The Chinese position on the Ukraine conflict has appeared contradictory. China has sought to walk a political tightrope by saying it recognizes Ukraine's sovereignty while also embracing the Russian position that NATO's expansion has created "legitimate security concerns" for Russia.
China’s ambassador to Ukraine, Fan Xianrong, told Ukrainian officials in Lviv that China was 'a force of good' for Ukraine and praised Ukraine's wartime unity. Official propaganda in Beijing refuses to call the war an invasion.
Such behavior is not satisfactory to the West, but has also raised questions in Russia that had counted on greater backing that is not limited to verbal support. As China's relations with Russia remains a topic that can still be debated in Russia, there are optimistic and less optimistic readings about China's positions.
Timofey Bordachev the program director of the Valdai Discussion Club think tank chides Russians who think in black and white terms that are appropriate for Russia's adversaries but not for countries such as China. Bordachev is certain that China will never betray Russia and the friendship forged with Putin. For one, there is the Taiwan issue that irrevocably separates Washington and Beijing. Second there are the restrictions that the US imposes on China in the economic field. China needs Russia to safeguard China's rear and prevent the emergence of terrorist threats to China.
Kommersant commentator Dmitry Drize is not convinced by Bordachev's arguments and Beijing's verbal support. The Taiwan issue can be put on the backburner. What counts is the trade disparity between Russia and the West. Russia's share of Chinese bilateral trade is puny compared to its bilateral trade with the US or with Europe. Besides, China is sitting pretty as both sides court it. As a result, the idea of an equal alliance between Russia and China is illusory. China is the clear senior partner, and Russia must play second fiddle.
Below are the articles by Bordachev and Drize:
March 18, 2022 teleconference between US President Joe Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping (Source: Rbc.ru)
Bordachev: The US-China Divide Is Fundamental
In an article titled "Three Answers to Questions About the Future of Russia and China", Timofey Bordachev provded optimistic answers to questions that Russians, who were actively following the news, had about the Sino-Russian relationship. Bordachev wrote:
"One of the unpleasant consequences of developments occurring in Russian public perception with regards to our position in the world could be a downward spiral to a well-known dichotomy, thanks to the Ukrainian example: 'zrada – peremoga' (betrayal - victory). The situation is salvaged by the fact that, judging by events and decisions, those, who make the most important political decisions think in a different direction. However, a significant part of society that actively follows the news is naturally inclined to see a black-and-white picture and, thus, reach hasty conclusions. It's not a problem when such an attitude exists with relation to Russia's adversaries: the US and its allies. But it may act as an actual negative factor, when it comes to the powers that take a more benevolent stance towards Russia.
"Currently, China occupies center stage among the countries that haven't joined the attempts to politically and economically harass Russia initiated by the West. Nevertheless, this comes as no surprise to anyone. Beijing has long been the second most important global economic player, while the country's relations with the US are deteriorating year by year.
"This dynamic doesn't impede the preservation of strong economic ties between the two powers, which at the same time have also undergone revision by Washington over recent years. At least for this reason, many major Chinese companies, which are themselves already under US sanctions, including such technology giants as Huawei and ZTE, will be happy to work with Russia,
"In order to understand how we should cooperate with China in the long term, we need to answer three questions:
"Question №1. Is China Russia's ally to the same extent as the US and Europe are its adversaries? [Emphasis original]
"We can answer this question affirmatively without the slightest doubt. The high level of trust between President Putin and President Xi is the result (that was years in the making) of mutual understanding and a common evaluation of major world processes, and the task of the Chinese and Russian peoples' survival amidst conditions [caused by] the West's fighting everyone in order to preserve its own monopoly.
"A meeting between high-ranking Chinese and US officials held a couple of days ago confirmed that China continues to support Russia, and feels no respect towards Washington, and has no desire to compromise on this crucial issue with the latter. This approach was succinctly articulated by the results of the meeting by a leading Chinese journalist, the newly appointed Editor-in-Chief of the English-language government newspaper Global Times, 'Washington has no right to demand that China promise not to export arms to Russia, or halt Sino-Russian trade.'
