- 26 Feb 2023 11:19 #15266308
https://thechinaproject.com/2023/02/23/ ... -invasion/
An interesting podcast from US policy analysts on the Chinese-Russian relationship.
An interesting podcast from US policy analysts on the Chinese-Russian relationship.
Sinica Podcast wrote:[Evan] in February, 2022, I said to you that Beijing’s basic problem was that it was trying to reconcile interests that were fundamentally irreconcilable. At the strategic level, they had a partnership with Russia that was focused heavily on the United States and on a shared interest in counterbalancing American power, antipathy to American foreign policy, and back footing American foreign policy where they could, both in international institutions and in various regions around the world.
But then second, China had these principles of supposed commitment to sovereignty and non-interference in internal affairs of other countries. Then third, and perhaps most importantly, China’s a major trading and investing power. And so, it had a very strong interest in assuring global market access. So, the problem they faced, and the reason I called them irreconcilable interests was that the more they leaned into their partnership with Russia, the more, quite intuitively, they would paint the sanctions target on their back. And conversely, the more they complied with sanctions, the more Mr. Putin would be dissatisfied with the nature, intensity, and velocity of his developing relationship with China. So, they performed what I predicted would be a kind of straddle, and I called it the Beijing straddle, where they would tack uncomfortably between these.
And that’s basically what’s happened.... So, I think they’ll continue in various ways, not just to straddle, but to lean a little harder into that relationship with Moscow. And it may surprise us over the next year in ways that probably defy what we think is moral or logical, but make certain sense in the calculus of Chinese foreign policy.
Sinica wrote:[Host] Sasha, 抱团取暖 (bàotuánqǔnuǎn) is one way I’ve heard Chinese colleagues and analysts describe China’s attitude toward Russia, that they huddle together to keep warm... Implicit in this is that there’s not a lot of love lost between China and Russia to begin with. They’re only doing it for the warmth. Does that description strike you as accurate?
[Sasha] I think it’s pretty accurate. There is not that much emotion in this relationship. There are no shared values unless you would call natural cynicism a shared value between Russia and China, and love for bunny corruption and nice life for senior officials. But this relationship is very pragmatic. It’s partly haunted by history. It’s very asymmetric and increasingly asymmetric, where China has so much more leverage. And as we speak, China’s leverage in this relationship grows. Russia knows that. There is indeed no love lost, but the relationship, despite being asymmetric and despite being more favorable to China than it is for Russia, it’s still mutually beneficial. They share a colossal continental border that used to be a waste in terms of resources and a major security challenge for both the Soviet Union and China during the Sino-Soviet Split.
The economies are mutually complementary. And then inside the UN Security Council permanent members group, these are only two authoritarian states that naturally have so many overlaps on the global agenda, be it storage of data, sovereignty on the internet, responsibility to protect, so many issues when Russia and China are naturally finding themselves in one bed.
Sasha: I hear the description from the Chinese colleagues that Russian foreign policy is a typhoon, it’s a natural disaster. You cannot control it. You can adapt to it and then use some of the fallouts to your advantage. Like put the wind farms at the edge of this typhoon and use them to generate electricity.
I think that the general view in Beijing that Russia acts irrationally, if Russia wanted to keep Ukraine in its sphere of influence, chopping off Crimea and moving two millions of pro-Russian voters into Russia was a stupid move. Alienating the West and inviting sanctions was a stupid move. I think it’s the way that China and Russia build out their equities and toolbox for being a great power. I think China understands that it’s really the economy and the technology is the key. The military capabilities matter, but you need to build a robust economic fundamentals like being very Marxist in that, and then move up the layers of technology, and really dominate the cutting-edge technology that would have military applications as well. Russia doesn’t do much to diversify its economy and became a kind… 21st-century economy. So, Russia punches above its weight using the tools that it has, which is military, and before the invasion, Russia believed that it has very strong conventional capabilities, some of the cyber, and just this ability to concentrate the resources and go after the goal that the Kremlin deems is important. And that’s definitely very different from what China does, in my view.
Sinica wrote:Evan: I think if you want to run that proposition that it’s Russia leading China by the nose, you have to put that to the test beyond just places like Ukraine... If you look at other parts of the world... where Russia has begun to return, in a sense, to playing a more global role, there is no synergy between the way Russia is pursuing its roles in those regions. And the play that China is extending to advance its own influence, I mean, I think about the Chinese play in Africa, it’s to be a trader, it’s to be a builder, it’s to be a lender, it’s to be an investor.
And because countries in those regions are focused disproportionately on their own interests, which, as you and I discussed last time, begin and end with growth, employment, upskilling, sustainability, innovation, and opportunity, China has advanced its influence in regions like Africa and the Middle East by pursuing and then putting forth an offering that tries, in China’s own way, to speak to that set of local agendas. That’s how China advances its influence. That is not at all how Russia has advanced its influence in Africa or the Middle East or anywhere else. Number one, because that’s not the Russian play. Number two, because Russia doesn’t have any offering, much less a complimentary offering. And so, it’s actually China pursuing its interest in a self-interested way that reflects the toolkit that I think Beijing has calculated can be most effective in advancing Chinese interests in these regions.
