The invasion of Ukraine isolated Russia. Few states last longer to Moscow. In the UN Security Council, only China voted in favor of a Russian resolution on Ukraine, which recognized the country’s humanitarian needs but did not see the events as a war of aggression. On the other hand, a Ukrainian proposal that clearly condemned Russia as an aggressor was adopted by an overwhelming majority. The Kingdom of the Middle East abstained from voting and instead called for a diplomatic solution to the conflict. Does this give Beijing room to maneuver between the hardened fronts?
Leading Russian China expert Alexei Maslow, who heads the Institute of Asian and African Countries at the Russian Academy of Sciences, spoke to us about the marked increase in anti-American rhetoric in China. He believes that just days after the start of the war, Beijing had defined a strategy for responding to the Russian invasion of Ukraine. In the spirit of the philosopher and military strategist Sunzi, the People’s Republic is trying to solve its own problems: China is spreading the message that the United States is behind the conflict between Russia and Ukraine, and that they are also heating up the Taiwan conflict. “With this perspective, China manages on the one hand to avoid a clear response to Russia’s actions and on the other hand to preserve its own domestic political narrative. In addition, China maintains its profitable trade relations with the West, ”Maslow said.
Andrei Kortunov, director general of the Russian Foreign Relations Council, does not believe that Beijing’s position is absolutely neutral. The Taiwan conflict and trade relations with Ukraine prevented it from unilaterally supporting Russia. But when it comes to the conflict between Russia and the West, Kortunov believes that China, with its stance on ‘charitable neutrality’, is definitely on Russia’s side.
The Taiwan conflict and trade relations with Ukraine prevented Beijing from unilaterally supporting Russia. But when it comes to the conflict between Russia and the West, China is definitely on Russia’s side
Further Russian analyzes of Chinese behavior confirm this view. Military and Asian expert Vasily Kashin from the Russian Academy of Sciences speaks China’s avoidance of criticism of Moscow, while indirectly accusing the West of NATO enlargement and unwillingness to address Russian security concerns. Kashin sees no sign that China is even considering putting pressure on Moscow for a quick peace deal.
For Alexei Maslow, Russia plays a key role in China’s strategic considerations. Not just as a trading partner or as a commodity pendant. But as a political partner who shares the indignation towards the West as well as the value of the subordination of the individual under the state. “The idea of Chinese independence was formed in the 19th century and lives in the subconscious of many Chinese,” Maslow explains. In his opinion, anger towards the West is something along the lines of “a national idea”. Moscow knows how to nurture these national feelings among the Chinese.
According to Maslow, a mistake in American politics is only to see China as a “land of merchants” that can be deterred from supporting Russia with tariff concessions. However, China is a country of warriors who do not fight by military means. Just as the occupation of territories in Chinese history is due to China’s economic policy, Beijing is also waging an economic war against the United States. Twenty years ago, preferential tariffs could have satisfied Beijing. Now that it is striving for a political victory, it is no longer enough. Russia is now seen as a partner that is clearly not economically threatening, but politically worthwhile.
Many Russians are wondering if Beijing will eventually present Moscow with a big bill for its tacit support in the Ukraine war.
Many Russians are wondering if Beijing will eventually present Moscow with a big bill for its tacit support in the Ukraine war. “The more countries put sanctions on Russia, the more China will demand. “But the stronger the political and military ties between Russia and China will come out of it,” Maslow said. “But without an actual military alliance. Because then Russia would also have to make the Taiwan issue its own. “
Andrei Kortunov also does not believe that the intensification of military technical cooperation will lead in such a direction. Russia and China are critical of the traditional model of a military alliance. They considered it obsolete. You can perform the same functions more efficiently. According to Kortunov, the Russian market, from which many Western suppliers are fleeing, is a tasty bite for China. He predicts that Chinese companies will pursue an aggressive policy here, especially in the car trade and in consumer electronics. This process had already begun before the war and the upheavals that came with it.
Kortunov also expects more Russian-Chinese cooperation in the public sector, such as in state-owned enterprises. During President Putin’s visit to Beijing in early February, oil company Rosneft signed a 10-year deal with Chinese energy giant CNPC to supply 100 million tons of oil. According to Kortunov, Russia’s ambitions to diversify oil and gas exports are now receiving a major boost. However, this also requires new infrastructure.
Maslow observes rising gas demand in China. There is an agreement to build a gas pipeline called Sila Siberia 2 (“Power of Siberia 2”) from Russia via Mongolia to China. Of all Russia’s dependence on China, Maslow finds Chinese technology the most problematic. Here, too, there is no longer an alternative – almost all Western high-tech companies are leaving Russia. Maslow assumes that Sino-Russian joint ventures will be created in Russia, and Chinese companies will establish production facilities in Russia. The ruble’s dependence on the yuan will increase if Russian banks, after being excluded from the SWIFT system, join the Chinese rival fast-paying system CIPS, whose structure is hidden from the West.
The ruble’s dependence on the yuan will increase if Russian banks, after being excluded from the SWIFT system, join the Chinese rival fast-paying system CIPS, whose structure is hidden from the West.
According to Maslow, Russia’s isolation from the West will bind the country closer to China. A paradox of the sanctions is that Russia has in a way been extradited to China. Despite all the contracts, Russia has not yet shared its most valuable pieces with China. And China has so far invested less in Russia than in the United States. “If China is at least silent about Ukraine, many Russians could take it positively, and the anti-Chinese sentiment in the Far East would be somewhat reduced,” Maslow said. With Western sanctions targeting not only oligarchs but all of Russia, the result is an explosive mix that ultimately strengthens the Russian-Chinese alliance. And this can get very aggressive in the long run.
“There can be no question of charity and charity here,” warns Kortunov. China will implement projects in Russia that are in the interests of the People’s Republic. In a way, the Chinese market is even more competitive for the Russians than the Western one. Unfortunately, Moscow is of the opinion that cooperation with China can offer an alternative to the US dollar: “The Chinese will come and solve our problems.” That is not going to happen, Kortunov is sure.