Russia’s military operation in Ukraine and the consequent economic embargo of Moscow by the West is the largest upheaval in world politics since at least the end of the Cold War. The result will be a complete reformatting of the country’s foreign economic relations and its economic model, as well as Russia and the US sinking into a protracted military-political confrontation in Eastern Europe.
Both factors will have a direct impact on the situation in East Asia amidst a gradually growing confrontation between China and Washington there. As a result of standing on the sidelines of the crisis and calling on the parties to show restraint, Beijing will be the only world center of power to benefit from the Ukrainian catastrophe in the long run. It is possible that the events in Ukraine will predestine China’s success in opposing the United States.
China’s position on the Ukrainian crisis
The Chinese position on the Ukrainian crisis was expressed to the fullest in a telephone conversation between its Foreign Minister Wang Yi and a number of his European colleagues. In brief, it boils down to five points:
China believes it is necessary to protect and respect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of all countries.
China stands for common, sustainable, comprehensive security. The security of some countries cannot be enhanced at the expense of others by strengthening or expanding military blocs. Given the five waves of NATO expansion, Russia’s legitimate security demands must be taken seriously and properly responded to.
China is closely monitoring the situation in Ukraine and what is happening there is not what it would like to see. The parties must exercise restraint, avoid escalation, and prevent a humanitarian crisis and the death of civilians.
China supports any diplomatic efforts that could lead to a peaceful solution of the Ukrainian crisis. China welcomes direct dialogue between Russia and Ukraine. The Ukrainian issue has a complex historical context. Ukraine should be a bridge between East and West, not a line of confrontation between great powers. China also supports EU-Russian dialogue on European security.
The UN Security Council should play a constructive role in resolving the Ukrainian crisis and avoid actions that could exacerbate points of contention.
China has expressed its regret over the ongoing tragedy, and welcomes any negotiations leading to peace. This is the rhetoric traditionally heard from Beijing regarding conflicts and crises in which it is not involved. The Xi Jiping government has avoided condemning Russia, while leveling veiled criticism at the West for NATO expansion and its unwillingness to listen to Moscow’s security concerns.
Chinese officials are not calling Russia’s actions in Ukraine an ‘invasion’. Its state media does not publish materials that present Moscow and its president in a negative light. In the Chinese blogosphere, Vladimir Putin, as well as his actions and rhetoric connected with the Ukrainian operation, are met with wide approval by nationalist-minded people who draw parallels between this situation and China’s relationship with Taiwan.
Despite widespread speculation that Beijing, as Russia’s only remaining friendly major trading partner, could put pressure on Moscow to conclude a peace agreement as soon as possible, there is no indication that Beijing has even considered doing so.