Russia and Ukraine: why the invasion ordered by Putin is a great challenge for China

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine poses a major challenge for China on many fronts.

In the Winter Olympics, the close diplomatic relationship between the Asian country and the Russian government could be seen, after the assistance of the president Vladimir Putin to the inauguration in Beijing of the sporting event.

Russia’s president waited until just after the Games ended to recognize Ukraine’s two breakaway eastern regions, Donetsk and Luhansk, and send troops to invade Ukrainian territory.

In its public statements, the Chinese government has urged all parties to reduce tensions in Ukraine.

More recently, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi discussed the situation with US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken, acknowledging that things were “getting worse” and reiterating calls for “all parties to exercise restraint.”

But now that Russia has dispensed with all that restraint, where does that leave China’s official position as the clashes escalate?

ambivalent position

Getty Images

The Chinese government believes that it cannot be perceived as supporting the war in Europe, but it also wants to strengthen military and strategic ties with Moscow.

Ukraine’s number one trading partner is China, and ideally, Beijing would like to maintain good relations with Kiev, but this could be difficult when it is clearly aligned with the government that is sending its troops into Ukrainian territory.

There is also the possibility of China’s trade backlash in Western Europe if it is seen as backing Russia’s aggression.

Also, a common refrain from China’s leaders is that they don’t interfere in each other’s internal affairs and that other countries shouldn’t interfere in theirs.

A photo provided by the press service of the Ukrainian Ministry of Internal Affairs shows the aftermath of an explosion in the building of a military unit in Kiev.

EPA/Ukrainian Ministry of Internal Affairs
A photo provided by the press service of the Ukrainian Ministry of Internal Affairs shows the effects of an explosion in the building of a military unit in Kiev.

But as former US intelligence official John Culver posted on Twitter: “The Russian annexation of parts of Ukraine, or the invasion and seizure of Kiev, violates China’s position that sovereignty is sacrosanct.”

The effects on your population

What the Chinese Communist Party is most concerned about is how the intervention might affect its own people and worldview.

For this reason, he is manipulating and controlling conversations about the situation on Ukraine in the press and social networks.

And it wasn’t going to be long before Taiwan was dragged into this situation.

The Party sees the autonomous island as essentially a rebellious province that must be unified with the mainland.

On Weibo, China’s version of Twitter, nationalists in the country have used the Russian invasion of Ukraine to call on their own nation to do the same with comments such as: “Now is the best chance to take back Taiwan!”

Map showing the Luhansk and Donetsk regions

BBC

When the Chinese government rejected imposing sanctions on Russia in recent days, it knew it could face similar treatment if it moves to seize Taiwan by force, in what would be a bloody and costly exercise.

Perhaps for this reason, Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told a news conference in Beijing that China does not see sanctions as the best way to solve problems.

The borders

If Chinese citizens begin to link Russia’s rationale for invading Ukraine to apply to their own country, this could completely change the Chinese government’s explanation of its current borders.

Vladimir Putin says he is freeing Russian-speakers inside Ukraine. What about the Mongols, Koreans, Kyrgyz and similar groups that are now part of China? Even more potentially explosive for Beijing, what if the Tibetans or the Uyghurs renew calls for greater autonomy or even independence?

That this does not happen is more important to the Xi Jinping administration than anything else.

In Kiev, police and security personnel inspect the remains of a shell in a street.

AFP
In Kiev, police and security personnel inspect the remains of a shell in a street.

Given that, one only has to look at the comments on Chinese social media to see the direction in which the Party media is leading the population in terms of how they should view Putin’s moves in Eastern Europe.

The state press has its own Weibo accounts and monitors responses to its posts about Russia and Ukraine.

Here is a sample of the comments:

-“Putin is amazing!”

-“I support Russia, I oppose the US. That is all I want to say”

-“The United States always wants to create disorder in the world!”

While there are also plenty of people calling for peace, posts attacking the US get a lot of hype.

the minefield that Beijing wants to avoid

As for the Chinese who really question Russia’s ambitions in Ukraine, look for individual Weibo accounts that are not connected to Communist Party media threads.

People on a platform of a Kiev metro station

BBC
Residents of Kiev headed to underground metro stations to take refuge. A similar situation was experienced during the bombing of World War II.

One writes: “I don’t understand why so many people support Russia and Putin. We should oppose any form of war!”

According to another: “Putin recognizes the independence of the breakaway regions of Ukraine, which is obviously interfering in the internal affairs of another country.”

That last publication expresses precisely the conclusion to which Beijing He doesn’t want his people to come.

It is the essence of the minefield that the Chinese government is going through.

Inside Ukraine, the Chinese embassy has sent a message to its citizens living in the country.

He has recommended that people put a Chinese flag on their car and “help each other” while showing “the strength of China.”

Asked whether what is happening in Ukraine right now amounts to an invasion, Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told a press conference that the “historical context is complicated” and that the current situation is “caused by all sorts of factors.”

A great commotion is taking place in Europe.

Xi Jinping has some important decisions to make in terms of how his countryto will face.


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