As US President Joe Biden arrives in Brussels to attend meetings of the Atlantic Alliance, the G7 and the EU and then to Poland, US President Joe Biden has never stopped confirming the support that the US and Western countries intend to give Ukraine. On the other hand, in Beijing, the behavior to be adopted with regard to Russia is less easy to define. For a month, Chinese leaders have carefully avoided questioning the Russian army’s entry into Ukraine. But they can only see that nothing seems to be going as Moscow had planned.
When Vladimir Putin presented Xi Jinping with Russia’s warlike intentions in Ukraine on February 4 in Beijing, it is very likely that he was planning a quick victory offensive. The resistance of the Ukrainians, however, significantly blocked the advance of the Russian troops. They are also confronted with all sorts of organizational and supply difficulties that were apparently not foreseen in Moscow. As a result, the Russian army besieged several cities, the bombing of its air force was intense, and despite this, it did not really progress.
All this is closely observed in Beijing. But apparently, from a Chinese point of view, there is no question of abandoning the Russian ally when it is in serious trouble. For China, the priority is no longer, as at the beginning of the conflict, to balance its position between Russia and Ukraine. Three weeks ago, the Chinese position was to lament that this war was taking place and even send messages of sympathy to Ukraine.
Regardless of the cost
From now on, it seems important to show support for Vladimir Putin’s Russia. As early as March 7, Wang Yi, the Chinese Foreign Minister, declared it “friendship” Sino-Russian is “solid as a rock” and “the prospects for future cooperation are enormous”.
In this logic, one of Beijing’s goals is to seek to present explanations for Vladimir Putin’s offensive behavior. This is equivalent to reproducing, without the slightest hindsight, certain elements of Russian propaganda. As early as March 8, the Chinese Foreign Ministry raised a theory that the United States would control Ukraine “hazardous biological laboratories”.
According to the official Chinese news agency Xinhua, “The United States has twenty-six biological laboratories and other related sites in Ukraine over which the Pentagon has full control. In addition, it is required that all dangerous pathogens in Ukraine be stored in these laboratories and that all research activities be monitored by the United States.”
The press in Beijing takes up these accusations and adds it “These revelations about US biological military activities in Ukraine raise many concerns, but they only reveal the tip of the iceberg of the US ‘biological military empire’ around the world.”.
On March 17, the same Xinhua bureau publishes an editorial entitled “Washington, the Greatest Tyrant in the World,” which believes that the United States has “a warlike story strewn with military intrusion and hidden undermining […]. The primitive American pirate culture that defends looting and conquest has been highlighted by Washington, so it has become a hegemonic foreign policy that consists of tensing muscles when the opportunity arises, brutalizing others when it suits you. sings and dictates the rules of the world as if it were natural.
Also on March 17, Zhao Lijian, one of the spokesmen for the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, develops an idea very widespread in Russia, according to which “US and NATO are responsible for war in Ukraine”. Which makes him say: “We hope that the United States and NATO can reflect on their role in the Ukraine crisis, assume their responsibilities and take practical steps to […] create a rapid solution to the conflict. ” This presentation does not consider any Russian responsibility for the current situation in Ukraine.
Lack of concrete
With such a state of mind on the Chinese side, it is not surprising that the nearly two-hour video conference call on March 18 between Xi Jinping and Joe Biden on the American side was considered disappointing. The Chinese press reports that Xi Jinping began by telling Joe Biden: “The Ukrainian crisis is something we do not want to see.” However, he did not condemn the Russian invasion and talked about it “conflict” or of “confrontation” without ever using the word “war”.
But Xi Jinping did much to emphasize the role that China, according to him, like the United States, is capable of playing to avoid this kind of conflict. To the US President, he said: “As a permanent member of the UN Security Council and [étant] the two largest economies in the world, we must […] assume our international responsibilities and make an effort for world peace and tranquility. “
Xi Jinping thus suggests that the United States needs China to end the hostilities in Ukraine. But it does not work anymore, at least for the moment. And on March 25, the People’s Daily, the official body of the Communist Party, summed up the Chinese government’s current position with the headline: “Injecting more stability into a turbulent and changing world.”
In Washington, White House advisers appear to have been confused by Xi Jinping’s vague remarks. They took the time to listen to them again before indicating in a press release that Joe Biden had explained the position of the United States and its allies and partners on this crisis.
On this subject, President Joe Biden provided details when he arrived in Brussels on March 24. At a press conference, he explained what he said: “I made no threats, but made it clear to Xi Jinping and made sure he understood the consequences of helping Russia.” And to add“China understands that its economic future is much more closely linked to the West than to Russia.”
These exchanges on March 18 between the US and Chinese presidents indicate at least a deep mutual distrust. This, of course, comes from the competitive climate and the trade sanctions that Donald Trump has imposed on China and that Joe Biden has not questioned. It seems that Xi Jinping carefully avoids agreeing with the Americans.
What, on the other hand, probably does not simplify China’s position on the Ukrainian question either, is the current debates between Chinese about Russia’s behavior. Many on the Internet support explanations that blame America for the war. But there are also students from universities in Beijing who have come together to strongly condemn the war and recall that China signed a mutual security pact with Ukraine in 1994.
Also in Beijing, prominent history professors published an open letter early in the conflict in which they condemned “Russia’s invasion of a sovereign state, in violation of international standards.” There are also Internet users who in their Weibo account ask questions about this conflict in Ukraine, such as: “Are we still in a feudal period where the goal is to expand its territory?”
In addition, an article on the Ukrainian issue, published in the Communist Party’s internal press, was translated into English on March 12 in an American newspaper specializing in Chinese news, the US-China Perception Monitor. The author of this article is Hu Wei. He is the Vice President of a Chinese Government Research Center at the same time as a Professor at the Institute of Marxist Studies at the School of the Communist Party of Shanghai, and he wrote that “This military operation in Ukraine is an irreversible mistake.”
Therefore, Hu Wei considers it “China must avoid being isolated, as Russia has become” and he continues: “China can not bind Putin and must cut ties with him as soon as possible. China must get rid of this burden as soon as possible. It must take a neutral stance. On March 20, censorship made this article untraceable in China.
It is clear that the Chinese leadership does not want to rush into an initiative aimed at stopping the hostilities in Ukraine. In order for this result not to be completely random, there must be real changes in place. However, fighting continues well beyond what Vladimir Putin most likely announced in Beijing in February.
For the Chinese Communist Party, moreover, there are other significant issues to deal with this year: maintaining acceptable economic growth, while Chinese domestic demand is disappointing, counteracting the sharp rise in commodities or even preventing the Covid epidemic from spreading in the country. And in the autumn, the Communist Party will hold its twentieth congress, where Xi Jinping decreed that he would be invested for a third term as general secretary. This while his predecessors had to limit themselves to two terms of five years.
However, Xi Jinping can hardly erase the special relationship he staged with Vladimir Putin. The two men have met thirty-eight times since 2013, and they wanted to show that a common Russian-Chinese will could displace US and its allies’ domination of world affairs. Today, Xi Jinping knows that he would be openly criticized in the Communist Party if he turned his back on Vladimir Putin. On the contrary, if he continues to avoid criticizing Moscow’s position, this risks linking China with the war in Ukraine.
In the absence of a good solution, the Chinese number 1 does not currently seem to be seeking to intervene to try to stop the Russian invasion of Ukraine. While perhaps waiting for a change in the situation and the fights to allow him to play the role of referee. Which could only be beneficial to its international image.