China's mediation attempt in the Russia-Ukraine War
Cheng Li, director of the John L. Thornton China Center at the Brookings Institute, has the following observations about China and Ukraine:
Rather than siding with Russia, China wants to play an important mediating role. Relations between China and Ukraine are actually not so bad. Many Ukrainian scientists live and work in China. China's aerospace industry has benefited from them. China's first aircraft carrier was built in Ukraine. China is also providing humanitarian aid to Ukraine. But relations between China and Russia are also very good in some ways. It is above all the common enemy, the United States, that has brought Beijing and Moscow together. [my emphasis]
He sees the current calculation of the Chinese leadership in the Russia-Ukraine War this way:
China is suffering economically from the war. It also reinforces a current narrative that harms China: "Today there is war in Ukraine, tomorrow there is war in Taiwan." It sounds like an attack by China is already planned and inevitable. But this is not China's official policy. The view that the Cold War is back, i.e., a bloc led by China and allied with Iran, is also not in Beijing's interest. China is not interested in this kind of provocation. [my emphasis]
Policymakers have to take account of a country’s capabilities as well as its likely intent. And in something so complicated and important to China as Taiwan, there are a variety of possible actions and decisions that other countries also have to take into account in judgment China’s position and likely actions.
The reason why China has not condemned Russia for attacking Ukraine is that Beijing thinks, if we condemn Russia, we should also condemn NATO expansion. Of course, China doesn't want Russia to be completely defeated now, because if that happened, China could be next. This is the dilemma in which China finds itself.
Li warns against the US and China falling into a “a reaction spiral in which fear and hostility reinforce each other.“
A reasonable warning. We’ve been there before.
China’s leader Xi Jinping is currently undertaking a high-proifle mediation attempt between Russia and Ukraine.
Xi’s decision to seek an active role in the mediation process brings immense opportunities and risks for Beijing. Mediation could secure important diplomatic, geopolitical, and economic benefits for Chinese interests. On the other hand, Xi’s personal diplomacy could easily backfire, especially in Europe. While Xi has proved he is extraordinarily shrewd operator in Chinese domestic politics, the strongman’s heavy-handed diplomacy and idiosyncratic zero COVID policy raise doubts about his ability to play cards skillfully in Europe.
Xi’s aims in mediating Russia-Ukraine talks appear to be fivefold: establish China as a leading, potentially indispensable, diplomatic force; maintain Russian President Vladimir Putin atop the power vertical and ensure Russia’s continuing pro-Beijing alignment; prevent further deterioration to technological, political, and economic ties with Europe; create or exploit fissures within the Western alliance system and between the West and the developing world; and enable a more conducive external economic environment. Xi’s objectives are achievable, but often in clear tension with one another.[my emphasis]
Li, Chang (2023): „China ist in einem Dilemma“. taz 18.03.2023. <https://taz.de/China-Experte-ueber-Ukraine-und-Taiwan/!5920542/> (Accessed: 2023-19-03). Translation from the German are mine.
Webster, Joseph (2023): Xi Bets on His Own Personal Diplomacy in Russia, Ukraine. The Diplomat 03/15/2023. <https://thediplomat.com/2023/03/xi-bets-on-his-own-personal-diplomacy-in-russia-ukraine/> (Accessed 2023-19-03).