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The Embassy

China’s Support for Russia in Ukraine: One Giant Mistake

Russia and China
Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russian President Putin meeting back in 2018.

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization recently concluded a major meeting in Madrid. Two large decisions were taken – first, to substantially expand support for Ukraine in its war with Russia, and second, to tighten relations with select Asian democracies because of China. The Chinese response to this has been to exaggerate the meeting as NATO’s expansion into the Pacific. This is not the case. The proximate reason, rather, is China’s support for Russia’s expansionist war in Ukraine.

China is now Stuck with the Russian War in Ukraine

China almost certainly did not expect the Russian war to drag on this long. When Russian President Vladimir Putin tipped off Chinese President Xi Jinping of his intention to invade Ukraine, Putin almost certainly believed his war would be a blitzkrieg. And he almost certainly communicated that assuredly to Xi, who likely believed him. It is hard to imagine Xi would have committed Chinese support so fully had he any sense of how the war would actually work out.

China is now tied to Putin’s war. To back away from Putin now would alienate Russia, when China, for all its strength, has few friends or allies. An anti-Russian turn over Ukraine could push Putin toward the embryonic anti-Chinese coalition in Asia (Japan, India, Australia). Encirclement is China’s great strategic fear. Conversely, if Xi cleaves to Putin, he and China will be tarred by the course of the war and Putin’s behavior. NATO’s outreach to Asian democracies is part of that backlash.

So Xi has found himself in a catch-22, where he is likely hoping the war will wrap up soon before it sabotages China’s relationship with the democracies too much. China still needs market access to the West, Japan, South Korea, and other NATO partners to maintain its growth and development.

NATO’s Asian Outreach is a Response to Sino-Russian (Partial) Alignment

NATO’s European member states trade a great deal with China. They do not seek a trade war with Beijing. And none of them have the ability to sustain forces en masse in the East Asian region. Those imperial days are long past. The only European states with a navy remotely qualified to project to Asia are Britain and France, but that would be both hugely expensive and foolish given Russian revisionism on their doorstep. The obvious location to deploy European naval assets is near Russia, while the United States tilts toward China and the Pacific.

So the Chinese claim that ‘NATO is coming to Asia’ is almost certainly inaccurate. NATO – barring the US itself – can scarcely reach the region, and too many of its European states – including its powerful core economy, Germany – are wary of the economic costs of genuinely balancing against China. If there is to be containment of China, it will be from Asian frontline states like Japan or India, with American support.

The far more obvious explanation of Madrid is China’s foolhardy decision to so thoroughly support Putin’s revisionism. China could do much to inhibit Russia’s ability to prosecute the war, most obviously by ceasing Russian imports. Instead, it parrots Russian propaganda about the war as a ‘special military operation’ and denies Russian war crimes. The result is that China and Russia are tied more closely together than before.

The democracies in the world naturally see that as a joint or shared challenge. There is much anxiety that China is viewing the Ukraine war as a trial balloon for possible military action of its own against Taiwan. Hence China will support Russia, despite being tarred with Putin’s violence and expansionism; China expects Putin to return the favor.

Biden’s Democratic Community Takes Shape

US President Joseph Biden has argued that the world faces a division of states into democratic and autocratic camps. There is much anxiety that this framing unnecessarily pushes the world toward a new cold war. America’s allies were generally cool to that rhetoric in 2020-21.

The Ukraine war is changing that, primarily because China so strongly supports Russia. To much of the democratic world, that looks precisely like an ‘axis of autocracy’ along the lines Biden claimed. This more than anything was the reason for inviting Asian democracies to NATO meetings.

NATO’s European states are in no military position to challenge China, so there is no ‘Eurasian NATO’ in the offing. Instead, it is China’s recklessness in supporting Putin’s own recklessness which is driving the democracies toward each other. I imagine Xi wishes now that he had never signed up for Putin’s war, but he’s trapped. He needs Putin on Taiwan. The world has taken another step toward the cold war with China which Beijing has strenuously sought to avoid.

Dr. Robert E. Kelly (@Robert_E_Kelly; RobertEdwinKelly.com) is a professor of international relations in the Department of Political Science at Pusan National University. Dr. Kelly is now a 1945 Contributing Editor as well. 

Written By

Dr. Robert E. Kelly (@Robert_E_Kelly; website) is a professor of international relations in the Department of Political Science at Pusan National University. Dr. Kelly is now a 1945 Contributing Editor as well. 

29 Comments

29 Comments

  1. Ezra Teter

    July 9, 2022 at 8:12 pm

    Make no mistake. We have treated China as our enemy for long enough that they certainly see us the same way. Would you take advice from your enemy or would you hurt your enemy by supporting their enemy and getting oil at a discount as a side deal? Why should China cooperate with us when we are determined to maintain hostility in all aspects of our relationship? I guess teaching posts in South Korea are the reward for regurgitating State Department talking points.

