China, Russia’s major political partner, is in evidence in diplomatic discussions surrounding the current Russian military advance in Ukraine. The position of the Asian country during the United Nations General Assembly on the conflict was highly anticipated. However, Beijing decided to abstain from the resolution condemning the invasion of Ukrainian territory, a position that speaks volumes about the dilemma facing Beijing.
While under pressure from Western countries to oppose the military offensive, but strategically linked to Russian policy, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi says that the country is “on the right side of history” in relation to the crisis. But what would that position be?
Alexandre Uehara, specialist in International Relations and professor at ESPM, says that the “right side” is linked to the pragmatic position that the country adopts in the face of the situation.
“China is interested in maintaining relations with Russia for geopolitical reasons, but the United States is its main economic partner. The country cannot give up Russia, a great strategic partner, at the same time that it only became the second largest economy in the world because it maintained important economic relations with the West,” he explains.
According to Alana Camoça, professor of International Relations at UFRJ and researcher at LabChina-UFRJ, the main consequence for China in relation to the conflict between Russia and Ukraine is linked to the political area. “The war poses problems for Chinese legitimacy at the international level, as the country is seen from the opposite side to the West, because it has positioned itself as neutral.”
“Furthermore, China has been trying to rebuild its international image for some time, as a peaceful country respectful of international order and this conflict has undermined those efforts.”
This neutrality also speaks to the actions taken by Russia on the expansion of NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) close to its borders, which is also of interest to China, as its economic growth has put European countries and states on the alert. United.
Uehara explains that “the Americans have been applying strategies to contain China for some time. The Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, formed by the USA, India, Japan and Australia, clearly shows the fear that these countries have in relation to the Chinese advance. China has been expanding its defense mechanism.”
Faced with the stalemate in Eastern Europe, international support is essential for Ukraine. In this context, China takes on yet another great significance since, after its great economic growth, it overtook Japan and became the main reference for other Asian countries, very dependent on its trade partnership.
The antagonism with the Chinese, therefore, is not interesting for these regions. In addition, they are intimidated by all military might.
Due to Chinese interests being related both to its geopolitical alliance with Russia and to its close relationship with the West, a debate arises about the country’s mediating role in achieving a ceasefire in Eastern Europe.
On the one hand, the country is interested in assuming this mediating role, which would be beneficial for its international legitimacy and to end a conflict that harms its political and economic objectives, however, it faces the impasse of abandoning its neutral position.
“The country has the capacity for dialogue, but it is necessary to have a kind of triangulation alongside Russia and the US, with whom the Chinese have tensions. Channels of dialogue and visions that come out of this Manichaeism (good vs. spirit of the cold war, so that they start to think pragmatically about this conflict”, explains the UFRJ professor.
“If China took one side, its pressure against Russia could make Moscow back off, not least because the two countries have very deep economic relations, this dependence on the Asian giant could be a big problem for the Russians, who are getting more and more isolated in the international arena”, he explains. “But I don’t see China willing to move in that direction.”
In a modern war, where news circulates in real time and in large quantities, information proves to be valuable. China and Russia have a similar internal policy regarding freedom of the press and the public’s access to certain news. However, for Alana Camoça, this similarity is not what defines the close relationship between the countries.
“China’s position is much more practical in relation to the geo-economic and political interests that are at stake than out of affinity with Russian domestic politics.”
For her, “it is also important to consider that the information war takes place both inside and outside the internal point of view. Despite the Chinese say they seek mediation, they are still seen negatively by the largest media flows, as well as the Russians. .”
The President of the United States, Joe Biden, raised the tone in his statements and declared that clearly Russia is considering the use of chemical and biological weapons on Ukrainian territory. The statement came as Russian attacks on Ukraine intensified, alongside major economic sanctions applied by Western countries against Moscow.
Between the two great military powers, China’s role once again draws the attention of world diplomacy. For Uehara, such a measure does not align with Chinese interests.
“We don’t know what President Putin’s limit is in terms of escalating the conflict. Russia has tactical nuclear weapons, nuclear bombs capable of causing localized destruction. China, a country with a nuclear arsenal, has shown no interest in collaborating in this regard. This could generate sanctions from Western countries, which is beyond their objectives.”
Such sanctions, however, could be harmful to both sides. “In the near future, China may be the biggest economy in the world, it is also very important for the United States and for Europe. The dhinese have the means to shred the international arena, today they play the game of the great powers”, concludes Camoça .