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How to understand properly China’s role in the Ukraine War

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Since the war between Russia and Ukraine broke out six weeks ago, the U.S-led allies and partners in Europe and Asia have rallied against Russia by employing all kinds of means including outrageous supply of lethal weapons to Ukraine. Despite the fact the warring parties have kept peace talking from time to time, it is apparent that the fiat on the Ukraine side is not from Kyiv but from Washington. As a PhD scholar from Ukraine and now studying in China said to me that “Now Ukraine can’t stop the war at least for three reasons: 1) if the President stops the war and let’s Russia gain some territories, this will be a political disaster for him. Since the people in Ukraine are filled with propaganda, they want to continue fighting; 2) the U.S. and Britain have helped Ukraine and have clear influence on the Ukrainian government, they don’t want this war to finish; 3) Ukrainian government thinks that this war will kill Russia as a state, that is why the elite in Kyiv will continue the war. Yes, people are dying due to sufferings, but now nobody cares. It’s all about big political game, not about people.”

There is no question that the U.S. and its core allies have waged three wars against Russia: economic sanctions on Russian people, disinformation smearing Russia generally and President Putin particularly, and diplomatic rows to weaken Russia’s legitimacy by a bunch of pawn states. As a Russian scholar from Tomsk put it, what has been happening in the world is “not only and not so much about Ukraine, it is an attempt to create a new world order. Ukraine has been chosen by the U.S.-led NATO as a tool to challenge the legitimate security concerns of Russia and after that, China will be the next target. Given the “hybrid war” launched by the U.S.-led allies against Russia without holding anything back, what can we do? She answered firmly “Russians will do their best!”

Under such circumstances, the U.S., NATO and the EU have also lost no time to coercive China and many other countries to side with the “anti-Russian” force. Yet, China has stressed that as a permanent member of the UN Security Council, it will continue to work with the international community rather than any political block, in accordance with the wishes of the parties concerned and taking into account the needs of the development of the situation, to continue to play a constructive role in promoting peace talks. In response to the world-wide question about what role China plays on the Ukraine issue, Beijing has reiterated that China and Russia are the comprehensive strategic partner with “no limits” in safeguarding a multiple world order. Yet, China has equally respected all legitimate rights of Ukraine as a sovereign state. Accordingly, China strives to play a responsible and constructive role in calling for a ceasefire to end the war and obviously to endorse the two sides to carry out direct dialogue for peace.

For some reasons, China’s position on the Ukraine issue has been questioned and even misperceived by international media and scholars. For instance, recently Harvard scholar Joseph Nye wrote that if there is any way to end this nightmare quickly, one possibility is for Chinese President Xi Jinping to play the role of “honest broker”. It is clear that Turkey, Israel and France (among others) are attempting to mediate in Russia’s current war, but they do not have nearly as much leverage with Putin as his ally Xi does. In addition, China has remarkable economic clouts to the Russian battering economy. Yet, the question is whether Xi has the imagination and the courage to use it. In order to verify his argument, Nye used the model role of Teddy Roosevelt, the former U.S. president who succeeded in mediating the brutal war between Russia and Japan in 1905. Due to his smart pressure for the parties to compromise and ultimately it prevailed, thereby boosting America’s global influence and winning himself a Nobel Peace Prize.

Professor Nye is correct in terms of the personal and political relations between Xi and Putin since both are staunch defender of a multilateral world order. Yet, he is incorrect to claim that since China has long portrayed itself as a defender of the principles of sovereignty and territorial integrity, it has tolerated Putin’s brazen violation of the United Nations Charter. When the UN Security Council voted on a resolution condemning Russia’s invasion, China abstained. China has criticized Western sanctions against Russia and accused the war being designed by the U.S.-led NATO to pursue its eastward enlargement. As a matter of fact, realism scholars John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt and many others have shared this view with China. It is laughable that Nye talked of the case that some Chinese have openly suggested that Beijing should mediate to give Putin an “off-ramp” from his disastrous Ukraine policy. Yet, the case mentioned above is that this scholar has no strictly conventional training in the study of international politics, foreign policy and geopolitical security background.

China will continue following its ancient wisdom of statecraft and the current geopolitical security interests. It will not criticize Russia according to what the U.S. and its allies have expected. China is well-aware of the golden-motto of “without lips the teeth will be hurt directly.” As the close neighbors and great nuclear powers, China and Russia can help each other in all scenarios to meet any sorts of challenges. It is apparent that China does not seek selfish geopolitical interests over Ukraine, nor does it hold an indifferent attitude to the conflict, not to mention adding fuel to the fire given that Russia and Ukraine have expressed their willingness to make a peace deal.

It is clear that this is not only a defining moment for Europe or any part of the world, but it is also a defining moment for the relationship among all the countries of the world. China has consistently endorsed humanitarian aid to Ukraine and its people while upholding the fundamental tenets of the UN Charter. Yet, China, as a permanent member of the UN Security Council, has a very special responsibility to safeguard the peace, justice and fairness. Although the U.S., NATO and the EU have claimed that more than 40 countries in total have joined these sanctions on Russia, they have ignored the fact the huge population including China, India, Pakistan and Indonesia, etc., have adopt not to side with the anti-Russian bloc, though including the G7 rich club.