    • Edward Williamson

      July 9, 2022 at 10:46 pm

      Exactly, I think a lot of these opinionators are going overboard with this China bad West good BS. Where were they when we invaded and occupied Iraq. We’ve been sticking it to China for the past decade so I can’t see how does anyone thinks they are going to just “get on board” with the west. Lastly, we will again call our commitment to Human Rights and freedom of the press to question when Biden meets with Mohammad Bin Salman and Saudi Arabia, the same country where the majority of those 9/11 scumbags came from.

    • Joe Comment

      July 10, 2022 at 1:30 am

      What China has got historically from the US: US-funded scholarship program led to creation of Tsinghua University; US-educated Chinese overthrew the Qing monarchy and established the republic; US made the biggest contributions to defeating Japan in WWII; it was at US insistence that China got its permanent membership with veto on the UN Security Council; during the Cold War split-country period the US-backed republic on Taiwan achieved much greater development than the Soviet-backed one on the Mainland; after the Sino-Soviet split it was the US that guaranteed China’s security; many of China’s top scientists have been US-educated; US opened its markets to China and made major contributions to China’s economic take-off since the 1980’s; the US provided asylum to China’s students after the 1989 Tiananmen Incident; the US supported China’s entry into the WTO.

      What China has got historically from Russia: lost huge territory in the 1858 and 1860 treaties; lost Outer Mongolia in 1921 to Soviet satellite; USSR had non-aggression pact with Japan during the latter’s brutal invasion of China; during the Cold War split country era the Soviet-inspired country on the Mainland slaughtered millions, wrecked the economy and tried to destroy the culture; Russia threatened China with destruction after the Sino-Soviet split.

      Now please tell me, in what way have we treated China as our enemy?

      • Steven

        July 10, 2022 at 8:01 am

        Thank you!

      • Ezra Teter

        July 10, 2022 at 3:14 pm

        You have the typical blinkered western perspective of China and you don’t even know it. Maybe you should consider that the Chinese do not consider the overthrow of a millennia-old political system with the help of outsiders to be a good thing. There is a reason that historians refer to the period after the 1911 overthrow of the emperor as the “Warlord Era.” You sound just like when the British lecture the Chinese on “democracy” in Hong Kong. The Chinese do have a long memory and they remember very well that the only reason that Hong Kong was ever under British control in the first place is because they were a bunch of opium dealers who fought a war with China to force them to consume their product. They also remember our malign influence during the Boxer Rebellion and when Truman sent troops to China between 1945 to 1949 in an attempt to protect the hated Chiang Kai-Shek government and try to hold back the inevitable Communist Revolution there. Outside meddling by foreigners has never been welcome in China and you shouldn’t expect them to start accepting it meekly.

        • Brent

          July 10, 2022 at 9:55 pm

          Sounds like we got us one of Xi’s trolls weaseling their way in.

          • Ezra Teter

            July 11, 2022 at 12:30 pm

            You only say that because you are ignorant of history. I am an American citizen and I am using my real name. With your handle, however, I can’t assume that you are not a bot.

        • Joe Comment

          July 11, 2022 at 12:26 am

          Ezra Teter: If the US-educated revolutionaries of 1911 were “outsiders,” then what were the European-educated revolutionaries of 1945? You raise some arguments about the British, although the original topic was the US. You speak of the Communist victory in the civil war as if it were proof of their popularity. They won the military struggle, immediately and brutally suppressed all possible political opposition, and have not held an open competitive election since. Would they have seen the need to behave that way if they were confident in their own popularity?

          • Ezra Teter

            July 11, 2022 at 12:34 pm

            I look at now and I see that the government of China is far more popular with its people than American government is. They actually do things that benefit the people like building 40,000 kilometers of bullet trains. It is now possible to take an overnight train from Hong Kong–which is an island– to Beijing. On the other hand, I despise the people who rule us in this country so much that I want our empire to collapse.

    • Guy Mapplebeck

      July 10, 2022 at 7:32 am

      China is nobodies friend except Russia. Ultimately there are only 4 conclusions to this conflict of regimes 1. Nuclear war RRESULT MAD
      2.Political & economic Failure of the west leading to Soviet Chinese world dominance . 3. Cold War already started leading to the isolation of Russia and China by the West.

      • Steven

        July 10, 2022 at 8:03 am

        Or we take out China and Russia, and finally end the illegitimate Communist system once and for all.

        • Ezra Teter

          July 10, 2022 at 3:00 pm

          I would love to know your plans for such an endeavor. We have been trying for decades so far.

      • Ezra Teter

        July 10, 2022 at 3:03 pm

        China goes to developing countries and builds hospitals and infrastructure through their Belt and Road Initiative. We go and we threaten war. Our financial agents in the IMF and World Bank use their power to coerce governments into accepting economy-crushing austerity. You may not like it but a whole lot of the world has a very different perspective than you do.

