China Sides with Russia over Looming Conflict in Ukraine

Beijing criticizes NATO, backs Russia . . . 

With both Russia and NATO member countries amassing troops at the Ukrainian border and the world anxiously awaiting Vladimir Putin's next move, China has verbally backed Moscow's position in a possible Russian invasion of Ukraine. When asked on Wednesday about NATO's openness to Ukraine joining the alliance, Zhao Lijian, spokesperson for the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said that "NATO should abandon the outdated Cold War mentality and ideological bias, and do things that are conducive to maintaining peace and stability." In a call that day with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi told his counterpart that Russia's security concerns should be taken seriously and that "regional security cannot be guaranteed by strengthening or even expanding military blocs."

Potential implications for China . . .

While it is not the first time that China has taken Russia's side in Washington-Moscow relations, this time could be different, as the outcome of a conflict in Ukraine would be significant for China. While China does not have core strategic interests in Ukraine, leaders in Beijing and around the world certainly regard the situation as a test of the willingness of the U.S and the EU to negotiate with an aggressor – and their ability to respond militarily to a crisis. If Russia were to invade Ukraine, prompting the West to impose heavy sanctions on Moscow, Beijing could play a significant role in dampening the impacts of those sanctions.

A new China-Russia rapprochement?

With Putin scheduled to travel to Beijing for the opening of the Olympic Games next week and meet with Chinese President Xi Jinping, many analysts have highlighted the recent rapprochement between the two countries. Russia's ambassador to China said on Tuesday that Moscow constantly updates Beijing on the security talks it is holding with the U.S. over Ukraine. And during a video call in December, both Xi and Putin agreed to deepen their co-operation and defend each other's interests in the face of Western resistance. While the Russia-China relationship has always been complicated and competitive, the conflict over Ukraine will be telling in terms of the state of their partnership and the convergence of their interests.