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How to understand properly China’s role in the Ukraine War



Since the war between Russia and Ukraine broke out six weeks ago, the U.S-led allies and partners in Europe and Asia have rallied against Russia by employing all kinds of means including outrageous supply of lethal weapons to Ukraine. Despite the fact the warring parties have kept peace talking from time to time, it is apparent that the fiat on the Ukraine side is not from Kyiv but from Washington. As a PhD scholar from Ukraine and now studying in China said to me that “Now Ukraine can’t stop the war at least for three reasons:

1) if the President stops the war and let’s Russia gain some territories, this will be a political disaster for him. Since the people in Ukraine are filled with propaganda, they want to continue fighting;

2) the U.S. and Britain have helped Ukraine and have clear influence on the Ukrainian government, they don’t want this war to finish;

3) Ukrainian government thinks that this war will kill Russia as a state, that is why the elite in Kyiv will continue the war. Yes, people are dying due to sufferings, but now nobody cares. It’s all about big political game, not about people.”

There is no question that the U.S. and its core allies have waged three wars against Russia: economic sanctions on Russian people, disinformation smearing Russia generally and President Putin particularly, and diplomatic rows to weaken Russia’s legitimacy by a bunch of pawn states. As a Russian scholar from Tomsk put it, what has been happening in the world is “not only and not so much about Ukraine, it is an attempt to create a new world order. Ukraine has been chosen by the U.S.-led NATO as a tool to challenge the legitimate security concerns of Russia and after that, China will be the next target. Given the “hybrid war” launched by the U.S.-led allies against Russia without holding anything back, what can we do? She answered firmly “Russians will do their best!”

Under such circumstances, the U.S., NATO and the EU have also lost no time to coercive China and many other countries to side with the “anti-Russian” force. Yet, China has stressed that as a permanent member of the UN Security Council, it will continue to work with the international community rather than any political block, in accordance with the wishes of the parties concerned and taking into account the needs of the development of the situation, to continue to play a constructive role in promoting peace talks. In response to the world-wide question about what role China plays on the Ukraine issue, Beijing has reiterated that China and Russia are the comprehensive strategic partner with “no limits” in safeguarding a multiple world order. Yet, China has equally respected all legitimate rights of Ukraine as a sovereign state. Accordingly, China strives to play a responsible and constructive role in calling for a ceasefire to end the war and obviously to endorse the two sides to carry out direct dialogue for peace.

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For some reasons, China’s position on the Ukraine issue has been questioned and even misperceived by international media and scholars. For instance, recently Harvard scholar Joseph Nye wrote that if there is any way to end this nightmare quickly, one possibility is for Chinese President Xi Jinping to play the role of “honest broker”. It is clear that Turkey, Israel and France (among others) are attempting to mediate in Russia’s current war, but they do not have nearly as much leverage with Putin as his ally Xi does. In addition, China has remarkable economic clouts to the Russian battering economy. Yet, the question is whether Xi has the imagination and the courage to use it. In order to verify his argument, Nye used the model role of Teddy Roosevelt, the former U.S. president who succeeded in mediating the brutal war between Russia and Japan in 1905. Due to his smart pressure for the parties to compromise and ultimately it prevailed, thereby boosting America’s global influence and winning himself a Nobel Peace Prize.

Professor Nye is correct in terms of the personal and political relations between Xi and Putin since both are staunch defender of a multilateral world order. Yet, he is incorrect to claim that since China has long portrayed itself as a defender of the principles of sovereignty and territorial integrity, it has tolerated Putin’s brazen violation of the United Nations Charter. When the UN Security Council voted on a resolution condemning Russia’s invasion, China abstained. China has criticized Western sanctions against Russia and accused the war being designed by the U.S.-led NATO to pursue its eastward enlargement. As a matter of fact, realism scholars John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt and many others have shared this view with China. It is laughable that Nye talked of the case that some Chinese have openly suggested that Beijing should mediate to give Putin an “off-ramp” from his disastrous Ukraine policy. Yet, the case mentioned above is that this scholar has no strictly conventional training in the study of international politics, foreign policy and geopolitical security background.

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China will continue following its ancient wisdom of statecraft and the current geopolitical security interests. It will not criticize Russia according to what the U.S. and its allies have expected. China is well-aware of the golden-motto of “without lips the teeth will be hurt directly.” As the close neighbors and great nuclear powers, China and Russia can help each other in all scenarios to meet any sorts of challenges. It is apparent that China does not seek selfish geopolitical interests over Ukraine, nor does it hold an indifferent attitude to the conflict, not to mention adding fuel to the fire given that Russia and Ukraine have expressed their willingness to make a peace deal.

It is clear that this is not only a defining moment for Europe or any part of the world, but it is also a defining moment for the relationship among all the countries of the world. China has consistently endorsed humanitarian aid to Ukraine and its people while upholding the fundamental tenets of the UN Charter. Yet, China, as a permanent member of the UN Security Council, has a very special responsibility to safeguard the peace, justice and fairness. Although the U.S., NATO and the EU have claimed that more than 40 countries in total have joined these sanctions on Russia, they have ignored the fact the huge population including China, India, Pakistan and Indonesia, etc., have adopt not to side with the anti-Russian bloc, though including the G7 rich club.

No doubt, Nye is a prestigious scholar but George Kennan and Henry Kissinger are much balanced geopolitical strategic doyens. It is out of the question that a strong Europe can exist without a stable and strong Russia. Echoing this logic, it is impossible for the world to have long peace without a strong strategic partnership between China and Russia. Even if this war heralds that America’s alliances have been reinforced, with Germany and Japan embracing a far more muscular defense posture than at any time in decades, Russia’s reputation as a formidable military power has suffered a serious blow. However, with a solidarity with China, India and having its own huge natural resources and military capacity, Russia will be able to reemerge as a more robust power in a very short time. China’s friendship with Russia is built upon the shared security concerns and strategic consensus on the realpolitik that the United States has pursued Pax Americana while rejecting any peers in the world affairs.

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