The weight of China in the war in Ukraine

For more than two weeks, Vladimir Putin has become the number one enemy of Western democracy, a secret agent turned president turned maniac.

The headlines report a return to a Cold War logic between the United States and Russia after a long intermission, with Ukraine being the scene of this tragedy.

But Russia’s Big Bear of 2022 has a relatively small economy — the size of Canada’s — and greatly reduced political influence compared to Soviet times. So the Cold War analogy between two world powers only holds if you include China in the equation.

On February 4, Xi Jinping and Putin entered into a “limitless” partnership to cooperate against the West. A few weeks later, a leak of documents from a network of beijing newsa Chinese government-controlled newspaper, revealed that even before the invasion of Ukraine, China was preparing a media response to defend Russia.

On the other hand, the recent disclosure of a report by the American government shows that Russia has agreed with China to begin the conquest of its neighbor after the end of the Beijing Olympics.

For a nation that maintains not to interfere in the internal affairs of other countries, China seems to have been ready to use its influence without reservation… Added to this is also its failure to condemn the aggression against the Ukraine at the UN and its opposition to any sanctions aimed at Russia to convince the West of their implacable alliance.

Moreover, the Chinese economy seems to be able to benefit from the conflict in Ukraine and the sanctions imposed by the NATO countries on Russia. Putin’s country must in particular turn to China to sell its reserves of natural gas and wheat.

The two countries have agreed to stop using the US dollar, in order to hegemonize the yuan as the preferred currency. The exclusion of Russian banks from the SWIFT network has forced Russian bureaucrats to explore joining a Chinese equivalent.

Russia’s alienation from the international community therefore makes it increasingly dependent on China. Moreover, Putin’s demonization takes our gaze away from Xi Jinping’s transgressions and forces the United States to play vigilante for our planet yet again. How not to see a planned coup?

The invasion of Ukraine with the support of China foreshadows the invasion of Taiwan with the support of Russia. However, the bravery of the Ukrainian people and their conviction to defend their territory have extended the effort deployed by the Russian armed forces which will be necessary to claim victory. The perception of democratic countries’ cowardice has been proven wrong, given their formidable response to the Ukrainian president’s plea for help.

A quick resolution of the conflict is not on the horizon. All is not won for China, which will inevitably have to suffer another international political crisis, economic sanctions and an enemy benefiting from military aid if it decides to take the island of Formosa by force.

More broadly, what is currently unfolding denotes the schism between two visions of society. The Sino-American proxy war currently raging in Eastern Europe is one between the two superpowers of our era. China will closely follow the events of the coming days.

Thomas Stringer
PhD student at Polytechnique Montreal
Ex-student in applied economics at National Chengchi University

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