A call between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese Communist Party (CCP) leader Xi Jinping on Feb. 25 was done with the intention of one thing—and one thing only: expressing solidarity in the ongoing effort to upend the U.S.-led international order.
“It is necessary to abandon the Cold War mentality,” said Xi. Instead, the European continent must form a “balanced, effective and sustainable European security mechanism through negotiation.”
It sounds like the CCP leader is calling for a type of European architecture to ensure state sovereignty and international peace across the entire continent, from Lisbon to Moscow.
Don’t be fooled by Xi’s misleading terminology.
While China has carefully balanced its position between the West and Russia over the Ukraine conflict, it is important to note that the CCP has only voiced active condemnation of one party: the United States (and its leadership of NATO). Beijing’s neutrality toward Ukraine has centered on the country’s sovereignty and the principles of international law; however, it has importantly refused to condemn Russia’s aggressive actions. This was officially confirmed by its abstention from the United Nations Security Council vote on a resolution to denounce Russian military operations in Ukraine.
Instead, Beijing laments the fact that Moscow was forced into such a position by careless Western foreign policy that disregarded the country’s legitimate security interests. This is an important point.
China is actively working to chip away at the liberal democratic order that is unilaterally guaranteed by the United States. Beijing’s most immediate foreign policy goal is to secure its regional hegemony in Asia, while simultaneously making inroads to facilitate its long-term desire to increase its international influence.
It accomplishes the former through direct challenges to the U.S. security blanket in Southeast Asia and East Asia, while tightening its economic grip on the countries in the region; and it accomplishes the latter through the expansion of its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI, also known as “One Belt, One Road”) investment project, as well as seizing opportunities to undermine U.S. predominance on the international scene. Putin’s push to consolidate political and military control in what he perceives as Russia’s rightful sphere of influence does exactly this.
Putin shares the CCP goal of eroding U.S. overseas power. The Kremlin seeks to facilitate a multipolar world in which large regional powers, such as Russia and China, have control over their geographic proximity. Beijing supports Moscow’s attempts to create a cordon sanitaire from an encroaching U.S.-led military (and economic) alliance.
The CCP also espouses the same belief that the United States works to meddle in other countries’ internal affairs. Much like Moscow perceives the government in Kyiv to be a puppet of the United States, Beijing sees the government in Taiwan as an illegitimate proxy for Washington. This was most recently demonstrated in the January protests-turned-riots in Kazakhstan against the government of Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev. Both Putin and Xi attributed the unrest to the United States.
The CCP’s tacit support of Putin’s Ukraine move thereby progresses Beijing’s ambitions in Taiwan as well. The inability of the United States to deter Russia and its lackluster response to protect its purported ally in Kyiv emboldens Xi. This has more to do than just speculation over a military response; the United States has explicitly stated that it will not enact sanctions on Russian energy exports, the area that would have had the largest impact on Putin’s economy (although probably still limited).
Such sanctions, however, would have significantly impacted U.S. energy prices as well. Xi and Putin both perceive electoral politics to be a weak spot of their American adversary, and are certainly aware that the United States will be having midterm elections this upcoming fall. Whether the Biden administration has refused such sanctions because of a genuine desire to insulate the U.S. populace from economic hardship, or due to the approaching elections—likely a combination of both—Washington’s allies in Taiwan undoubtedly feel less comfortable with their current security situation.
When Xi professes the need to move away from the confrontation mindset of the Cold War, he is saying that the West needs to avoid antagonizing Russia militarily and respect its sphere of influence. A failure to do so may justify a military response, as evidenced by Beijing’s refusal to condemn Russian aggression.
Putin’s reliance on the CCP to support the immersion of a multipolar world should be tempered, however. The size of China’s perceived sphere of interest is sure to grow in correlation to its economic growth and subsequent military capabilities. This is already happening with Beijing’s growing presence in Central Asia.
The population of China is nearly 10 times larger than that of Russia’s, and it is not hard to believe that at some point in the future Beijing may set its sights on the vast expanse of sparsely populated, resource-rich Siberia.
As to Xi’s reiteration of the need to “firmly uphold the international system with the United Nations at its core and the international order based on international law,” remember that China’s debt trap BRI continues to increase Beijing’s influence in countries across the world. Easy access to Chinese capital—usually by less than financially responsible countries, not to mention the levels of corruption in many of the ruling regimes—means that the CCP increases its ability to exert influence on policy agendas around the world, at least in some degree. This is important when you consider the one-country, one-vote status of the U.N. and other multilateral institutions as well.
The escalating situation in Ukraine is a tragedy, and certainly deserves the focus of U.S. foreign policy decision-makers; however, China’s handling of the crisis must be given due attention as well. China is a country with similar extraterritorial ambitions as Russia. Consider that it also perceives the government of a region that it shares a historic relationship with as illegitimate, and a puppet of the United States.
The geopolitical visions of the world that are currently emanating from Beijing and Moscow share certain similarities, and both would certainly like to see a reduced U.S. global position. China’s refusal to condemn Russia, however, provides direct confirmation that both believe large-scale military invasion can be justified to secure its interests.
That means that as soon as the CCP calculates that it can seize Taiwan or other disputed territories without igniting a large-scale conflict or even severe economic backlash, it probably will. Even with everything else going on in the world, the United States must be thinking about this fact right now.
Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.