Why should we in New Zealand give a damn about Ukraine? My answer is: China.
China and Russia together is the geo-strategic realignment we’ve been waiting for; it’s arrived, and it’s bad.
There are plenty around in the United States who can dismiss Russia as simply being a big gas station – as Senator McCain did in 2017 and as ex-Obama advisor and Harvard economist Jason Furman did a few days ago. It’s not helpful.
Russia has so far kept China as its strongest ally with it through its Ukraine crisis. Instead of agreeing with many at the United Nations Security Council to censure Russia for its recent Ukrainian threats and actions, China simply said:
China once again calls on all participants to remain calm, not to do anything to aggravate tensions or hype up the crisis, but to properly resolve their differences through consultations on equal footing.” And: “Russia’s legitimate security concerns should be heeded and addressed.”
China is also directly backing Russia against the very existence of NATO:
As the world’s largest military alliance, NATO should abandon the outdated Cold War mentality and ideological bias, and do things that are conducive to upholding peace and stability.”
China and Russia signed up to oppose any expansion of NATO just weeks ago before the Winter Games.
Who would have thought that in January this year Chinese President Xi Jinping sent a note to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy to celebrate three decades of diplomatic ties? Ukraine is after all a key signatory to Xi’s Belt and Road initiative.
China and Ukraine shared over $15 billion in bilateral trade in 2020. Xi said: “I attach great importance to the development of the China-Ukraine strategic partnership,” with a “deepening political mutual trust, fruitful cooperation in various fields and even closer people-to-people and cultural exchanges.”
Yet what may look like China swallowing a remarkably large cold dead rat for the sake of its Russian ‘alliance’, in fact turns out to be China using Russia to try and have Europe for breakfast: Xi can see that that the Ukraine according to Russian President Vladimir Putin, “never had a tradition of genuine statehood.” Then Putin rolled in the tanks. Germany has stopped Nordstream 2 so European reliance on Ukraine-routed gas continues. Keep your customers weak.
The necessary COP26 energy transition across Europe is deeply destabilised as a result.
Xi prefers to keep his own people and businesses in Russian heating gas and coal energy generation rather than stand by diplomatic niceties with Ukraine. Fair call in the short to medium term.
But stupidly for China, its soft alliance with Russia is deliberately aggravating its opponents and firming up European and United States unity against them both. A stronger China-Russia alliance will push stronger US-ally military bases across the Pacific rim from Australia to Japan. This is a bad long term play for China.
China also runs a stronger risk that it will have stronger not decreased trade sanctions against it for aiding Russia. A much higher risk of a full-on global trade war will see China as the loser with companies pulling out and high-end customers choosing competitors. Another bad long term play for China.
There’s no good in this, but China’s making it much, much worse. Watch China’s next move.