No doubt, Nye is a prestigious scholar but George Kennan and Henry Kissinger are much balanced geopolitical strategic doyens. It is out of the question that a strong Europe can exist without a stable and strong Russia. Echoing this logic, it is impossible for the world to have long peace without a strong strategic partnership between China and Russia. Even if this war heralds that America’s alliances have been reinforced, with Germany and Japan embracing a far more muscular defense posture than at any time in decades, Russia’s reputation as a formidable military power has suffered a serious blow. However, with a solidarity with China, India and having its own huge natural resources and military capacity, Russia will be able to reemerge as a more robust power in a very short time. China’s friendship with Russia is built upon the shared security concerns and strategic consensus on the realpolitik that the United States has pursued Pax Americana while rejecting any peers in the world affairs.

Wang Li is Professor of International Relations and Diplomacy at the School of International and Public Affairs, Jilin University China.

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Assad’s visit to China: Breaking diplomatic isolation and rebuilding Syria

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Chinese President Xi Jinping meets with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in Hangzhou, capital city of east China's Zhejiang Province, Sept. 22, 2023. (Xinhua/Yao Dawei)

The visit of Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad to China to participate in the opening of the Asian Games came as a serious step to try to break the diplomatic isolation from Syria.  Syrian President “Bashar Al-Assad” was keen to meet his counterpart Xi Jinping in the city of Hangzhou in eastern China, where the Asian Games are being held, as this was the Syrian president’s first visit to China since 2004.  According to the Syrian regime’s Al-Watan newspaper, Al-Assad will attend the launch ceremony of the (nineteenth edition) of the Asian Games, which will open on September 23, in the Chinese city of Hangzhou.  This visit to Bashar al-Assad reflects the great coordination between Moscow and Beijing, as it is likely that the Russians pushed for this visit at this precise time.  Perhaps, through his visit to China, Bashar al-Assad is trying to deliver a specific message about the start of “international legitimization” of his regime.  Syria’s accession to the Belt and Road Initiative in January 2022 is an indication of the possibility of implementing vital Chinese projects, especially since it is located between Iraq and Turkey, making it a vital corridor for land routes towards Europe.

 Bashar Al-Assad’s visit to China also comes in an attempt to attract it to reconstruction projects in the affected areas in Syria, as China has the ability to complete reconstruction infrastructure in residential and civilian areas with exceptional speed. This is the same as what the Chinese ambassador to Syria “Shi Hongwei” announced in August 2023, that “Chinese companies are actively involved in reconstruction projects in Syria”. The war in Syria led to massive destruction of infrastructure and the destruction of many vital sectors of the Syrian economy, including oil, while the Syrian government is subject to harsh international sanctions.  We find that the Chinese side has shown great interest in the reconstruction projects in Surba, such as the presence of more than a thousand Chinese companies to participate in (the first trade exhibition on Syrian reconstruction projects in Beijing), while they pledged investments estimated at two billion dollars.

  China played an active role through diplomatic movements in Syria, as it participated in the “Astana” process, and obstructed Security Council resolutions related to Syria, to confirm its position in support of Damascus, using its veto power more than once in the Security Council, against resolutions considered to be a blow to Assad’s “legitimacy”.  In September 2017, the Syrian regime classified China, along with Russia and Iran, as “friendly governments” that would give priority to reconstruction projects. Therefore, Al-Assad affirmed during his meeting with Chinese President “Xi Jinping” that: “this visit is important in terms of its timing and circumstances, as a multipolar world is being formed today that will restore balance and stability to the world, and it is the duty of all of us to seize this moment for the sake of a bright and promising future”.

  According to my analysis, China follows the policy of “breaking diplomatic isolation on presidents and countries against which America is angry”, so the visit of “Bashar al-Assad” comes within a series of visits that China witnessed during the current year in 2023, to presidents who are isolated internationally by the United States of America, such as: Venezuelan President “Nicolas  Maduro”, the Iranian President ”Ibrahim Raisi”, and the Belarusian “Alexander Lukashenko”.

  China is also keen to conduct interviews in its newspapers and official websites affiliated with the ruling Communist Party with many presidents and officials of countries isolated internationally and diplomatically by the United States of America and the West, such as the Chinese keenness to conduct and publish an interview with Syrian Foreign Minister “Faisal Mekdad” on September 21, 2023, and the Chinese reviewed his statements, saying that “the United States of America has plundered oil, natural gas, and other resources from Syria, causing losses worth $115 billion”. The Chinese newspaper “Global Times”, which is close to the ruling Communist Party, also focused on the United States’ greater role in the deterioration of “Syria from stability to chaos” . The Chinese newspaper compared this to China’s policy, which constantly calls for peaceful dialogue and opposes “foreign interference” .

