Why Beijing Needs Ukraine To Lose
As the Chinese government puts together what it calls a peace plan for Ukraine, it's also considering sending weapons to Russia. The Biden administration warns China will "pay a real price" if it helps Russia, but Beijing's real goal is to weaken the United States.
This article was updated on March 21, 2023 at 12:15 PM CST
KYIV — In Moscow for his visit since the Russian invasion, Chinese President Xi Jinping is presenting himself as possible peacemaker to end the war in Ukraine. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has said he is ready to talk with Xi in a bid to stop Beijing from supplying Moscow with weapons.
And yet China has no strategic interest in Ukraine winning the war. Why?
Xi's only priority is establishing a future world order on Beijing's own terms — and the defeat of Ukraine and its allies, particularly the United States, would create an opportunity for Beijing to absorb Taiwan and increase its influence in the Pacific.
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China is the main beneficiary of the full-scale war that Russia has unleashed against Ukraine, viewing the confrontation as a tool to weaken the West.
Like Russian President Vladimir Putin, Chinese authorities were convinced that Russian troops could capture Kyiv in three days and take control of most of Ukraine within a month. This is probably what Putin and Xi agreed when they met during the Beijing Olympics in Feb. 2022: the Russian leader promised to destroy Ukraine, weakening Europe and eroding the trust other democratic states had in the United States — and in exchange, the Chinese leader assured Putin that he would back Moscow.
Instead, what was hailed as "No. 2 army of the world" was forced to retreat. On Sept. 15, as Ukrainian forces were liberating the Kharkiv region, Putin met Xi in Samarkand, Uzbekistan. After returning to Moscow, Putin announced a partial mobilization.
In Munich in February, Wang Yi, China's top diplomat, said China would propose a peace plan and asked Europe to distance itself from the United States. At the same time, according to U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken, China is considering supplying Russia with weapons.
It's all about Taiwan
Why is China doing this? Because Putin's loss would mean defeat in Taiwan. If the war ends and the West wins, China's plans to occupy the Taiwanese peninsula will fail. This will mean that China will be unable to establish dominance in the South and East China Seas and control trade routes in the Pacific Ocean, which it hopes would weaken key competitors Japan and the U.S.
If Beijing fails to capture Taiwan, a center for the production of modern electronics, its dreams of global governance and the defeat of America will remain dreams.
At the same time, the Chinese leadership is not satisfied with how Putin is waging war against Ukraine. Beijing believes that Russia has made mistakes that have allowed the West to unite and strengthen ties with important alliances of Asian states that oppose China. Over the past year, the U.S. has been able to weaken the Chinese economy, strike at China's communications and technology sector, strengthen Taiwan's military capabilities and weaken Beijing's position in Europe.
Beijing is playing a trick.
Putin's miscalculations regarding Ukraine have China — which planned to strengthen its military, including its nuclear capability, within the next few years — to change its economic course and increase domestic production of high-tech products. Most importantly, China is now forced to alter its strategic plans to occupy Taiwan, and instead must aim to resolve the so-called Taiwan issue much sooner than expected. China has no time. Moreover, Beijing now has to follow rules dictated by the U.S.
China is caught in a net: choose not to help Putin, and lose Taiwan. But choosing to provide weapons to the Russian regime will result in Western sanctions that will slow the Chinese economy and weaken the country's global power. If China attacks Taiwan within the next year or two, it will not be able to militarily counteract the West, and will probably lose.
That's why Beijing is playing a trick — offering Ukraine a diplomatic framework, the so-called peace plan. It is essential to understand why Chinese authorities are offering this. First, China hopes to weaken the United States and split Europe; second, to set a trap for Kyiv by achieving "peace" on Russia's terms. And third, China aims to become a mediator in the war, a part of the government's vision for a new international orderaccording to its own rules.
Honour guards are seen during a welcoming ceremony for Belarus' President Alexander Lukashenko at Beijing airport on Feb. 28, 2023.
Trap for Ukraine
Behind China's words about ensuring security at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, occupied by Russian forces since Feb. 2022, and the country's readiness to help rebuild Ukraine, lies a cunning goal: to lift sanctions against Russia and freeze the war. This would give Moscow a chance to prepare for a new stage of confrontation, and stop the supply of Western weapons to Ukraine.
If Ukraine buys into China's proposals, there is a high risk that the United States and its allies will significantly reduce their support. The consequences of this are clear to everyone.
At the same time, it is essential to realize that the framework proposed by China will remain the same — Beijing will not become a guarantor of Ukraine's security. It certainly does not seek to thoughtfully contribute to implementing the Zelensky peace formula (as was evident in February when China abstained from a UN vote calling on Russia to leave Ukraine). According to Chinese authorities, China will not stop helping Russia.
China will do everything it can to escalate the war and significantly weaken Ukraine and, thus, the West.
Weapons for Russia
Will China provide weapons to Russia? Most likely, yes. It will do so cautiously. Recently, Xi held closed-door talks with the Iranian president, during which the parties agreed to strengthen military cooperation. China decided to invest hundreds of billions of dollars to support the ayatollahs' regime, and Tehran agreed to supply missiles and drones to China.
The weapons will likely come to Russia with the help of Iran, and Belarus will also probably be involved in some way — Belarusian president Alexander Lukashenko met Xi this week when he visited Beijing. Next, Putin and the Chinese leader will meet. All while Ukraine prepares for a spring counteroffensive.
China will do everything to weaken the U.S. position.
We are now seeing Western, mainly European, leaders negotiating publicly and privately with China. All of this is reminiscent of how the U.S. and Russia negotiated before the full-scale invasion. Western leaders are now visiting or planning to visit China, and many capitals are discussing whether China will attack Taiwan. There is a sense of déjà vu as Washington tries to convince Beijing that it is unacceptable to help Russia and wage war against Taiwan.
China will do everything to weaken the U.S. position: it will provoke new military conflicts, particularly in the Middle East and Southeast Asia. The West's defeat, Ukraine's defeat — these would be crucial to China's goal of establishing a new world order, with Beijing as its center of gravity. China is the primary beneficiary of this global mess.
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