Russian invasion of Ukraine; Implications for US-China Relations

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While Xi Jinping reiterated ‘peace and security’ as the most esteemed treasures of the International Community, US-China relations have entered into a new phase amidst Russian invasion of Ukraine. Previously Trump, during his tenure, placed US-China strategic competition as the top priority. Compared to that, Joe Biden came up with a more constructive and cooperative approach in dealing with the People’s Republic of China (PRC). But the crisis in Ukraine has undoubtedly questioned the credibility of sustained Bi-lateral relations as blame game is on fire from both sides. The United States (US) has openly refrained, China from providing any economic, military or other assistance to Russia, warning about serious consequences of such actions. Major western news outlets like BBC and CNN reported after being informed by unnamed intelligence sources about Moscow seeking Beijing’s help so as to save their crumbling economy due to western sanctions. To understand these accusations, let’s first dig down the root causes of this strain created in the relations of both countries.

Earlier this year in January 2022, Russian and Chinese leaders met during the inaugural ceremony of winter Olympic Games in Beijing. This meeting was marked by the release of a joint statement which shared the positions of both countries on a wide range of global issues. The most important ground which was shared by Beijing and Moscow was ‘North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) enlargement’ in Eastern Europe especially with reference to Ukraine joining the alliance. The presence of NATO in the backyard and possibility of Ukraine’s conversion into a pro-liberal democracy clearly posed an existential threat to the authoritarian Russian regime. This statement also highlighted the expansion of the US military in the Indo-Pacific which is alarming for Beijing and its core national Interests. The joint statement emphasised the point of conversion between Russia and China when it comes to their regime type. Both countries vowed to cooperate in different domains but without a formal alliance. China didn’t mention any ground to support Russia if it faced western sanctions over the issue of Ukraine. Russia supported China in issues related to ‘Taiwan strait’ and ‘combating terrorism’ in the north-western province of Xinjiang which has become relatively sensitive topic in China during recent years. Overall, there is no firm alliance between both countries and they are just ‘fair-weather partners’ apparently.

However, after the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, US secret intelligence reports unveiled Russian aims to seek assistance from China in order to mitigate the effects of sanctions posed by west. China has adopted a posture of neutrality over war in Ukraine while acknowledging the ‘legitimate security concerns’ of Russia due to NATO’s expansion. China urged to resolve these issues with mutual consent of ‘all parties’ while refraining to openly condemn Russian Invasion in Ukraine. When the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) voted to condemn the Russian invasion of Ukraine, China clearly abstained from voting against it. Chinese media­­__ which is mainly state owned, has produced skewed discourse while portraying the US as the main instigator of this Conflict. The US termed all these Chinese attempts merely as a tool to disseminate disinformation and propaganda against the west. All these qualms led to an intense seven-hour meeting in Rome between US national Security advisor Jack Sullivan and Yang Jiechi__director of the China office of the foreign affairs commission. Sullivan warned China of bearing consequences if it provided Russia with any assistance while China referred to US allegations as just an attempt to ‘discredit’ China’s position of neutrality. On the other hand, Russia has also denied all such accusations about seeking assistance from China over the war in Ukraine.

The US has been providing Ukraine with the unwavering military support to fight Russian aggression which is condemned by China. According to the Chinese perspective any such US actions would be adding ‘flames to the fire’. But same is the case with China, if China is secretly providing military assistance to Russia, then it is openly inviting US sanctions. The Ukrainian crisis has revived the bloc politics where on one side is Europe and the United States openly supporting Ukraine. On the other side is Russia and China who are not openly accepting their alliance with respect to this particular crisis.  Keeping into consideration the prevailing situation, any Chinese action of helping Russia would majorly define future US-China Relations. The situation compels the US and China to create a hotline to avoid any miscommunication leading to worse circumstances. There is a dire need for both the major powers to properly assess the situation instead of directly jumping to conclusions.

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