March 13, 2023 Special Dispatch No. 10520

Chinese International Affairs Expert: There Is No Anti-West Alliance Between Russia And China; Our Relations With Russia Are Driven By Independent Factors And Should Not Affect Our Relations With America, Europe

March 13, 2023
Russia, China | Special Dispatch No. 10520

On March 2, 2023, the Chinese outlet marked one year since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine by publishing an interview with Zhao Long, deputy director of the Institute for Global Governance Studies and a senior research fellow at the Shanghai Institutes for International Studies, about his views on the war.[1] In the interview, which was titled "China Is Between Russia and Ukraine – How to Break the Deadlock?" Zhao was asked about the war’s impact on China and on its relations with Russia and the West. In his replies, Zhao emphasized that there is no united anti-West alliance between Russia and China, nor is there any intention to form one, and that China’s relations with Russia are driven by a variety of independent factors and should not directly impact its relations with the U.S. or Europe.

Below are excerpts from the interview with Zhao:

Zhao Long. Source: China-Nordic Arctic Research Center "For China, how do you evaluate the advantages and disadvantages of the Russia-Ukraine war so far? China is now caught in the middle or tied to the position of 'Russian ally' by Western public opinion. How can this situation be changed?"

Zhao Long: "In my personal view, the Ukraine crisis will do more harm than good to China. It will bring uncertainty to the building of major-country relations and global partnership. The negative spillover effects of the crisis in the political, security, economic and energy sectors are also bad for China, a global trading power. The negative effects of the persistence and expansion of the conflict may continue to grow.

"As for the so-called 'being caught in the middle' or being kidnapped by Western public opinion, it should be noted that both China and Russia believe that the current international order is unfair, unreasonable, and imperfect. There is consensus on this, but there are also differences in ways to solve it. China's emphasis is on reform and improvement, not starting all over again. But it is obvious that Russia has already had an impulse before the war, hoping to carry out a 'subversive' reconstruction of the entire international system and international order. In the aftermath of this conflict, I am afraid, Russia's desire to dismantle the current international order will grow even stronger.

"Therefore, the strategic coordination between China and Russia is based on mutual consensus, not on the will or the way of solving problems of one side. Its main direction is to prevent the whole world from being dominated by the development agenda to being dominated by the security agenda, and from the interaction between the 'north and south' (developed and developing countries) to a life-or-death struggle between the East and the West. In my view, this is the most important value orientation of China-Russia cooperation." "Recently, a Russian expert wrote in an article that 'the rule of interaction among the three partners in a triangle, that the weak should always be supported, plays a key role in the overall relationship. Therefore, Russia should be supported as the weaker party.' While it is not appropriate to make simple historical comparisons, this view is reminiscent of the changes in U.S.-Soviet-China relations during the Cold War, when China was the weakest party and the proximity of the U.S. and China had an impact on the Soviet Union. Will a similar situation be repeated?"

Zhao Long: "Actually, I have always disagreed with the strategic triangle analogy between the current China-U.S. relations and the Sino-U.S.-Soviet relations during the Cold War. Now we are in a completely different situation, because there is no alliance between China and Russia, and there is no intention to form an alliance. Thus, there is no 'friend or foe' type of logic against the outside world that an alliance has. Therefore, there is no basis for the relationship between the two countries to be divided due to external estrangement.

"I still believe that today's major-country relations or international politics as a whole are not a three-way interaction between China, the U.S., and Russia, but a four-way interaction between China, the U.S., Russia, and Europe as major forces in the world. This interaction is not a triangle. It has multiple sets of bilateral relationships that develop in parallel.

"Therefore, whether China-Russia relations are good or not, there is no very direct linkage between Sino-U.S. relations, U.S.-Russia relations, Sino-Europe relations, and Russia-Europe relations. So I do not think it is feasible to start from the logic of this so-called Grand Triangle to 'unite Russia against China' or to ask China to make a 'fateful choice' between friendship with Russia and friendship with the West." "According to recent news, Director Wang Yi visited Europe and attended the Munich Security Conference, and then visited Russia. On the first anniversary of the Russia-Ukraine conflict, China issued a position paper on the political settlement of the Ukraine crisis, emphasizing peace talks. There are many interpretations of China's actions. So what should we make of China's current statements and actions? Does it mean that China's attitude or initiative will change?"

