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Putin’s invasion of Ukraine plunges Beijing into an unwanted global conflict

However, one element of China’s message has remained consistent: scathing criticism of NATO’s and the United States’ response to Ukraine, including sanctions, which the Chinese Foreign Ministry said on Thursday only bring “serious difficulties” to the region.

“The truly discredited countries are those who wantonly interfere in the internal affairs of other countries and wage wars in the name of democracy and human rights,” a spokesperson for China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said Thursday. Foreign Affairs, Wang Wenbin. At the same time, Chinese officials have made broad calls for respecting countries’ sovereignty.

Analysts say Beijing’s confusing messages reflect concern over potential threats to China’s extensive trade partnerships with the West, particularly with major European Union countries, including the contribution to the Chinese economy far exceeds that of Russia. China’s trade volume with EU countries grew 27.5 percent to $828 billion in 2021, compared to $147 billion for Russian trade in the same period, official figures show. Chinese.

“It’s becoming pretty clear that Beijing is scrambling a bit, they’re trying to square the circle,” said Helena Legarda, senior analyst at the Mercator Institute for China Studies in Germany. “I don’t think it’s sustainable now that the war has broken out.”

On Thursday, President Biden said any country supporting Russia’s war in Ukraine would be “stained by association.”

“I think China doesn’t want the world to split into this sharp divide between autocracies and democracies in which it is put in a box with Russia and some other autocracies, and that would be detrimental not only to the political interests of China, [and] especially its economic interests,” said Bonnie Glaser, director of the German Marshall Fund’s Asia program.

The war in Ukraine is likely to challenge the limits of the Sino-Russian relationship, which has grown stronger in recent years but is not an alliance and is – in practice – a partnership based on a mutual disregard for order world led by the United States. .

It’s unclear how much Beijing knew about Putin’s plans before Russian troops entered Ukraine, but analysts say China may have been caught off guard by the scale and speed of the invasion.

“If China really knew, would it send [Foreign Minister] Wang Yi at Munich security conference to relaunch Minsk deal only for Putin to tear it up? I wonder if Beijing has played itself out a bit,” Legarda said. Wang called on Russia and Ukraine to return to a diplomatic agreement known as the Minsk Accords.

In the weeks leading up to the invasion, China and Russia struck far-reaching deals in a “no limits” pact that formalized the growing ties between the two powers.

“It was an advantageous position for Russia and China to put forward the idea that they could operate outside of the American rules-based international order, but that architecture doesn’t fully exist,” Craig said. Singleton, assistant researcher at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, specialist in China.

Part of China’s reckoning on Ukraine will hinge on how it handles a more dependent Russia as the United States and others seek to cripple Putin’s economy with sanctions.

“In my opinion, the relationship will be increasingly asymmetrical – China having the power – but I think Russia sees this as a necessity because it has much more important national interests at stake, at least according to Vladimir Putin”, said Alexander Gabuev, a principal investigator at the Carnegie Moscow Center. Gabuev said Russia was hesitant to rely too much on the Chinese, but “it all went out the window because of bigger events.”

For Chinese President Xi Jinping, the conflict also comes at a critical time as he seeks to cement his image as a world leader ahead of the 2022 Chinese National Party Congress, where he is set to accept a third term without precedent after abolishing term limits in 2016.

In China, where the government has sought to temper strong views on the conflict through censorship, public opinion is largely toeing Beijing’s line, railing against the United States and its allies. Some voices, however, questioned the official response, stressing China’s firm stance on non-interference in other countries’ affairs and respect for sovereignty.

“What is Russia’s war if not flagrant aggression? Why do these Internet users choose to support the trampling of national sovereignty? said Professor Qu Weiguo of Fudan University of China in a blog posted on Thursday in response to social media comments. “Are we not afraid that we ourselves will be ravaged by the same kind of theft tomorrow?”

Still others have said that if China manages to maintain its strategic balance between Russia and the West, Beijing could benefit from redirecting resources from Biden’s vaunted Indo-Pacific strategy to Europe.

“As long as we don’t make subversive strategic mistakes ourselves, not only will China’s modernization process not be interrupted, but China will instead have the ability and the will to play a greater role in the process. building a new international order,” Chinese political scientist and government adviser Zheng Yongnian said in a social media post on Thursday.

Paul Sonne in Washington, Christian Shepherd and Vic Chiang in Taipei, Taiwan, and Lyric Li in Seoul contributed to this report.