer in International Politics, School of Slavonic and East European Studies (SSEES), UCL and Marc Lanteigne, Associate Professor of Political Science, University of Tromsø

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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May 8th 2022
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May 4th 2022
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May 3rd 2022
EXTRACT: " The conventional wisdom among students of the Russian arts and sciences is that Russian culture is “great.” The problem is that, while there are surely great individuals within Russian culture, the culture as a whole cannot avoid responsibility for Putin and his regime’s crimes." ---- "Russianists will not be able to avoid examining themselves and their Russian cultural icons for harbingers of the present catastrophe. What does it mean that Fyodor Dostoevsky was a Russian chauvinist? That Nikolai Gogol and Anton Chekhov were Ukrainian? That Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn was an unvarnished imperialist? That Aleksandr Pushkin was a troubadour of Russian imperial greatness? May these writers still be read without one eye on the ongoing atrocities in Ukraine?"
Apr 29th 2022
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Apr 24th 2022
EXTRACT: "Although the milestone lasted only for a brief time, it points to a future in which California runs on 100% wind, solar, hydro and batteries, a future that will certainly arrive even faster than the state plans. As it is, California is ahead of its green energy goals." ...... "A world of 100% green energy and electric cars is not only a healthier and more comfortable world, it is a world where oil and gas dictators like Vladimir Putin are defunded."
Apr 17th 2022
EXTRACT: "Kazakhstan’s authorities have also showed uncharacteristic leniency in allowing public rallies in support of Ukraine. Thousands of protesters holding banners reading “Russians, leave Ukraine”, “Long Live Ukraine” and “Bring Putin to trial” marched across the capital, Almaty, wrapping monuments to Lenin and other Soviet-era figures with yellow and blue balloons symbolising the Ukrainian flag."
Apr 15th 2022
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Apr 13th 2022
EXTRACT: "Worse yet, the Hungarian government has effectively been helping Putin by prohibiting the shipment of weapons to Ukraine across its borders. Hungarian public TV spreads Russian disinformation day and night. The day before the election, an assembly of ordinary people expressing solidarity with Ukraine was framed on state television as a “pro-war rally.” "
Apr 13th 2022
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Apr 13th 2022
EXTRACTS" "Ukraine and Russia produce a substantial amount of grain and other food for export. Ukraine alone produces a whopping 6% of all food calories traded in the international market. At least it used to, before it was invaded by the world’s largest nuclear power." ...... "When it comes to cereals like wheat, corn, rice and barley, the big players talk about millions of metric tonnes, or MMTs. A single MMT of wheat contains about 3.4 trillion food calories,." ....."Ukraine produced about 80 MMT of grain (a category that includes wheat, corn and barley) in 2021, and is expected to harvest less than half of that this year. A shortfall of 40 MMT is enough missing calories that a country like the UK could only make it up by having everyone stop eating for three years. That’s the thing about tonnes of grain: a million here and a million there and pretty soon you’ve got a real issue on your plate."
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Apr 8th 2022
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Apr 3rd 2022
EXTRACT: "From 1807 to 1814 on the Iberian peninsula, Napoleon had to fight Spanish, Portuguese and British armies while beset by ubiquitous, ferocious insurgents. He described this war as his “bleeding ulcer”, draining him of men and equipment. It is the west’s aim to make Ukraine for Putin what Spain was for Napoleon. In the absence of a negotiated settlement, Ukraine and Nato will continue to grind away at Russia’s army, digging away at that bleeding ulcer and prolonging Russia’s agony on the military front, as the west continues its parallel assault on its economy. If Putin’s plan is to proceed with the Korea model, he will fail. There is a strong possibility that Putin has only a limited idea of how badly his army is faring. So be it – he’ll find out soon enough that there is now no path for him to military victory."
Apr 1st 2022
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Apr 1st 2022
EXTRACT: "For Putin, the past that matters most is the one the dissident author and Nobel laureate Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn exalted: the time when the Slavic peoples were united within the Orthodox Christian kingdom of Kievan Rus’. Kyiv formed its heart, making Ukraine central to Putin’s pan-Slavic vision. ---- But, for Putin, the Ukraine war is about preserving Russia, not just expanding it. As Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov recently made clear, Russia’s leaders believe that their country is locked in a “life-and-death battle to exist on the world’s geopolitical map.” That worldview reflects Putin’s longstanding obsession with works of other Russian emigrant philosophers, such as Ivan Ilyin and Nikolai Berdyaev, who described a struggle for the Eurasian (Russian) soul against the Atlanticists (the West) who would destroy it. ---- Yet Putin and his neo-Eurasianists seem to believe that the key to victory is to create the kind of regime those anti-Bolshevik philosophers most detested: one run by the security forces. A police state would fulfill the vision of another of Putin’s heroes: the KGB chief turned Soviet General Secretary Yuri Andropov."
Apr 1st 2022
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Mar 31st 2022
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Mar 26th 2022
EXTRACT: "Referencing past legacies as a justification for present-day political decisions is often effective – such appeals trigger emotional reflexes and contribute to thinking about politics in terms of rivalry and defence. The irony within the tragedy of the current situation is that Putin will assuredly go down in history as the figure that did more to unite the Ukrainian people (albeit against Russia) than any other in recent memory."
Mar 24th 2022
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