The real motivation behind China's charm offensive against Russia and Ukraine is the conflict there

On February 20, 2023, in Budapest, Hungary, Wang Yi, director of China's Office of the Central Foreign Affairs Com...

The West has been pleading with China to assist in putting an end to the Ukraine war for the past year. Beijing has now made its firmest response to date, and many in the West do not like it.

China has recently begun a bold charm offensive, beginning with top diplomat Wang Yi's trip to Europe, which culminated in a warm welcome from Vladimir Putin in Moscow.

Beijing has published not one, but two position papers, the first outlining a strategy for world peace and the second offering the Chinese response to the conflict. These largely restated China's talking points from the previous year, which called for respect for Ukraine's sovereignty and the defense of Russia's national security interests while opposing the use of unilateral sanctions by the US.

Even though the West might not be impressed, Beijing never really intended to win them over.

First of all, it is obvious that it wants to be seen as a global peacemaker. One of its papers, which mentions engaging South East Asia, Africa, and South America - the so-called Global South - provides a clear indicator of who it is actually trying to win over.

It is courting the rest of the world, which is watching to see how the West handles the Ukraine crisis, by preaching an alternative vision to a US-led world order.

But another objective is to make a strong statement to the US.

According to Alexander Korolev, a specialist in Sino-Russian relations affiliated with the University of New South Wales, "there is a sense of defiance.". "It is sending the message, 'I have someone to go to if things get nasty between us. Don't get comfortable bullying me; Russia is not alone, and as a result, I won't be alone if there is a conflict. '".

Observers claim that the timing is a dead giveaway. The spy balloon saga has contributed to the new low in US-China relations. Some have also questioned China's timing in making such a significant diplomatic push for peace in the Ukraine.

Dr. Korolev stated, "If the goal was to truly display the image of a global leader, you don't have to sit on the fence for one year and try to perform a diplomatic dance. China had plenty of opportunities to demonstrate leadership, and it was invited early on to contribute to ending the war.

There was a third objective, and Mr. Wang's schedule made it clear what it was.

Wang may have been testing the waters to see if China could entice some of Europe into its orbit by traveling to France, Germany, Italy, and Hungary, whose leaders China perceives as taking a less hardline stance toward Russia.

According to Zhang Xin, a specialist in international political economy at the East China Normal University, Beijing sees a "logical convergence of interests" with these nations. It holds that the US possesses hegemonic power and that a significant portion of the transatlantic community would profit from breaking away from that system. ".

But it's unclear whether China will be successful in achieving that specific objective. In a room full of America's staunchest allies, Mr. Wang's speech at the Munich Security Conference in which he criticized the US did not go over well, and according to diplomats, it only increased mistrust of China's true intentions.

According to Andrew Small, a senior fellow at the German Marshall Fund who specializes in Europe-China relations, his trip "was a very overt push to say: 'We don't have problems with Europe, we have problems with the US, we can fix things with you Europeans and you need to understand that the US is leading you down a problematic road'.

However, this message doesn't seem to be getting very far in most of Europe, in my opinion. ".

Wang Yi and Vladimir Putin
In Moscow, Mr. Wang was cordially welcomed by Russian President Vladimir Putin.

As Beijing tightens its embrace of Russia, the crucial question is whether it will keep its promise to make peace.

This week, the US issued a warning that China was considering giving Russia lethal weapons and that Chinese companies had already started supplying non-lethal dual-use technology, such as drones and semi-conductors, to Russia.

China's public response has been vehement language. However, Mr. Wang made it clear to top EU official Josep Borrell behind closed doors that they will not give Russia any weapons.

This is a telling line, say observers, demonstrating how Beijing still firmly believes the West is to blame for igniting the conflict. Mr. Wang also reportedly asked: "Why do you show concern for me possibly providing arms to Russia when you are providing arms to Ukraine?".

The Chinese government currently holds the position that sending weapons to any combatant is an act of further escalation, according to Dr. Zhang.

Given how it conflicts with Chinese interests, there is skepticism that Beijing would provide weapons to Moscow.

As the EU and US are two of China's top trading partners, such a move would be seen by others as a blatant escalation of the war and result in sanctions and a disruption of trade with the West.

Additionally, it would significantly escalate international tensions and probably drive US allies closer to the US, thwarting Beijing's attempts to court some of them as it mounts a challenge to the US.

Observers predict that Beijing will continue or even increase indirect support, such as boosting economic trade, which has given Moscow a financial lifeline, and refraining from sanctions against Russia.

According to Dr. Small, they might even provide more dual-use technology via other nations like Iran or North Korea so that they can provide assistance "as subtly as possible.".

But he cautioned that as the war dragged on, the issue of providing lethal weapons would come up again.

Because Russia previously didn't need to resupply, "there hasn't been a question as to what kind of significant things China could be asked to do," said Dr. Small. "But they are at that crossroads. How long will China continue to tell Russia that it won't happen?

Days before hostilities in Ukraine began, Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin proclaimed their friendship to be "without bounds.".

China will have to respond to the question of how far it would go for its unique friend after a year.

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