Beijing benefits from the Ukraine invasion

In general, Beijing miscalculated by supporting Vladimir Putin’s Ukraine war. Xi Jinping’s partner faces both unexpectedly fierce resistance from the Ukrainian military and surprisingly severe Western punishment. Some in Washington expect China will try to break free by brokering a peace deal. This is unlikely. China has benefited in many ways from the conflict as Russia tests the international system with disappointing results for the West.

True, Beijing is baffled by the Russian military’s failure. The war will surely make Mr. Xi question his military’s ability to attack Taiwan. But Mr. Xi has long ushered in a new era in international relations that will overturn the US-created world order. Mr. Putin endorsed this agenda in the February 4 China-Russia Joint Statement. From Beijing’s perspective, a new international policy is emerging.

Far from retreating from an anti-Western position, top Chinese diplomats are pushing their case. Foreign Minister Wang Yi and Deputy Foreign Minister Le Yucheng have issued statements since the invasion, accusing the US of neglecting Russia’s security concerns and condemning the eastward expansion of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. According to China’s narrative, the world should have sympathy for Ukraine, not because she was attacked by Russia, but because she is the victim of a reckless US attempt to maintain geopolitical dominance.

According to Beijing, the lesson for small countries is not to be used as a pawn. The US will manipulate them into waging proxy wars against their opponents.

China’s main destination is Asia. In their narrative, the region can escape Europe’s fate if it resists Washington’s efforts to contain China. The Chinese Foreign Ministry has taken a stab at the recently released US strategy for the Indo-Pacific, which envisages a political and economic order free from Chinese coercion. Mr Le warned that this strategy “will provoke trouble, form closed and exclusive small circles or groups, and throw the region off course towards fragmentation and block-based division.”

The American strategy “is just as dangerous as the NATO strategy of eastward enlargement in Europe,” he added. “If allowed to continue unchecked, it would have unimaginable consequences and ultimately plunge the Asia-Pacific region over the edge of the abyss.” This is a stark warning that if Washington builds a NATO-like alliance system in Asia, China will reserves the option to vigorously resist. From this perspective, Russia’s case for an attack on Ukraine provides a useful precedent.

But the world’s reaction to the invasion of Ukraine should allay Beijing’s concerns about the formation of anti-China blocs. Outside the West, America’s partners seem to prefer neutrality when confronted with authoritarian aggression. India, a key pillar of Washington’s Indo-Pacific strategy, has not condemned Russia. In Southeast Asia, a region the US considers strategically important, most have remained neutral. While these countries may think differently when China triggers a conflict, the US cannot count on it.

America’s partners in the Middle East, which are strategically important to the US because of their energy resources, also remain neutral. The war in Syria and Iran’s regional aggression have made these countries more dependent on China and Russia.

Even more encouragingly for Beijing, Japan’s support for Ukraine has fueled heightened tensions with Russia. Moscow has broken off negotiations to settle territorial disputes, and Beijing likely promised to resume joint exercises in the waters around Japan.

It turns out that the Sino-Russian Joint Statement was less of a claim and more of a description of the current state of international relations. With so many countries remaining on the sidelines after invading Ukraine, China has an opportunity to build more support for its anti-American vision. Over the past decade, Russia has done much of this work by providing arms and expanding its influence. China will also exploit its reluctance to promiscuous use of US sanctions and American human rights intimidation.

China has not miscalculated. It was right about the geopolitical fundamentals. And since few countries have joined the West in opposing Russian aggression against a sovereign nation, Beijing might conclude that even fewer would punish it for an attack on Taiwan, which most of the world doesn’t consider as country recognizes. Washington urgently needs to convey to its partners, diplomatically, that such an attack would destroy international security and prosperity.

China doesn’t need allies to support its aggressive plans. It just needs nations to remain neutral, and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has given China more confidence that most of the world will remain on the fringes.

Mr. Blumenthal is Director of Asian Studies at the American Enterprise Institute and author of The China Nightmare: The Grand Ambitions of a Decaying State.

Wonderland: Vladimir Putin is a modern day Adolf Hitler and he is trying to exterminate the Ukrainian people. But while Europe tries to reform itself, the American President is not stepping in. Images: Reuters/AFP/Getty Images Composite: Mark Kelly

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