There has been no lack of speculation surrounding the Russo-Ukrainian war, especially as to who will be involved and to what extent. The latest concern coming out of the White House is the possibility that China may begin sending weapons to the Russians, potentially adding an entirely different level to a war that some already worry is inching closer to a wider conflict globally.
Publicly, these claims are being heavily denied and dismissed in Beijing. China has previously sent non-lethal aid to Russia to help in Ukraine but have thus far been openly against the war. China’s ties to the Russians are complicated, spanning decades of uneasy alliance against their Western adversaries, often times bringing the two as close to blows as either have been with the United States. In modern times, Chinas and Russia have been somewhat friendlier, seemingly banding together in opposition to the United States and NATO. Since the war began, China has helped Russia’s economy avoid crippling blows from Western sanctions, as well as having refused to condemn the Russian invasion. However, he has publicly and repeatedly called for peace from his Russian ally, as it still appears Xi is attempting to act as a middle-man, appeasing the West while indirectly standing with Russia.
One of the major concerns coming out of the White House relates to the future of U.S. and Chinese relations in the long term, should China give active military assistance to Putin. Secretary of State Antony Blinken noted in a press release that any form of weaponry supplied to the Russians from China would heavily damage future relations, going so far as to say it could be the most “catastrophic” thing China could do in regard to their support for Russia.
Although the United States and China are trying to ease their heightened tensions, the warning issued by Secretary Blinken was designed to prevent China from involving themselves further in the conflict in Ukraine. China, for its part, has been quick to condemn the U.S. for its involvement in sending weaponry to the Ukrainian army, saying that the United States has “fanned the flames and provoked confrontation”.
President Xi is said to be scheduled to deliver a “peace speech” on February 24, for the one year anniversary of the invasion, during the Chinese foreign policy visit with countries across Europe.
After the balloon incident in early February, both Secretary Blinken and his Chinese counterparts have been seemingly ready to move past the scandal and look to the future. China being potentially involved in Ukraine, however, raises new issues that could drastically heighten the dynamic, deteriorating relations even further, pushing China closer to Russia and the war in Ukraine closer to spilling over.
China’s Director of the Office of the Central Foreign Affairs Commission Wang Yi, as well as many other Chinese foreign officials, have been adamant to remind the West that they have behaved as good allies without adding “fuel to the fire of war”.
China has claimed that Russia was forced to take action with NATO’s Eastward expansion, a sentiment echoed by even many Western international relations experts, citing the confrontation between two diverging ideological schools of thought, Western Liberalism and Russian Realism. The Chinese, in attempting to remain balanced, have refused to condemn the invasion to the United Nations, while also calling for peace during public statements and private phone calls between President Xi Jinping and President Vladmir Putin. Experts remain skeptical, however, noting that China’s balancing act will likely be forced to come to an end as the U.S. amps up pressure for better relations and as Russia amps up pressure for assistance in the war.
Although the West remains comfortable in assurance that the only assistance China has provided to Russia is nuance and non-lethal, the coming days will likely determine where China’s foreign policy is headed, as any tangible support for Russia would be likely to invoke a response from the United States and damage relations severely.