China’s Turning Point: Will it Sit with Russia and Divide the World? | China

Joe Biden is set to make a phone call to Xi Jinping on Friday at a potential tipping point in China’s role in the world as it decides how far to go to support Russia’s war on Ukraine.

While China abstained on UN Security Council resolutions on the invasion, it sided with Moscow rhetorically, echoing Russian talking points blaming NATO and recycling conspiracy theories, and the Biden administration thinks it has already decided to bail out Russia economically.

At a meeting in Rome on Monday between US national security adviser Jake Sullivan and his Chinese counterpart Yang Jiechi, the Chinese delegation stunned US officials by echoing denied Russian claims that the US and Ukraine had jointly pursued a covert biological weapons program. . The Americans returned from Rome more pessimistic than ever about Beijing’s intentions.

“There are a lot of indications that the Chinese are doing more behind the scenes to support Russia, in all areas: financially, economically and militarily,” an official said. “And that is deeply troubling. If they continue on this path, it will be a turning point that will likely lead to much deeper concern in Europe about China and a deeper schism between Washington and Beijing.

Members of Congress have warned that if there is evidence of Chinese military aid to the Russian campaign in Ukraine, they will impose punitive economic measures. Business leaders are also likely to reevaluate their dealings with China, as well as European governments.

During his phone call with Xi, Biden will echo some of the arguments Sullivan made in Rome: that the Chinese leader was wrong about Vladimir Putin, about Russian intentions toward Ukraine and the strength of his military. He will argue that it is not in China’s interest to double down on a mistake and back a loser.

Adding to the drawbacks, the UN’s International Court of Justice on Wednesday ordered Russia to suspend its military operations in Ukraine. The Chinese judge voted against the ruling, but under the UN Charter, China is still legally bound by the decision.

“China may be tempted to support Russia in its conflict with Ukraine,” wrote Oona Hathaway and Ryan Goodman, both former Pentagon legal advisers. just security blog, pointing out that supplying arms would “directly implicate China in Russia’s illegal war” and could expose Beijing to sanctions.

“China cannot provide military aid to Russia and remain on the fringes of legality,” they argued.

“There is still a window before China loses its leeway”

Since Monday’s meeting in Rome, there have been some signs that China is continuing to hedge its bets, enough to give Washington some hope that all is not lost. Chinese state-run TV channels have started showing footage of the devastation in Ukrainian cities, though they have yet to call it a war or an invasion. the Chinese Ambassador to Ukraine assured his hosts: “We will always respect your condition.”

the German newspaper Bild reported that Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov was on his way to Beijing on Thursday but turned around and returned to Moscow for unknown reasons. A US official confirmed the incident but warned it was too early to tell its significance, speculating that China “may have wanted to play down public displays” of friendship.

On March 12, Professor Hu Wei, vice president of the policy research center attached to the State Council, wrote an article on China’s Ukrainian dilemmanoting that Putin’s military effort was wavering.

“China cannot be tied to Putin and must be isolated as soon as possible,” he argued. “Right now, it is estimated that there are still a week or two before China loses its breathing room. China must act decisively.

The Mandarin version of the article was censored soon after it appeared. The pessimistic view within the Biden administration is that Xi does not listen to such voices and has made his pact with Putin a top priority aimed at blunting US power and influence at all costs. The two leaders have met 38 times over the past nine years and in February promised the relationship would have “no limits”.

A screen on a street in Beijing shows Xi Jinping and Joe Biden in talks via video link last November. At the next meeting of US and Chinese leaders, Biden is expected to tell Xi that it is not in China’s interest to back Vladimir Putin. Photography: Kevin Frayer/Getty Images

The repercussions of the war in Ukraine have already spilled over into the Indo-Pacific, where the resilience of a small democracy in the face of a much more powerful autocracy has local relevance in the form of Taiwan. US allies in the region have joined in sanctions against Russia, including Australia and Japan, which announced new measures on Friday and, in some cases, sent military supplies.

A division of the world into two camps, along political and economic lines, would represent a deep dilemma for India, which is trying to stay on the fence of Ukraine.

“For India, one of its foreign policy goals is to prevent Russia from getting even closer to China,” said Tanvi Madan, director of the India Project at the Brookings Institution. She added that India has always viewed Russia as a supporter of last resort in its rivalry with China and as its main arms supplier.

“They at least hoped that Russia’s neutrality would prevent Russia from swinging towards China, especially in a crisis,” Madan said. If Russia drifts into dependence on Beijing due to its misjudgments in Ukraine, Moscow’s support for India is no longer guaranteed in a confrontation with China, like the confrontation in the Himalayas last year.

“It leads to a discussion in India about the need to reduce India’s overreliance on Russia for military supplies,” Madan said.

Europe too would find itself with difficult choices to make regarding its economic ties with China, as the schism grows over Ukraine.

“As Xi Jinping positions himself and China as the main power in an authoritarian bloc, it would be almost impossible for any European democracy to come close to Beijing,” said Abraham Denmark, former US Deputy Undersecretary of Defense. for East Asia, now at the Wilson Center think tank. “It would be a sea change in the geopolitical balance of power.”

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