  2. magneto

    July 9, 2022 at 9:22 pm

    It’s not how China is treated, it’s about the evidence of Chinese aggression and the manipulation of media to paint a wholly unrealistic impression of a dictatorship. Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. There is no reason to think otherwise of a socialist political regime that gives power to one man, with all the human faults that can be attributed.

    Make no mistake socialists mantra for getting into power is the worker gaining access to the means of production, however it is unlikely that the worker would consider a deal where a dictator takes power and that same dictator can send the worker off to war.

  3. pagar

    July 9, 2022 at 11:56 pm

    China has a big BULLSEYE painted squarely on it since…since….since…the ‘okinawa missiles of october’.

    Today, it is uncle sam (not hirohito & his chem/bio teams) that’s eyeing china right now.

    Subs, aircraft carriers, warplanes, spyplanes and CIA operatives/special forces are literally working overtime on or near chinese areas or cities.

    Yhat’s very very far different from the daring 1940 move of warships from san diego to hawaii which japs said was a knife pointing at tokyo’s throat.

    Biden and stoltenberg dogbarking at russia’s gate is the direct cause of ukraine conflict today. It has a direct parallel to the six-day war of 1967 when dogbarking by gamal abdel nasser led to the stunning surprise lightning strike by the IDF.

    • Joe Comment

      July 11, 2022 at 12:30 am

      pagar: Dogbarking? Just one question: have you ever listened to any speech by Vladimir Putin?

  4. aldol11

    July 10, 2022 at 5:09 am

    our inevitable victory in Ukraine might results in the end of both Putin as well as Xi

    • Ezra Teter

      July 10, 2022 at 2:58 pm

      I am basing my own opinions off of observations of what the mainstream media has been saying about the war and it certainly doesn’t seem like Ukraine is winning, let alone that victory is “inevitable.” I would love to know your argument for how Ukraine is going to win and by “win” I mean expel Russia from the country in ignominious defeat.

  5. Steve Krimbill

    July 10, 2022 at 5:19 am

    Clear thinking is obviously not your strong point. Dr. Kellys’ article rings true.

  6. Bankotsu

    July 10, 2022 at 6:21 am

    Majority of countries and people in the world are all on the side of Russia, how can it be a mistake for China? China is just on the side of majority. This article is drivel.

    • Joe Comment

      July 10, 2022 at 9:01 am

      Bankotsu: You say majority is on the side of Russia? Based on what? UN Resolution ES-11/1 deploring Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and calling for withdrawal of the troops passed by 141-5, with 35 abstentions. Even China itself did not vote against, merely abstaining.

      • Bankotsu

        July 10, 2022 at 12:36 pm

        “You say majority is on the side of Russia? Based on what?”

        How many countries sanctioned Russia?

        You know why they all didn’t sanction Russia?

        Because they want Russia to WIN. They all support Russia.

        • Joe Comment

          July 11, 2022 at 11:38 am

          Bankotsu: You’re moving the gold posts. USSR continued trading with Germany from 1939 until 1941. Because they wanted Hitler to WIN? I could easily provide many other examples to rebut the proposition that “no sanctions = want invader to win.”

    • Ezra Teter

      July 10, 2022 at 2:54 pm

      I don’t know about the majority of the world’s countries being on Russia’s side or at least remaining neutral but it might very well be true that countries representing the the majority of the earth’s population are taking that position. It is basically a division between the West and the Global South.

      • Joe Comment

        July 11, 2022 at 12:47 am

        Ezra Teter: The countries that voted with Russia were Belarus, Eritrea, North Korea, and Syria, so besides Russia itself, they govern a tiny fraction of the earth’s population. The most populous abstainers were China, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Iran, but it makes little sense to say that China “represents” its population. One person made the decision for China, and under the existing authoritarianism it’s impossible to estimate public opinion on the matter. Many high-population countries of the Global South voted against Russia: Indonesia, Nigeria, Brazil, Mexico, Philippines, Egypt, Thailand, Tanzania, Myanmar, etc. In short, no, it’s not true that it’s “a division between the West and the Global South.” Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is highly unpopular in most of the world.

        • Ezra Teter

          July 11, 2022 at 12:38 pm

          It depends on whether we are focusing on just the invasion or the sanctions. On the subject of the latter, the entire Global South opposes sanctions because it affects them negatively far more than it does the citizens of the West. I don’t know if you have seen the video of protesters storming the presidential palace in Sri Lanka but there is already one government that has been toppled largely due to the high fuel and food prices that are exacerbated by the war in Ukraine.

          • Joe Comment

            July 11, 2022 at 1:15 pm

            Ezra Teter: China has continued trading with the US continuously from the 1980s through the present. Does that mean it supported each and every military action by the US over that period of time? Or does it suggest that countries can often compartmentalize their positions on trade and on military conflicts?

  7. Brent

    July 10, 2022 at 9:54 pm

    Putin is now Xi’s bitch, right after Fat Boy over in NK.

    • Ezra Teter

      July 11, 2022 at 12:40 pm

      I am sure that he is reading your comment and crying about the vicious burn.

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