"Likewise, following the talks, a number of rather tough statements [were issued] by the Chinese side, whose essence was that America lacked arguments capable of changing the Chinese stance of benevolent neutrality towards Russia. For its part, Washington has little to offer [the Chinese]. The only issue that really concerns Beijing is Taiwan's fate.
"However, the Americans cannot simply 'surrender' the island to China. As this would completely destroy their position in Asia, where the US will have to face a long-term confrontation with Beijing. Besides, given the circumstances, the Chinese are hardly likely to be grateful to the US even for such a 'royal' gift. Because Beijing's position is that Taiwan and China are part of a single state is an immutable fact, and recognition of this is undeserving of thanks.
"The US - China contradictions are as fundamental in nature as their rapprochement 50 years ago. Back then it was necessary for Beijing in order to extricate the country from poverty and to maintain the Communist Party [hereafter – the CCP] in power after Mao Zedong's social experiments. Now the US is already restraining China's development, by introducing measures that restrict the country's ability to increase prosperity, and putting the CCP's authority in doubt.
"China is a very pragmatic state, and its leaders do what is necessary at a given moment to [promote China's] own development and buttress its international positions. Supporting the West's struggle against Russia in any way, would bring China nothing; it would simply become one of the numerous US satellites, which is definitely not part of the Chinese leadership's plans.
"Question №2. Does Russia itself want for China to play for Russia, the same role that the West has been playing for the past few decades? In other words, [does Russia want China to become] the exclusive partner upon whom one is completely dependent as the West, is trying to show us... In other words, is China going to take over Russia in terms of finance, trade, and technology?
"Despite all the inertia of our foreign policy thinking, there is hope that the answer will nevertheless be negative. Under such a scenario, practical cooperation with China will develop in a way to complement and strengthen our own measures on dealing with relative backwardness.
"Thus, there is no need to react nervously to the fact that Chinese companies won't destroy their own development plans and the fulfillment of obligations to the [Chinese] population and the state, simply to please Russia. Meanwhile, China is slowly but consistently moving towards a detachment of its economy from the US, and it is apparently the ongoing crisis will make this transition even more intense.
"At the background of pressure from the Americans and the inevitable erosion of their mutual dependence upon China, one can expect even more active support for Russia than appears under current prospects. An important factor of the relations is the gradual conversion of bilateral trade to settlements in national currencies. An initiative that previously didn't encounter much enthusiasm in Russia itself.
"It is most likely that we are also dealing with the human factor in this case. China, as most experts on this country believe, cannot be considered a preferred site for capital flight from Russia. In addition, one, definitely, shouldn't think that if and when China actually does provide help to Russia, on those issues, which the latter cannot cope with on its own, that the PRC will trumpet this to the entire world. This is absolutely not in the style of Chinese politics.
Question №3. To what extent do China's and Russia's development plans require them to maintain close relations?
"Yes, for certain. A modern Russia that confidently controls its periphery and doesn't allow the establishment of a hotbed of instability in the vicinity of the most troubled part of China, or a terrorist enclave in Central Asia, is the most reliable guarantee that the US won't be able to strike the Middle Kingdom from behind. China has no illusions about the fact that Washington perceives everybody but Canada, as a field for military, diplomatic, or biological experiments that in no way threaten the security of its national territory.
"The deterioration of the USSR - China relations in the 1960s was caused by the fact that the young Chinese republic sought independence in its relations with its Moscow patron, who wanted to maintain control over it. Now China and Russia's development goals cannot enter into conflict with each other. Furthermore, they complement each other in a world that is being increasingly divided into separate zones with independent financial and energy systems."
