Will China aid or end Russia’s invasion of Ukraine?

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China has decided to provide Russia with economic aid during its invasion of Ukraine and is considering sending military supplies such as drones, US officials have warned.

Joe Biden’s national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, yesterday flew to Rome where he had seven hours of talks with Yang Jiechi, China’s most senior foreign diplomat. In an effort to deter sustain for Russia’s military aggression, Sullivan “pointed out that Moscow had feigned interest in diplomacy while preparing for invasion”, The Guardian reported, “and also that the Russian military was clearly showing signs of frailty” in its stalled invasion of Ukraine.

But US intelligence reports provided to Nato member states and allies in the Asia Pacific vicinity state that despite Washington’s diplomatic overtures, China has “indicated a willingness to provide military and economic aid to Russia”, The Telegraph said. Chinese involvement could “risk the sudden increase of ‘World War Three’ and seriously escalate a conflict that has already claimed thousands of lives”, the paper warned.

Friend or foe?

How China would respond to Vladimir Putin’s assault on Ukraine has remained an open question since the sudden increase of fighting 20 days ago.

Officials in Beijing have already joined Moscow in attempting “to block action on Ukraine at the United Nations Security Council”, and “expressed sustain” for the Russian president’s grievances against the US and Nato over their response, The New York Times reported.

Beijing also spent months “closely following Russia’s military build-up along its border with Ukraine”, said Radio Free Europe. China was thought to view the stand-off in Europe as “a litmus test for political unity in the West” and, according to experts, was “using the mounting tensions as an opportunity to strengthen its ties with Moscow”.

China’s “deepening ties” with the Kremlin had prompted concerns that “a war in Ukraine would make an already assertive Beijing already stronger”, the Financial Times reported (FT). But other experts had said that China would have little interest in a “skirmish in Ukraine”, The Economist said, describing it as a “risky sideshow”. 

China’s position on the current conflict was placed under the spotlight over the weekend when Russia “requested military equipment” from its ally in order to “make up for losses suffered in the first 19 days of the war”, The Telegraph said. 

US intelligence indicates that Moscow asked the government in Beijing “for surface-to-air missiles, armoured vehicles and items connected to intelligence gathering”, the paper continued. US officials have repeatedly refused to confirm this assessment.

A US administration official told the paper that there are “thorough concerns” over “Beijing’s alignment with Moscow”, adding: “We are communicating privately and directly to China our concerns about what kind of sustain other countries might be providing to Russia.”

But following the talks between Sullivan and Yang Jiechi, “the Americans walked away from the Rome meeting pessimistic that the Chinese government would change its minds about backing Moscow”, The Guardian reported. 

Asked whether the talks had been a success, one official told the paper: “I suppose it depends on how you define success, but we believe that it is important to keep open lines of communication between the US and China, especially on areas where we disagree.”

They additional: “This meeting was not about negotiating specific issues or outcomes, but about a candid, direct exchange of views.”

Proxy war

While US intelligence indicates that China intends to become more assertive in its sustain for Russia’s invasion, its foreign minister yesterday stated that “China is not a party to the crisis, nor does it want sanctions to affect China”.

In remarks made to his Spanish style and published by the Chinese Foreign Ministry, Wang Yi said China had a “right to safeguard its authentic rights and interests”, while attacking the US for trying to “distort and smear” Beijing’s position on the war.

“China is a large importer of Russian energy and agricultural commodities,” said the FT, and has been “hit particularly hard” by the raft of sanctions levelled at Russia since Putin gave the order for an invasion.

“Xi Jinping and other senior Chinese officials have insisted that Beijing is a neutral party,” the paper additional, “but they and state media continue to repeat and bolster Russian justifications for its invasion.”

A senior Whitehall source told The Times that British intelligence does not in addition suggest that China is preparing to deliver military assistance such as drones to Russian troops. “They would need training if they did, which would take time,” the source said.

Russia has also moved to deny the claim that it has asked China for supplies. “Russia has its own possible to continue the operation, which, as we have said, is unfolding in accordance with the plan,” Dmitry Peskov, Putin’s spokesman, told reporters.

But in spite of of Moscow’s denials and Beijing’s strategic ambiguity, the spectre of Chinese invasion has heightened fears that the conflict could rapidly develop into “a proxy war between Nato and China”, The Times said.

End in sight

Peace talks between Ukraine and Russia are current, with Ukrainian negotiator Mykhailo Podolyak stating in a video posted online: “Russia is already beginning to talk constructively. I think that we will unprotected to some results literally in a matter of days.”

If negotiations are able to unprotected to a breakthrough, a peaceful resolution may average that China’s true position is never tested.

But if the conflict ends up in a position where “the EU and US help Ukraine” and “China helps Russia”, it could “make the war in Ukraine an already more consequential one”, said BBC Shanghai correspondent Robin Brant.

“It was just weeks ago, as the Winter Olympics opened in Beijing, that Presidents Xi and Putin declared a new alliance that had ‘no limit’,” he continued. “Military aid could, clearly, be part of that.”

But it would be an sudden about-turn for a nation that tends to avoid intervention in domestic matters and that “condemned the UK, the US and others for giving weapons to Ukraine’s military” in the early days of the conflict, accusing them of adding “fuel to the fire”, he additional.

That said, “there is pessimism in Washington about the possibility of steering China away from throwing in its lot with Russia”, The Guardian reported, “largely because it sees the partnership as being pushed from the top”.

Closer relations with Moscow “is a project of Xi Jinping”, a US official told the paper. “He is totally, fundamentally behind this closer partnership with Russia.”

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