A U.S. national security advisor is expected to meet with a top Chinese diplomat in the first high-level talks between the two countries since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine began. The meeting comes as Russia has allegedly asked China for military and economic aid – a claim both deny.
Allen Carlson, associate professor of government and an expert on China, says the issue that matters most in the conflict for Beijing is protecting the country’s own interests:
“On the world stage, China appears to be the only friend that Russia has left. But it would be a mistake to overstate the strength of such seeming Sino-Russian friendship. President Xi Jinping is highly unlikely to allow China to get dragged into the conflict through providing direct military support to Russia. The country has also voiced muted support for defending Ukrainian sovereignty.
“Now, it appears Beijing is positioning itself as a potential mediator between the Russians and Ukrainians. Such a prospect is possible especially if it was to develop in concert with the United States, but also, still somewhat remote.
“The issue that most matters in the conflict for Beijing is not ending the war or bolstering friendships but protecting China’s own interests. So far, it appears that Xi has not yet come to a conclusion as to what those are."
David Silbey, an expert in military history, is an adjunct associate professor of history, associate director of Cornell in Washington, and faculty member in the Jeb E. Brooks School of Public Policy. He says China has a tricky decision to make – supply aid to Russia and face potential global blowback or act as neutral mediator.
“Ukraine occupies a similar place with regards to Russia that a number of countries do for China: situations like the ongoing occupation of Tibet, military rivalries with bordering countries like Vietnam and India, and Taiwan, which the Chinese view as inherently part of China. They have substantial trade with, and through, Russia.
“In a cynical great power move, they could supply arms to the Russians to keep the U.S. and the European nations focused on Ukraine and distract them from Asia. But that’s a dangerous game to play, given how fierce the blowback has been to anyone cooperating with Russia.
“China could try to serve as a neutral mediator to negotiate peace. Teddy Roosevelt did the same thing in 1905 with the Russo-Japanese war and won the Nobel Peace Prize as a result. It would give them a victory at a moment when COVID-19 is breaking out heavily again in China. I don’t think they’ve quite decided yet, though, and thus there have been mixed signals.”
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