Reviews | Why China sees an opportunity in the Russian invasion of Ukraine

This sentence can be read quite richly considering Russia’s brazen invasion of Ukraine. As byzantine and contradictory as the logic is, Beijing and Moscow argue that the greatest risk is not Ukraine sovereignty and security, but for Russia. And they agree that this risk comes from “exclusive blocks and alliances of convenience”. As they look to their periphery, China and Russia see a wall of American allies and partners seeking to “contain” them. For Russia, it is NATO; for China, it is the US alliances with Japan and South Korea, and the recent Australia-UK-US (AUKUS) agreement. As Hua said on Thursday, “China still faces a realistic threat from the United States flanked by its several allies as it wantonly and grossly meddles in China’s internal affairs and undermines sovereignty. and security of China”.

Beijing and Moscow see each other “back to back” in Eurasia. Notably, the joint statement explicitly opposed both NATO expansion and AUKUS, highlighting how similar the threat perceptions of the two countries are. Indeed, the document can be read as a manifesto to overhaul the global political and security order in order to make the world safe for authoritarianism.

Both China and Russia believe that major powers should be entitled to special considerations to protect their sovereignty – including, apparently, a veto over the choices of their smaller neighbors. For them, the protection of sovereignty is inextricably linked to their own political or regime security – whereas in the West the term is generally used to apply equally to all states without special provisions for larger countries. powerful. Ultimately, when Ukraine’s sovereignty and Russia’s “sovereignty” compete, China will side with Russia — in part because Beijing wants similar prerogatives in East Asia. (Both powers argue that the United States has enjoyed similar privileges in the Western Hemisphere since the imposition of the Monroe Doctrine in 1823, and as major powers they are entitled to their own versions.)

The Moscow War in Ukraine reflects the countries’ aligned geopolitical philosophies, but could also offer Beijing tangible opportunities beyond supporting an authoritarian comrade. China revels in being the most powerful state in an unbalanced partnership with Russia (doubly because it upsets their early Cold War experience). Beijing is happy to provide Putin with the public symbol of equal partnership as long as he wins on material benefits.

Since Russia annexed Crimea in 2014, Russia’s reliance on China has grown in proportion to its isolation from the United States, Europe, and democracies in Asia, especially Japan. Bilateral trade has more than doubled since 2015, when the West first imposed sanctions. Now, Western punishments for the war in Ukraine will likely force Putin to be even more compliant with Xi. There is no doubt that Chinese officials are already making a wish list. China will likely demand further cuts to Russian energy supplies as Moscow’s energy weapon turns against itself with fewer European buyers. China cannot replace all the trade and technology that Russia will lose through crushing sanctions. But that’s much more Moscow’s problem than Beijing’s.

Technology cooperation between the two, already a mainstay of the partnership, is likely to increase as China pushes Russia to adopt its standards. The Ukraine crisis is prompting China and Russia to further protect themselves against sanctions by seeking workarounds for the SWIFT payment system and other measures.

Militarily, China sees the possibility of US attention and resources being (re)directed from the Indo-Pacific to the European theater. Beijing interpreted the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan as creating a “period of strategic opportunity” for China by consuming US strategic focus. Strategists in China who loathe the idea of ​​a rebalancing from the United States to Asia are likely salivating in hopes that the war in Ukraine might spawn another such period. Meanwhile, Russia will have to defer more to China when considering moves that might balance Chinese power in the Indo-Pacific, especially high-end arms sales to countries like Russia. India and Vietnam.

Regarding Taiwan, so far it does not seem that China will seize the opportunity offered by a war in Europe to act against the island; it’s too risky in the short term and any large-scale invasion would require gathering forces in advance. China is probably more interested in symbolism and precedent: seeing a Western-leaning democracy crushed by a neighboring authoritarian power will give China relief. China knows that the recognition of Donestk and Luhansk is only a pretext for Russia to secure a territory on which it considers to have a historical right. In a potential takeover of Taiwan, China would likely employ analogous justifications.

Be certain, Russia’s attack presents a mixed geopolitical bag for China. Shocks in global financial and energy markets could add to China’s existing economic headwinds in a politically sensitive year: In the fall, Xi will seek a third five-year term as the country’s leader.

Then there are China’s ties to Ukraine itself. The two countries just celebrated the 30th anniversary of diplomatic relations in January. Ukraine officially joined China’s Belt and Road Initiative in 2017. And the pair trade in agricultural products and aircraft parts, despite Kiev blocking a major deal with Chinese investors in 2021. Yet , a newly installed Russian client state could eventually prove as good a partner for China as the current Western-backed government in Ukraine.


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