The meeting held between Vladimir Putin, the President of Russia and Xi Jin Ping, the General Secretary of the Chinese Communist Party and President of People’s Republic of China, on the occasion of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization Summit in Uzbekistan portrayed a different perspective of the Chinese government viewing the Russian occupation in Ukraine. Xi and Putin had their last one-to-one meeting in February where both the leaders committed to a “no limits” partnership, guaranteeing each other unrestrained political and diplomatic support. However, at this point of time, there are some limitations visible in their ‘no limits’ partnership, and China being the dominant partner among the two is setting the limits.
Since the onset of the war, China has taken up a balanced role amidst the Ukraine-Russia situation. But the meeting during the SCO Summit has shown a clear indication from Xi Jin Ping to Putin that, China, by no means, is interested in the high-intensity, long-term war and told Putin to “assume the role of great powers” and play an anchoring role to bring solidity in the world system. China’s lack of interest in such a long-stretched turmoil is only because of the jeopardies that it would bring upon the Chinese economy, reputation, and their role in global politics.
China has been the leading trade partner in the EU countries as well as a great hub for investment by EU-based companies. European companies have invested about $5.1 billion in China during 2021, making them the third largest foundation of FDI in China. The Chinese Ministry of Commerce has reported about the trade between China and the EU has reached $420.6 billion during the first half of the ongoing year, 2022. The economic relationship between China and the West, which especially includes the United States of America and EU is an undeniable phenomenon. Wuttke, the chief of the EU Chamber of Commerce in China, has reiterated the fact that even if the relationship between China and the EU is not on good terms, they still have to “rely on each other”. The political and economic commentators of Europe and China have more or less recapitulated identical statements.
This economic and political concern of China gained newer heights, with Ukraine being a massive ground of investment for China. It has acquired one-tenth of farmable lands within Ukraine, simultaneously Ukraine being a leading supplier of corn for China. Above all, Kyiv has been a valuable partner of the Chinese grand initiative of Belt and Road. So, a war-trodden Ukraine and counter-China policy of Europe or the West is the least expected outcome by China. The Observatory of Economic Complexity (OEC) portrayed the trading image of China and Ukraine during August 2022, where goods worth $42.9 million was imported by China and $185 million worth of goods was exported to Ukraine. However, there has been a decrease of about $926 million in export value, i.e., from $1.11 billion to $185 million in comparison to August, 2021.
China has been the leading exporter of Telephones to Ukraine in the current year, which is worth 13.3 million. Other than that, nicotine products, tires and cars are among the exported goods to Ukraine. On the contrary, the import of Soyabean oil from Ukraine and export of semiconductor devices, iron pipes have taken a blow. Quintessentially, the ongoing conflict along with the balanced political and diplomatic standpoint of China can be easily blamed for this immense diminution of the trade value, which unquestionably is a headache for China specially at such a time when the oil price has hiked globally, and technological innovation is a necessity.
Sino-Russian relations have turned out to be a paradoxical one. The “cold warning” of Xi towards Putin is evidence in this respect. There is a strained bond existing within the diplomatic and political domain between China and Russia, which has been mainly caused due to Russia’s military intervention in Ukraine. The American media and commentators have alleged China of knowing about the intervention beforehand; which China undoubtedly have denied. China has rather constantly condemned the NATO for its advancement towards the regions which created the security dilemma for Russia in order to take the drastic step of retaliating in the military form. Besides, China perceives the danger that NATO posits for its geostrategic ambitions, being a distinct tool for American expansionism. China feels that, its historical and ideological support towards Russia is hampering its global reputation and, it is something that would inhibit the grand plan of establishing the BRI project and the economic progression that is massively dependent on the exports to America & EU countries.
China has been closely observing the Russian offensive strategies toward Ukraine from the very onset of the situation. The meticulous observation of the condition included the response of the world community and especially the incentives of United States towards the Russian “expansionism”. The reason for this being the Chinese intention to take a strong step in taking the full control of Taiwan. The 100 miles distant island of Taiwan is situated among the “first island chain” which is surrounded by strategically crucial territories of USA. So, a footstep to take over Taiwan could imminently pose a threat to the American security establishments in the places like Hawaii and Guam. The Chinese diplomacy thus taking a very cautious and middle-way role in the Russia-Ukraine conflict is not only with the intention of non-interference but also exclusively for examining the American and Western response towards the conflict; because that is something that will definitively give an enlightened vision to China about how it might have to mobilize its diplomacy and power politics to complete its intention.
China is concerned about expanding its influence in a more robust manner. This quintessentially urges to strengthen its own power generating house, which is its technology, manpower and economy. China looks to take advantage of the ongoing conflict of Russia and enforce it “partnership card” to gain remarkable discounts in the imports of, especially energy. However, in this “situation” China would definitely not want any sort of sanctions or economic restrictions to be imposed on them by the West. Since, America and the EU countries have been a complimentary hub of trading for China, it would not want to hamper this ecosystem, but also, would not submit towards their will in order to safeguard its geopolitical ambitions, for which the Beijing-Moscow companionship is indispensable.
[Photo by Kremlin.ru, CC BY 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons]
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author.
Wafiq Jawad Pranto is an International Relations Graduate, now pursuing Master’s is Security Studies in University of Dhaka, Bangladesh.