Ukraine crisis poses dilemma for China but also opportunity

The unfolding crisis in Ukraine poses a diplomatic dilemma for China but also offers an opportunity for Beijing as Joe Biden’s administration is likely to continue to be distracted by Russia ahead of the US mid-term elections later this year.

China’s position in this round of Russia v the west is under particularly heavy scrutiny following Xi Jinping’s pledge with his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, on 4 February that there would be “no ‘forbidden’ areas of cooperation” in their bilateral relationship.

In the last few days, as the crisis in Ukraine dominated international headlines, Chinese analysts have debated the country’s policy choice. While hardliners advocate a pro-Russia foreign policy, others think Beijing should seize on this crisis to protect ties with Washington.

“China ultimately wants good relations with the US,” said Wang Huiyao, president of the Centre for China and Globalisation, a Beijing-based thinktank, who also advises the government.

“It is true that Beijing and Moscow have pledged closer cooperation, because both countries have similar concerns over external involvement in their own security issues,” Wang said, adding that China sees some parallels in Nato’s eastward expansion with its own concerns relating to the South China Sea. Washington and its allies, however, do not support Beijing’s claims to much of the South China Sea.

Dr Yu Jie, a senior research fellow on China at London-based thinktank Chatham House, said the crisis highlights a “sticky point” in Beijing’s relationship with Moscow following Xi’s heavy investment in it. “China much hopes Russia would offer full diplomatic support to Beijing’s various global initiatives under a plethora of UN-led platforms, but Moscow’s current move has made China’s wishes more problematic.”

Yu also pointed out that some strategists in Beijing now view this situation favourably because the Biden administration is being distracted, and as a result is…

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