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Russia-Ukraine: Whose side is China on?

Russia-Ukraine: Whose side is China on?

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President Xi Jinping has said his friendship with Vladimir Putin has “no limits”. So what does he make of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine?


“Few global leaders have gone to Beijing to be at the opening but the Russian president Vladimir Putin is there.” 

BBC News

In early February, Russian president Vladimir Putin arrived in Beijing on a rare foreign visit for the opening ceremony of the Winter Olympics.

“This morning he held a meeting with his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping who gave his support to Russia’s security and foreign policy aims.” 

BBC News

The two leaders signed a 5,000 word statement pledging no limits to their cooperation. They promised to work together on artificial intelligence, Climate Change, space exploration, and control of the internet.

China also gave its backing to Russia’s demand that the Nato alliance of western countries stops admitting new members.

So there was little surprise when China’s foreign minister said the ties between the two countries were “rock solid”. 

Because in all of their discussions, Russia and China appeared united on one thing they both see as a problem: Western expansion.

***

Four day after the Beijing Winter Games ended Vladimir Putin invaded Ukraine, an attack the west was quick to condemn while China’s diplomats maintained a studied silence.

And when the United Nations Security Council attempted to adopt a resolution condemning the invasion, China made its position clear…

“The resolution did gain support of 11 members of the Council with China, India, and the United Arab Emirates abstaining…”

AlJazeera

But almost three weeks into the invasion, Vladimir Putin’s war isn’t going to plan.

According to the Financial Times, US intelligence believes Russia has asked China for military equipment. 

It reported the request came after the start of the conflict in Ukraine and that the US has told allies that China signalled its willingness to help.

So where does President Xi Jinping stand on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine?

***

Earlier this week, the US’s National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan had a meeting in Rome.

It was with Yang Jiechi, China’s top foreign policy official. And although the talks were planned in early December, the Ukraine crisis dominated the seven hour discussion.

Beijing accused Washington of spreading disinformation.

“China’s stance on the Ukraine issue has been consistent and clear. We have been playing a constructive role in making peace through dialogue. The current priority is to exercise restrains from all sides to calm the tension rather than adding fuel to the fire, to work out a diplomatic solution rather than further escalating the situation”

Zhao Lijian, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman, Bloomberg News

While the US expressed “deep concerns” about what it called China’s “alignment” with Russia. Here’s Jake Sullivan:

“We are communicating directly, privately to Beijing, that there will absolutely be consequences for large-scale sanctions of Beijing’s efforts of support for Russia to backfill them… we will not allow that to go forward and allow that to be a lifeline to Russia from these economic sanctions from any country anywhere in the world.”

Jake Sullivan

The sanctions imposed on Russia don’t just impact its economy, they’ll have a knock on effect on the global economy too, which is bad news for China.

President Xi has said sanctions could “dampen the global economy,” something that he says is “in the interest of no one”.

Because for him, and for China, economic domination is more important than its military power. China wants to have the world’s largest economy and Vladimir Putin’s actions aren’t helping.

***

The EU’s foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, has said that China is the only possible mediator in the war.

But there is a reason that Beijing might be reluctant to play peacemaker. It has long-term ambitions to return the democratic, self-governing island of Taiwan to China, which it claims is its territory.

“Kiev and Taipei, two capitals, half a world apart, one under siege, the other on edge. I worry this may happen to Taiwan, he says… if war breaks out it’s bad for both sides, it will be a tragedy

CNN

Directly helping Moscow though, would lead to the West targeting China with sanctions too, frustrating its economic rise.

“Xi Jinping will not keep to his promise of unlimited friendship and rock solid support for Russia if it means that China will face real and serious economic sanctions from the United States in a year when Xi Jinping’s priority is to maintain stability and a strong economy so that he can secure his own third term in office. That is the real priority.”

Steve Tsang, Director of SOAS China Institute

So for now, it seems President Xi is remaining strategically ambiguous towards his Russian ally’s actions in Ukraine.


Today’s story was written and produced by Imy Harper.

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