Pro-Russian neutrality, the Beijing straddle, sitting on the fence, a Chinese balancing act — different labels have been ascribed to China’s position on the war in Ukraine. But Chinese rhetoric and action over the last year and its new paper “Position on the Political Settlement of the Ukraine Crisis” provide a clearer picture of Beijing’s consistent Moscow-leaning alignment — although the ultimate direction of its geopolitical calisthenics remains difficult to gauge.
China published its position for a political resolution of the war in Ukraine in Ukraine on the anniversary of Russia’s invasion, February 24 — a day after abstaining from a UN resolution on the principles of the UN charter and the need for peace in Ukraine, and two days after China’s top diplomat, Wang Yi, was in Moscow to emphasize the strength of Sino-Russian relations. In parallel, Chinese representatives in Brussels and at the Munich Security Conference told EU officials to not “read too much into the terminology” and invest more in Europe’s “strategic autonomy”.
Confused? As contradictory as these positions appear, Beijing sees its stance as dialectically consistent. It derives from what it indeed considers as a a key “contradiction” in global affairs — strategic competition and eventually confrontation with the US and “its bloc”. It can be taken as a realist expression of how China’s leadership defines its global interests – keep relations with the country’s largest neighbor on track, stand with Russia on challenging US power, avoid Western sanctions, advance China’s standing and influence.
What Chinese officials tell their Russian counterparts in private about Ukraine is not known — although it is known that, in China, there are diverse views on this issue. What’s critical to understand is that Beijing’s official position has less to do with near-term concern for Ukraine than it does with its long-term strategic “struggle” with the US.
For now, China has Moscow’s back.
First, China has aligned with Russian narratives and its criticism of the West. Beijing refuses to label the war a “war” or an “invasion” – in Munich Wang spoke of the “Ukraine issue”. China’s state-run media regularly uses Russian footage and stokes anti-Western sentiments by calling the US and NATO…