Is China’s position changing in the Kiev-Moscow war? This is claimed by the New York Times †paid item, in English) Sunday 13 March. According to the US daily, citing anonymous officials, Russia has asked Beijing to provide it with military equipment and economic aid to help it overcome international sanctions. A cargo wiped out by the Asian giant. “The United States has been constantly spreading fake news against China lately”a spokesman for Chinese diplomacy replied to the press.
Marc Julienne, Head of China Activities at the East Asia CenterFrench Institute of International Relations (Ifri), sheds light on Beijing’s role in this war.
franceinfo: What is the position of China, Russia’s historical ally since the start of the war in Ukraine?
Marc Julienne: Since February 24, China has maintained an official position of neutrality in the armed conflict between Russia and Ukraine. But if we look beyond the official discourse, we realize that this neutrality is just a facade. Beijing claims to respect the sovereignty of all states and the United Nations Charter, but it took over Vladimir Putin’s speech word for word when it spoke “special military operation”, by refusing to use the term invasion and by waiving any responsibility for the conflict to any of the belligerents. She also recognizes the “legitimate security concern” from Russia. It is a very general formula to implicitly say that Moscow also had reason to feel threatened in Ukraine.
“The Chinese discourse is very subtle, it’s all on the brink. The goal is to present itself as neutral while protecting Russia’s interests. China is calling for discussion, peace talks, but not for a moment does not take steps to act as to position a mediator.”Marc Julienne
Why is China implicitly supporting Russia in this war?
This is mainly for political reasons. The two countries fundamentally agree on one point: their entrenched opposition to Western liberal democracies. It is a resistance against the United States, against NATO and, as far as China is concerned in particular, a resistance against the new partnership of Aukus (Australia, United Kingdom, United States).
Russia, for its part, is facing this western front because it accuses NATO of wanting to expand into Ukraine, which is incorrect. It is precisely on this point that China and Russia have allied interests and this is why Beijing tacitly supports Moscow. It is an implicit support in the discourse and very explicit economically. China has provided Russia with financial support since the start of the conflict. Through financing channels in yuan since the Russian economy has been excluded from the SWIFT system, but also because of increasing imports of oil and gas, or even those of agricultural products, such as wheat.
Finally, Beijing has been closely monitoring what is happening in Ukraine since the start of the crisis, with Taiwan in mind. China has very explicit desires for “unification” under its terms. It can draw lessons from the current war.
Do you think China could be more involved in the conflict?
If it supported Russia too openly, it could itself become the target of sanctions with severe consequences for its economy. The ideological choice then goes against the pragmatic interests of the Emiddle realm†
“To choose between anti-US alignment and preserving China’s economy, China will choose to keep its economy, which is experiencing a slowdown phase after the health crisis linked to Covid-19.”Marc Julienne
The country is in a very important year. The 20th Congress of the Communist Party of China will take place in October 2022. President Xi Jinping is to be reappointed to a third term, which would be unprecedented since the death of Mao Zedong (1976). We are therefore in a very politically sensitive period, in which it is imperative to preserve the economy, for the sustainability of the president in power. As China tries to present itself as neutral, it provides military equipment: a combative would mean a complete turnaround.