Timofey Bordachev (Source: Kommersant.ru)
Dmitry Drize: China's Words Are Not Supported By Actual Deeds
In contrast to Bordachev, Dmitry Drize was unsure of China's ultimate position, but as the title of his piece "Everyone Depends on China: Americans and Russians Alike" indicates, he was certain that China relished its current status of being wooed by both sides.
"The main talking points of the two-hour conversation [on March 18, 2022] between the US president and the President of China can be summed up as follows:
"Joe Biden said to his colleague, you see for yourself what is happening, and this problem is not only that of the collective West; it's our mutual problem. So, come on, dear Chinese partners, let's try to solve it jointly. We, America, are not your enemies, Taiwan is not an end in itself, and we don't want to go to war with you. On the contrary, we expect your understanding that world order should be defended without various excesses. Although, naturally, human rights violations and the persecution of various ethnic groups are bad, it is high time to put a stop to these things.
"Xi Jinping agreed, yes, the world is in turmoil right now, humanity faces serious new challenges. And our relations with you, Messrs. Americans, are not going well, as the previous Trump administration made a mess of things that we are still unable to clean up. The President of China stated that responsibility for the world's fate rests upon us (meaning China and America), if only because we are permanent members of the UN Security Council.
"In fact, this is all that can be extracted from the dry [diplomatic] protocol language, which, in principle, is quite a lot.
"The first obvious conclusion is that America is ready, under a set of conditions, to no longer perceive Communist China as the 'bad guy' and embark on a path of progressive dialogue with it, as it is fashionable to say, to reset relations [the author refers to the reset in Russo-American relations during the Obama years].
"But Washington is also considering a harsh scenario, that is, it may impose sanctions in case of real [Chinese] support to Moscow. It is also understandable that no one is expecting an immediate result, it is a long process. But here, as the saying goes, it is important to launch the process.
"What's at stake? - A trillion USD of Chinese investment in the US securities, and, in addition, 800 billion USD in total trade turnover (the PRC also has an estimated 500 billion USD in total trade turnover with Europe. It's clear that the US also depends on China, but the volumes, as the saying goes, are impressive. In case you forgot, the Russo-Chinese trade turnover is 150 billion USD. Russia is China's 11th largest trading partner.
"The rest of the conclusions already exist in the realm of theory and reasoning, nevertheless they are interesting in their own way.
"[Let's put forward a question], on what terms can Beijing and the US agree? For example, there is a scenario that the West is ready to forgive China for COVID-19. The PRC, certainly, denies everything, but Trump said directly who is to blame and who should compensate the world for trillions in losses. It's obvious that China will never admit anything and won't compensate anyone a penny.
"And the most important topic, are the very same 'red lines,' i.e. a division of spheres of influence may well happen, alas not with Russia, but between the US and China. Meanwhile, Beijing doesn't have to publicly renounce Moscow. It can rant all it wants about allied feelings and eternal friendship. However, this is a case in which words are not always supported by actual deeds. It's a very convenient stance, everyone depends on you in his own way, as well as Americans and Russians. And one can put a big smile for everyone, but do things his own way.
"And so, it somehow turns out that China is already kind of a senior partner both bigger and more powerful, while we are already playing second fiddle. The PRC is being asked to influence Russia. This is not very pleasant. Although, judging by the image, Xi Jinping certainly supports us, as he is ready to condemn NATO, as well as sanctions and talk about a multipolar world, meanwhile he goes his own way, which does not always coincide with Russia's.
"What is the point of all this? The point is that equal partnership is more of a utopia. There is only a temporary overlap of interests.
"At times it could happen so that you were friends with someone yesterday, but today you are enemies, or vice versa. And it is all the more difficult when you yourself claim leadership, while the amount of resources in the world is diminishing, and there is not enough for everybody. It's already unclear where all these 'red lines' pass: to the West or to the East. Everything is all mixed up these days."
Dmitry Drize (Source: Kommersant.ru)