Beijing’s balancing act in bilateral ties with Russia amid Ukraine war


Russian President Vladimir Putin (L) with Chinese leader Xi Jinping. FILE PHOTO | REUTERS

It has taken me time to understand China’s moves lately, following its decades of astute strategic foresight and preparation to achieve global market dominance.

For, time and time again, China has set sight on a market, planned, prepared, and then taken it over.

And then came its alliance with Russia: a bit-part player in the global economy, worth only two percent of China’s exports, versus the 63.7 percent traded with its top 15 export partners, close to all of which are vigorously opposed to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Why would China jeopardise its whole economy around this newfound loyalty to Russia?

Yet, progressively, the answer has emerged, for China has not and cannot support or supply Russia in this war.

If it became a party to the attack on Ukraine, it could say goodbye to its position as a lead supplier in every Western home and around the world.

Instead, it has emerged as one of the world’s few beneficiaries from the war, winning massive discounts on oil and other supplies borne of Russia’s wartime neediness, and with far greater potential gains ahead.

For there is another matter of territory here.

Russia shares a 4,209km border with China, which has seen repeated tensions, armed conflict, and an agreement signed just 15 years ago, in 2008, by China, ceding its territorial claims to eastern Siberia.

Yet China has no track record of relinquishing claims to regions.

And in March, this year, it issued an order that eight cities in eastern Siberia should no longer be marked on Chinese documents with their Russian names, such as Vladivostok, but henceforth with their Chinese names.

Now, that’s no coincidence. The planned Chinese don’t do coincidences in public policy.

The fact is that if Russia fails in its war with Ukraine, China will face a severely weakened nation in reasserting its claim to those cities and that region.

Bear in mind, too, that it was China that gave us ‘The Art of War’, an essential tenet of which is to first weaken your adversary or facilitate it in weakening itself.

For China, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine was a power-supply gift, but its failure in the war will be a more lasting gift.

This is why China’s talk of peace negotiations has presented a document no counterparty will ever accept, as Ukraine ceding all Russian-occupied territories and the world abandoning all sanctions against Russia except those Kremlin has agreed to on the UN Security Council – which are none.

It’s a victory bid for Russia with no hope of success when the most strategically beneficial outcome for China is a Russian loss and a relatively powerful nation replaced with a bowed Chinese supplicant.