That has nothing to do with not only Russia “leading,” but it doesn’t even have China and Russia really in synergy, except at the most macro possible level... I just see China as a much more salient actor globally, and I just see the toolkit as being much more strategically attuned to what governments, firms, financial markets, and ultimately people in these regions are looking for. And so, I don’t see Russia and China on the same page, much less Russia leading China around.
Evan: generally speaking, my view has been that China’s a very self-interested power. And so, the alpha and omega of China’s approach to Russia is what’s good for China, not necessarily what’s good for Russia. In the first instance, China has no interest in being a Russian proxy. And so, if you begin with the presumption that support for Russia means carrying Russian water and being a proxy, then yeah, I guess China’s not supporting Russia. But that’s not the correct standard to apply. I think because China is self-interested, what they’ve tried to do is to be supportive of Russia at the strategic level while minimizing support to Russia at the tactical and operational level, except in areas where China has a self-interest and can, not to put too fine a point on it, get away with it within the ambit of the Transatlantic and broader sanctions coalition.
Essentially, China’s trying to have its cake and eat it too... if China were interested in showcasing its disapproval or of projecting opprobrium onto Russia’s actions, it would not be basically looking for every conceivable seam in here to basically have its cake and eat it.
Sasha: I would put it in a somewhat different way. I agree with what Evan just said. I think that the thinking in Beijing goes this way: “Okay, let’s imagine we can throw our dear friend, Vladimir, under the bus. We join the sanctions. We maybe introduce sanctions of our own. We abandon Russian oil, Russian gas, and support Western gold in choking off the Putin’s war machine.” Does it really lead to fundamental improvements in China-U.S. ties? Will the U.S. say, “Oh, we were so wrong about China”?
I think that their assessment is that yes, it might improve something, but we do not remove the deep sources of U.S.-China competition, which are entirely different.
Evan: Right. I want to circle back to... the role of the United States in this, because the reality is, at the beginning of the war in February, March, April, 2022, I had umpteen conversations with people in China where they said, “Oh, we know what your game is. You’re going to deal with this Ukraine thing. And once you clear that away, we know you’re just going to come back and focus on us.” To Sasha’s point, we’ve all heard from Chinese who’ve said, “We know what your number one priority is, and in fact, we’re not stupid. We read your national documents. China is the “pacing threat,” the pacing challenge. Basically securitizing every and all aspect of U.S.-China relations. That’s your game. We’re realist. We understand that. So, what’s in it for us, other than to play the defensive game of avoiding painting a sanctions target on our back, for us to be perceived as enabling the pressure that you’re putting on Russia?”
That’s point number one. Point number two, to Sasha’s point, there is nothing I think that many people, particularly the more hawkish people in Beijing, think that they will gain in terms of broad scope improvements in U.S.-China relations from providing that kind of support to the Western coalition on Russia.
Sinica wrote:Host: Kaiser: ...just under a year ago, I had Maria Repnikova on... and she went on to argue... that for China, it was never really about Russia and Ukraine, but ultimately about the United States... I want to turn to Sasha here. You had... This big piece looking at a potential Chinese foreign policy shift, and you laid out various pieces of evidence that Beijing clearly wanted to put out there to persuade Western observers that such a shift might be underway in the post Party Congress period.
We have off the record remarks reported by the FT. You have a key foreign ministry appointment and a surprising demotion actually, and so forth. So, one of the talking points coming out of these background and off the record remarks is that Xí Jìnpíng 习近平 did not know of Putin’s plans for an invasion. I had actually argued this right after February 24th. I got a lot of pushback on this, though I never quite changed my mind about it. Seeing as China had no plan in place for an evacuation, I thought that was a pretty strong piece of evidence. A lot of citizens in Ukraine and no plan. And because this had been confirmed to me by unnamed Chinese diplomats that I had spoken to, they were absolutely insistent that China had not been read in. So, you seem to agree with this claim — Putin simply never told him in their February 4th meeting in Beijing. And your thread from January notes that Putin didn’t even tell his own prime minister or the governor of Russia Central Bank either.
And what’s more, you suggest that we have tended, I think, here in the West, to read too much into this no-limit partnership that Russians and Chinese understand this as just words. Can you expand on this a little bit?
