Senior U.S. leaders and their Chinese counterparts witnessed sharp exchanges last week after reports from U.S. intelligence services that Russia had asked China for specific weapons and financial assistance to help the country’s war effort against Ukraine. Russian and Chinese officials denied the reports, but U.S. President Joe Biden raised the issue with Chinese President Xi Jinping in a March 18 telephone conversation.
Biden described the “implications and consequences” if China provided material support to Russia in this war (the details of the consequences were not clarified). Xi asked President Biden to have a direct conversation with Russia, saying that conflict and confrontation were not in anyone’s interest.
Biden tried to soften his harsh talk by reiterating that the United States was not seeking a new Cold War or changes in China’s system (regime change), a stronger alliance against China, Taiwan’s “secession” or conflict with China. Xi said he took these remarks seriously, but complained that the US side had not followed up on the “important understandings” reached earlier (a reference to high-level visits and security assistance provided by the US to Taiwan).
Chinese officials and foreign policy experts say Washington still viewed China as its “biggest strategic competitor.” It had taken various measures to limit China’s influence by imposing a series of sanctions and tariffs on the supply of technology and trade with China, and criticized it unfairly for denying human rights to the Uighurs in Xinjiang, democratic rights and freedoms for the people of Hong Kong. .
Russia is China’s strategic partner and helps it challenge the unfair US-dominated global order. The Ukraine war has forced the United States to pay attention to security in Europe, giving China valuable time to build its forces. A strong partnership with Russia will provide her continuous supply of oil, gas and food in its rivalry with the United States. China has an edge over the United States over conventional forces in its immediate region. If the latter were to use its nuclear threat against China, Beijing could be dependent on Russia’s huge nuclear arsenal. The Sino-Russian partnership has stood the test of time and is rock solid. China will really be isolated without Russia once the Ukraine crisis is over. China should not go back to the old days of having the United States and Russia as two opponents at the same time.
The Ukraine conflict is the result of the wrong policies of the United States by ignoring Russia’s legitimate security concerns and driving NATO’s expansion to the east. China can not regret the mistake made by the United States by leaving Russia out in the construction of the European security architecture.
The Chinese authorities have encouraged pro-Russian propaganda on its mainstream media, while censoring social media of posts that are too critical of Russia. This was necessary to portray the correctness of Xi’s “no borders” relationship with Russia, which was created last month. As the war resulted in the killing and displacement of millions of people and the massive destruction of civilian infrastructure, China became more subdued in its support for Russia’s failure to vote on some UN resolutions to convey its neutrality and support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. .
In addition to political interests, China has strong economic, scientific and technological ties with both Russia and Ukraine. China is Russia’s largest trading partner, and in 2019, China bought 14.3 percent of Russia’s exports, about $ 58 billion, and shipped 22 percent of Russia’s imports, about $ 47 billion. The main products exported by Russia to China include crude oil, gas and food, military equipment, while China exported manufactured goods, electronic equipment and communications equipment. While Russia has sold S-400 air defense systems, Su-35 fighter jets, Kilo-class submarines to China, sales of ground combat systems, strategic bombers and land-based missiles have been avoided for fear of potential use against Moscow later.
China has been a major buyer of military equipment from Ukraine, including turbofan engines for aircraft, diesel engines for tanks, gas turbines for destroyers and air-to-air missiles for their J-11 aircraft. In 1998, China purchased an incomplete sob from a Soviet aircraft carrier from Ukraine, put into service in 2012 as its first aircraft carrier, the Liaoning. China’s trade with Ukraine amounted to $ 15.37 billion (2020), exports to $ 7.12 billion and imports to $ 8.25 billion. Since 2020, Ukraine has been a major transit hub for China’s rail links with Europe.
While China has publicly opposed the economic sanctions imposed on Russia by the United States and other countries, calling them “outrageous and unilateral,” which would force a nuclear power such as Russia into a corner, Chinese companies and banks have quietly complied. . Two of China’s largest banks, the Bank of China and the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China, have restricted funding and purchases of Russian commodities since the sanctions were imposed. China will continue to buy oil, gas, wheat and other goods from Russia just like other countries.
Another critical concern for Beijing is how the war in Ukraine will affect its global trade and its economic and technological cooperation with the United States and Europe. Sky-high commodity prices are putting pressure on Chinese companies, which are already facing weak global demand. China faces several domestic challenges, such as frequent outbreaks of Covid and declining economic growth. Its leader Xi Jinping, who is seeking an unprecedented third term as president later this year, longs for stability to project the image of a strong country under his leadership.
Although the scale of the Russian attack on Ukraine has troubled the Chinese leadership, China will continue to maintain its entente with Moscow as it does not see much hope of improving relations with Washington. At the same time, it will try to avoid provoking the West by supplying military weapons to Russia or violating the sanctions, at least openly.
(Yogesh Gupta is a former ambassador)
Disclaimer: The views expressed above are the author’s own. They do not necessarily reflect DH’s views.
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