Zhao Long: "Recently, on the issue of the Ukraine crisis, China has made two important moves. One is to issue 'The Global Security Initiative Concept Paper,' and the other is to issue 'China's Position on the Political settlement of the Ukraine Crisis.' The two documents have clarified China's basic position on the Ukraine issue, helping to dispel previous suspicions that China is playing a 'bystander' or 'sitting on the fence' in the Ukraine crisis, or even 'benefiting' from it.

"In fact, both documents issued by the Chinese side stress that security issues should not be viewed in a simplistic way, nor should one country only care for its own security needs and act willfully, ignoring the security needs of other countries. More importantly, China has made it clear with these documents that it firmly opposes the expansion and escalation of the Ukrainian crisis, especially the descent into a nuclear war or the use of biological and chemical weapons. This is our fundamental position.

"Therefore, some of the contents of these two documents are aimed at the U.S. and Europe, some are aimed at Ukraine, and some are aimed at Russia. They are comprehensive documents, representing our consistent position since the first day of the outbreak of the conflict between Russia and Ukraine, including China's efforts to promote peace talks on the merits of the matter itself, rather than exacerbating or perpetuating conflicts. All these are reflected in the documents." "Interestingly, Biden made a surprise visit to Kiev almost at the same time. Is it a breakthrough for the president of the U.S. to visit one side of the war directly at this point in time, compared to the previous time when he only provided military aid to Ukraine? Of course, what is more interesting is that some media are deliberately linking or hyping up the visits of senior Chinese and U.S. officials to Russia and Ukraine respectively, thus creating an impression of confrontation between China and the U.S.. How do you see that?"

Zhao Long: "Biden's surprise visit to Kiev and his speech in Poland, and Putin's State of the Nation address, from the point of view of the timing, have the sense of tit for tat. This is, of course, for his political and propaganda purposes, no surprise.

"But we can also see that in fact, the U.S. and Russia still retain their tacit understanding, and the bottom line awareness between them is even stronger than that between Russia and Ukraine, Russia and Europe.

"Why do I say that? It has now been revealed that Mr. Biden gave the Russians advance notice of his visit to Kiev in order to avoid a strategic miscalculation that could spark a wider conflict. Russia reportedly informed the U.S. through relevant channels before conducting a test launch of a Sarmat intercontinental ballistic missile during Biden's visit to Kiev.

"It can be seen that Russia and the U.S. are trying to avoid any incident that may lead to strategic miscalculation, and their channels and hotlines for crisis management have not been interrupted. This is good news.

"I don't think there has been a big change in the attitude of the U.S., which cannot allow this crisis to spread beyond Ukraine's geographic borders, cannot allow NATO countries to become direct parties to the conflict, will not send a single soldier into Ukraine to fight Russia directly, and more importantly will not allow this war to turn into a world war or even a nuclear war.

"On this point, the consensus between Russia and the U.S. is growing, not weakening. As the situation becomes more tense and conflicts become more likely, the consensus between Russia and the U.S. on not breaking the bottom line and maintaining strategic tacit understanding becomes even stronger.

"Of course, the Chinese delegation's visit to Russia at this time has triggered malicious hype in Western public opinion, especially hyping up China's support for Russia. This kind of tactic is actually not unusual.

"However, it needs to be stressed that China-Russia relations have strong internal driving force and independent value. The development of China-Russia relations or the enhancement of high-level visits for strategic coordination are determined by the geographical environment shared by China and Russia as each other's largest neighbors, the international responsibilities to shoulder, as well as the complementarity of development and their respective comparative advantages. These factors themselves cannot be directly affected by external geopolitical issues.

"Similarly, the development of China-Russia relations will not stop just because of the so-called warnings and constraints of the U.S. or other countries. The internal logic and development trajectory of China-Russia relations are based solely on the balance and coordination between their respective national interests and the common interests of the two sides, which should not be intentionally or unintentionally misinterpreted as an 'anti-Western' united front."


[1], March 2, 2023.

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