Xi and Putin's 'no limits' obligation leaves China few options on Ukraine

On a freezing day in Beijing last month as The Winter Olympics were to open , Chinese leader Xi Jinping celebrated a diplomatic triumph ...


On a freezing day in Beijing last month as The Winter Olympics were to open, Chinese leader Xi Jinping celebrated a diplomatic triumph with a banquet for his guest of honor, Russian President Vladimir V. Putin. They had just finalized a declaration declaring their vision of a new international order with Moscow and Beijing at its heart, unrelated to American power.

During dinner, according to China official reading, they discussed “major hot spot issues of common concern.”

Details remain under wraps, but their talks were a pivotal moment in events that culminated 20 days later with Russia invading Ukraine, triggering Europe’s worst war in decades and seismic jolts in power. world likely to be felt for decades.

Publicly, Mr. Xi and Mr. Putin had sworn that their countries’ friendship had “no limits”. The Chinese leader also said there would be “no hesitation” in their partnership, and he added weight to Mr Putin’s accusations of Western betrayal in Europe.

It now appears that Mr. Xi’s show of solidarity may have, perhaps unwittingly, emboldened Mr. Putin to bet on a war to bring Ukraine to heel.

A tracing of Beijing’s decision trail shows how Mr. Xi’s deep investment in a personal connection to Mr. Putin has limited China’s options and forced it into policy contortions.

Before and shortly after the invasion, Beijing seemed sympathetic to Moscow’s security demands, deriding Western warnings of war and accusing the United States of goading Russia. Over the past two weeks, however, China has sought to distance itself slightly from Russia. He softened his tone, express one’s sorrow on civilian casualties. He introduced himself as a impartial partycalling for peace talks and an end to the war as soon as possible.

The dilemmas for China and Mr. Xi remain.

“He’s damned if he knew, and damned if he didn’t,” Paul Haenle, a former director for China at the National Security Council, said whether Mr. Xi was aware of Russia’s invasion plans. “If he knew and didn’t say anything about it, he’s an accomplice; if he was not informed by Putin, it is an affront.

A Western intelligence report concluded that Chinese officials told their Russian counterparts in early February not to invade Ukraine until the end of the Winter Olympics in Beijing, although it was unclear whether Mr. Putin had directly informed Mr. Xi of his plans. Chinese officials rejected the claim that Beijing was tipped off because “pure fake news.”

Either way, the invasion obviously surprised many in the Beijing establishment, leaving officials scrambling to respond and evacuate Chinese nationals. Even if Mr. Xi was aware of Mr. Putin’s plan, some experts said, he may have expected Moscow to limit its actions to areas of Ukraine that border Russia.

“They didn’t plan for a full-scale invasion,” said Yun Sun, director of the China program at the Stimson Center, which has studied the Beijing situation. actions before the war. “You don’t have to invade Ukraine to get what you want. So why bother? she said, summarizing what she described as a broad view among Chinese officials.

The implications for China extend beyond Ukraine and even Europe.

Mr. Xi’s warm embrace of Mr. Putin just a month ago heralded their ambitions to build what they call a fairer and more stable world order — one in which the United States has a lesser presence. Instead, their summit was followed by the kind of reckless, unilateral military intervention in an independent state that China has long denounced.

Mr. Xi’s declaration with Mr. Putin on February 4 approved a Russian security proposal that would exclude Ukraine from membership in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. By opposing NATO expansion, China has plunged into tensions over the extent to which Russia’s Eastern European neighbors could forge alliances with the West.

“Putin may have done this anyway, but it was also unquestionably an auspicious backdrop that was provided by the joint statement, the visit and Xi’s association with all of these things,” Andrew Small said. , principal researcher at German Marshall Fund in Berlin.

The stain on Mr Xi’s image as a statesman has come as he seeks a serene march to a Communist Party congress this year, where he is likely to win a groundbreaking third term as party leader.

“He has this relationship with Putin,” Mr. Haenle said. “If you’re suggesting in the Chinese system right now that it wasn’t smart to get this close to Russia, you’re actually criticizing the leader.”

Mr. Putin’s war has already taken China where it did not intend to be. For decades he has sought to establish ties with Russia while keeping Ukraine close.