Sasha: I think that Xi Jinping, indeed, we don’t have any evidence to suggest that he knew beforehand the scope and the magnitude of Russian invasion. Based on what I know, there was a very polite discussion just dancing around the subject. And the key goal on the Chinese side was to get some form of assurances that nothing will happen during the Olympics. The Chinese intelligence officers, their experts, their diplomats were asking around, reaching to multiple sources in Russia, including myself. And then all the time, when I try to explain to my Chinese colleagues and friends that, “Hey, the invasion is very likely, and these are the building blocks,” the Chinese colleagues, even the Russia watchers were all the time very dismissive. “Because, they said, “it’s just so stupid.” The downsides, even if the guy is successful, even if he takes Ukraine, even if he captures Kyiv in four days.”
“But that galvanizes NATO, that involves sanctions, that invites terrorist attacks on Russia’s home turf, because there will be Ukrainian patriots who will blow up metro cars in downtown Moscow. There are so many downsides. Why would he do that? He’s a rational man.”... The other part is that China had this narrative initially that Evan mentioned. They supported the Russian talking points, the biolabs, the justified Russian security concerns.
I think that we see that around August, this discussion gradually evaporated from the briefings of the MFA, and then the tone of the official commentary became much more neutral, civilized, much more fact-based, and not that much pointing to the blame of the West. Then these diplomats who spoke to Western journalists, including the FT team, were trying to frame it that, “oh, we are not with the Russians.” But then, as you know, you need to 听其言而观其行 (tīngqíyán ér guānqíxíng), so you need to listen to the narrative, but also watch the actions.
And the actions, the trade figures that Evan just mentioned, and it’s not only that the Russian exports to China grew because of the volumes and because of the high commodity prices, but also Chinese exports to Russia have grown. For example, we have now only 14 brands of cars in Russia. Three are Russian brands and 11 are Chinese
Host: Sasha, you’ve argued that Beijing was dangling the possibility of a more distant relationship with Moscow as we’ve seen with Scholz. As you say, the words, the language that some Chinese officials used during that period,
Sasha: I think that China was aware that the No Limits partnership phrase created a big impression, particularly on the officials, decision makers, and experts who have never tracked China-Russia relationship. And I think that there is a reality where the expertise and depth of knowledge goes in pendulum. I remember... coming to The White House during Obama era, and then people on both China and Russia’s side of the NSC would tell me, “Ah, not much there. That is not of interest of the United States of America if Russia wants to enslave itself to China and wants to become China’s junior partner. Zero national security implications for us.” And then during Trump, you would sometimes hear that, “Oh, this is the axis of two authoritarian regimes that just lock hands to bring down the U.S. rules-based order.”
I think that this administration has a pretty good sense of what’s actually going on... But then in European capitals, this partnership with No Limits created a huge impression. And then China’s goal was to really correct this image. Because a lot of pompous statements that Putin and Xi Jinping pronounce are just hot air.
Sinica wrote:Sasha: Do Chinese believe that they have that much leverage to convince Mr. Putin not to use nuclear weapons? Is he feels compressed, like, I don’t know, Ukrainian army is entering Crimea, and he believes that his whole legacy and the security of him personally and his regime is based on idea to keep Crimea? We don’t know. Nobody knows. I know that Evan and my former boss, Bill Burns, who is now director of the CIA, is very worried about this. And he flew to Turkey to talk to the head of the Russian intelligence just about those risks. So, this is something very serious.
Sasha: I’m sure that the Chinese didn’t have a better insight in the Russian military than the Americans did. So, probably people overestimated. I heard that from a couple of Chinese colleagues who watched the Russian military, that they were also wrong and they were ascribing powers and efficiency to the Russian army, which were never there.
Sinica wrote:Evan: U.S. sanctions on Russia would’ve been ferocious even without the partners, but they are vastly more effective because the U.S. has a coalition. To go back to the discussion you just had with Sasha about China’s diplomacy with Europe, in the global south, around the world, China as part of a sanctions proofing, or at least campaign to make China less sanctions vulnerable, will be trying to drive wedges in the American effort to build a coalition for sanctions against China.
Sasha: I never heard any single U.S. official talking about carrots. I think that all of the conversation is really about the sticks.
[regarding carrots] I think that the root cause of problem is that there is a firm belief in China that the bipartisan consensus in the U.S. views China as the major competitor, as the most terrible evil country on the planet Earth, or not, but it’s definitely there. And there is not that much that China can do to change this.
Evan: I think where the Chinese are positioned now is that they think that the U.S.-China cake is increasingly baked. They’re not blind. They can see the direction of domestic politics in the United States around China. They can see the securitization of, even things that used to be easy bankable things in the U.S.-China relationship, flows of capital, of people, of technology, of data. These things increasingly are being sanctioned, yes, for reasons that have nothing to do with... Russia.
China’s strategy with the U.S. I think is largely defensive.... not trying to be in the crosshairs of sanctions [and] to focus instead on the rest of the world... I expect several European leaders to follow suit, potentially President Macron of France, Prime Minister Meloni of Italy. There’s a soft underbelly in Europe, the Hungarians. There’s plenty of other countries that don’t share the American view of China.