Beijing at sixes and sevens in its support for Moscow

The Russia-Ukraine conflict, besides bringing devastation to respective countries, has also exposed the true nature of friends on each side in times of crisis.

2. Moscow has been taken by surprise by the reticence of Beijing on the ongoing Russia-Ukraine conflict. Russia would have definitely counted on China’s support when it invaded Ukraine. Though China is Russia’s biggest trading partner– with total bilateral trade between the two countries valued at $112 billion in 2020 – it seems Beijing is at sixes and sevens in supporting Moscow in the current conflict.

3. Despite a preliminary understanding with Moscow to veto the US-led draft Resolution condemning Russia, China decided to abstain from voting in favour of Russia at the UN Security Council meeting on Ukraine issue on February 25. The Chinese side apparently informed the Russians that their position was determined by the Chinese leadership’s decision in connection with uncertainty of the situation in Ukraine and requirement of more time to study the scenario. Subsequently, China abstained during the UNSC procedural voting on February 27 for holding an emergency session on Ukraine.

4. Further, in a veiled condemnation of Russia, Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Wang Wenbin during a press conference on February 28 stated that the sovereignty and territorial integrity of all countries should be respected and maintained. He further emphasized that China has always believed that the security of one country cannot be based on the damage to the security of other countries.

Nato, China and Russia

5. On March 01, 2022, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi in a telephonic conversation with his Ukrainian counterpart Dmytro Kuleba expressed concern over the escalating clashes and the damage borne by the Ukrainian civilians. While appreciating negotiations between two sides, Wang Yi said that China is ready to play a role in Ukrainian ceasefire.

6. On social media too, there has been a pushback against the pro-war narrative. Anti-war posts can be found in significant number like some videos that suggested Russia should deal with NATO and not invade Ukraine. Meanwhile, 130 alumni of reputed Chinese institutions have urged the Chinese government to fulfil its 1994 commitment of providing security guarantee for Ukraine. In another instance, Chinese netizens condemned Chinese Consul General in Osaka, Japan for his tweet that “the weak must never provoke the strong” questioning whether China should have sat idle when it was looked upon as weak.

7. Under the weight of harsh economic sanctions imposed by the US and the EU, Russia would rely on Chinese commitment for assistance in resolving the problem of overcoming an economic crisis but it seems Beijing is in no mood to provide succour to Moscow. State-owned Chinese banks – Bank of China (3988 offshore units) and Industrial and Commercial Bank of China (1398 offshore units) – are already restricting financing deals involving Russian commodities. Aggravating the situation further, Yuan’s surge against Rouble has stifled the Russia-China trade. It has just got a lot more expensive for Russia to deal with its biggest trade partner China. The Yuan has hit a record high against the Rouble – surging by as much as 25% on March 01 alone – as sanctions were levied against Russian central bank. Some Chinese banks have already suspended trading of the currency pair with signs of distress showing up. The sudden spike and how it has put off currency trades, raises questions over the strategic relationship between both countries as Russia’s ties with global markets gets cut off one by one.

8. In view of the above, it would not be an exaggeration to say that while Ukraine may have been let down by the US and the NATO, China has certainly disappointed Russia by not coming out openly in its support.