In 1992, China was among the first countries to establish ties with a newly independent Ukraine after the collapse of the Soviet Union. It turned to Ukraine as a major supplier of But, sunflower and rapeseed oilas well as weapon technology.

In recent years, as growing numbers of Ukrainians supported NATO membership, Chinese diplomats raised no objections in Kyiv, said Sergiy Gerasymchuk, an analyst at Ukrainian prisma foreign policy research organization in Kyiv.

Ukraine was “trying to sit on the fence and avoid any sensitive issues with Beijing, and expected the same from China,” he said.

As sentiment against China hardened in many countries, Xi became preoccupied with defending his nation against what he saw as threats to its rise, especially from the United States.

With relations showing no signs of lasting improvement under the Biden administration, Mr. Xi has therefore moved to strengthen ties with Mr. Putin to blunt US policies.

Both leaders shared similar worldviews. Both lamented the collapse of the Soviet Union. Both saw Washington as the main instigator of any political opposition to their regime. For the two leaders, their partnership was a response to Mr Biden’s efforts to forge an “alliance of democracies”.

At a video summit in December, Mr. Xi told Mr. Putin that “in its closeness and effectiveness, this relationship surpasses even an alliance,” a Kremlin aide said. told reporters in Moscow at the time.

Still, Mr. Xi remains a more cautious leader than Mr. Putin, and he seemed hopeful that China would not be forced to choose between Russia and Ukraine.

Just a month before his Olympic summit with Mr. Putin, the Chinese leader hailed 30 years of diplomatic relations with Ukraine. “I attach great importance to the development of China-Ukraine strategic partnership,” Xi said. said in a January 4 message to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

Even so, as Mr Putin grew determined to reverse Ukraine’s shift towards Western security protections, Chinese officials began to echo Russian arguments. Beijing has also seen a growing threat from American-led military blocs.

In late January, Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken called on the Chinese Foreign Minister, Wang Yi, to warn him of a war against Ukraine. Mr. Wang, however, urged Mr. Blinken to address Russia’s security grievances. Europe needs a new “balanced” security organisation, he said, pointing out that NATO was not fulfilling this role.

Beijing had its own complaints against NATO, rooted in the bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade, Serbia, during the 1999 NATO war to protect a breakaway region, Kosovo. These suspicions deepened when NATO in 2021 began portraying China as an emerging challenge for the alliance.

As Russian troops massed on Ukraine’s borders, Chinese officials kept repeating their defense of Russia’s security concerns.

They also scoffed at Western intelligence warnings about the impending invasion of Russia. Washington, not Moscow, was the warmonger, they suggested, pointing to the US invasion of Iraq in 2003. On February 23, a Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, Hua Chunying, accused washington of “panic-making”.

The next day, Russian forces struck.

As governments around the world condemned Mr. Putin, Beijing directed its criticism at the United States and its allies. He even avoided calling Mr. Putin’s actions an invasion.

In recent days, however, Beijing’s language has begun to change, reflecting a desire to avoid standing too close to Mr Putin.

Chinese officials modified their calls to take Russia’s security into account, stressing that “the legitimate security concerns of any country must be respected.” They still haven’t used the word “invasion”, but acknowledged a “conflict between Ukraine and Russia”.

China has also sought to position itself as a potential mediator, but so far in vague terms. Wang, China’s foreign minister, told reporters on Monday that Beijing was willing to “play a constructive role” in bringing about peace talks.

China’s efforts to distance itself from Russia have come too late, said Mr. Gerasymchuk, an analyst in Kyiv. He said China would wait to see who prevailed in the war and seek to improve relations with the winner.

“Many decision-makers in China have begun to view the relationship in black and white: either you are a Chinese ally or an American ally,” said Gerasymchuk, who spent nights in an air-raid shelter. “They still want to kind of stay neutral, but they have bitterly failed.”

Liu Yi and Claire Crazy contributed to the research.

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Newsrust - US Top News: Xi and Putin's 'no limits' obligation leaves China few options on Ukraine
Xi and Putin's 'no limits' obligation leaves China few options on Ukraine
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