Beijing navigates a balancing act . . .
China has been walking a tightrope since the beginning of the crisis in Ukraine, balancing support for Russia’s actions without contradicting its long-held principles of inviolable sovereignty and territorial integrity. Yes, China has criticized NATO and condemned Western sanctions on Russia. But while it has recognized Russia’s security concerns, China has refrained from backing Russia’s “special military actions” in Ukraine. Instead, Beijing has called for both parties to “resolve the issue through negotiation.” China abstained from voting on a UN Security Council resolution last Friday criticizing Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine rather than vetoing it, as Russia did. Many Western countries saw that move as a limit of China’s support for Russia.
Perceptions of the crisis in China . . .
There have been few reports of Chinese citizens speaking out against Russia’s war on Ukraine, and those that have were reportedly quickly detained. On social media, “inappropriate” media posts criticizing Russia are being deleted, leaving the Chinese online media seemingly largely pro-Putin. Some netizens wonder about the fate of the 6,000 registered Chinese nationals stranded in Ukraine. The Chinese Embassy in Kyiv cancelled evacuations via charter flights on the weekend due to security concerns, but on Monday began efforts to evacuate Chinese citizens via rail. Notably, the Embassy did not start any evacuation efforts until after Russia launched its military invasion. This has led some to wonder about China’s lack of preparedness and whether Moscow has been forthright with Beijing about its intentions.
China’s precarious position . . .
Some question whether China will shift its position on Russia’s war, especially if the situation worsens. After all, China will not want to be seen supporting atrocities committed against civilians. And for all the talk about a Beijing-Moscow axis, it is worth remembering that, despite some shared geopolitical interests with Russia, the West is overall far more important economically for China than Russia. Indeed, China has reportedly not assisted Russia in evading economic sanctions. One reason may be that Beijing is being careful to avoid secondary sanctions or suffer from the fallout from a war in which it has no direct interests. Perhaps the only current benefit of this crisis for China is a distracted West, although a newly empowered and unified Western alliance could ultimately be more challenging for China.