   Through his visit to China, Syrian President “Bashar Al-Assad” is trying to lay the foundations for joint cooperation between China and Syria within the framework of the Belt and Road Initiative, with full Chinese support for Syria’s accession to the Shanghai Cooperation Organization as a dialogue partner. China has always affirmed its firm support for Syria’s efforts against foreign interference, with the Chinese rejection of the stationing of illegal forces on Syrian territory. China is also making great efforts with many countries to lift sanctions and the illegal economic blockade on the Syrian people, in addition to Chinese support for building Syrian capabilities in the field of combating terrorism. Knowing that despite its alliance with President “Bashar Al-Assad”, China did not participate in supporting him militarily, but it used the right of criticism to obstruct the passage of resolutions against him in the Security Council.

   We can reach an important conclusion that Bashar Al-Assad’s visit to China has a greater political track, and that Beijing is trying to play a greater role in the issue of resolving conflicts or to have a greater actual role in negotiations related to sensitive issues in the region. The implications of Assad’s visit to China are also politically significant, as China is trying to play a greater political role in the region, as China has been trying since the start of the Russian-Ukrainian war and the emergence of a vacuum in the Middle East as a result of the decline of Russian influence due to its preoccupation with the war, so Beijing is trying to expand in the Middle East and Africa. 

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East Asia

China’s Inclusive Diplomacy for Global Cooperation

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President Xi Jinping’s address at the recently held 2023 CIFTIS resonates as a powerful call for inclusive development and cooperation in the services trade sector. China’s commitment to expanding market access, increasing connectivity, and aligning policies with global standards demonstrates its commitment to ensuring a level playing field for all nations.

This commitment extends across different sectors, including telecommunications, tourism, law, vocational examinations, and the larger services sector. President Xi’s address emphasized China’s intention to expand broader, broaden market access, and support inclusive development in the services trade sector. His sentiments resonate with the global world as China seeks to create new prospects for openness, cooperation, and economic equality.

Over the last few decades, the services trade landscape has changed drastically, becoming an essential component of international business. However, this expansion has not been uniform, with developing countries frequently encountering difficulties such as limited market access, complex rules, and capacity limits that prevent them from fully participating in international services trade.

Notably, China is committed to promoting inclusive growth in the services trade sector. It assured of taking continuing steps to accelerate Chinese modernization through high-quality development, to open up new avenues for openness and collaboration for all countries.

Through openness, cooperation, innovation, and shared services, China emphasized the need for inclusive growth and connectivity. Recognizing that a rising tide in services trade should raise all boats, particularly those from nations with limited resources, China has launched a series of ground-breaking initiatives. Additionally, China is actively expanding its network of high-standard free trade areas, participating in negotiations on the negative list for trade in services and investment.

China is setting an example by aligning its policies with international standards. President Xi highlighted in his speech that national integrated demonstration zones for increased openness in the services sector, suitable pilot free trade zones, and free trade ports will be at the forefront of aligning policies with high-standard international economic and trade regulations. These zones demonstrate China’s commitment to fostering an atmosphere conducive to international cooperation and growth.

Real-world examples vividly demonstrate the practical impact of China’s assistance to developing countries in the services trade. China’s investments in transport infrastructure, such as the Standard Gauge Railway, have considerably facilitated the flow of goods and people in Kenya, boosting the services sector indirectly.

Pakistan’s experience with the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is similar, with improved physical connectivity catalyzing the expansion of digital services and e-commerce. Various infrastructure developments in Indonesia have resulted in spectacular advances, opening up new potential for services trade.

Ethiopia, too, has reaped the benefits of China’s commitment, with active participation in industrial parks reviving the services sector, which includes logistics, banking, and education. These real-life success stories highlight China’s critical role in facilitating the expansion and development of services trade in developing countries.

China’s commitment to capacity building and technical aid is critical in its support for developing countries in the services trade. China provides these countries with the knowledge and skills they need to participate effectively in the services trade by offering specialized programs. Furthermore, China’s significant investments in infrastructure projects such as ports, logistical hubs, and telecommunications networks play an important role in facilitating the smooth flow of services.

Furthermore, China’s commitment to reducing entry barriers and optimizing regulations indicates the country’s persistent commitment to creating an equitable environment. This approach not only promotes equitable possibilities but also simplifies market access, making it easier for developing countries to export their services to China’s enormous and dynamic market.

Furthermore, China gives significant financial support in the form of loans and grants for service trade-related initiatives, recognizing the financial problems that many developing countries confront. This financial assistance enables nations to overcome economic challenges and invest in the expansion and improvement of their service sectors, thereby encouraging economic equality and cooperation.

As the world continues to evolve, services trade will play an increasingly important role in global economic growth, and China’s leadership in this realm is helping to shape a future where opportunities are shared, disparities are reduced, and cooperation knows no bounds. It is a vision worthy of appreciation and support since it is consistent with the ideals of justice and equality, moving the globe closer to a more linked and wealthy global community.

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East Asia

China’s Multilateral Engagement and Constructive Role in the G20



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The recent G20 Summit in India has once again taken center stage, attracting global attention as it gathered together leaders and delegates from the world’s 20 most powerful economies. This high-profile event was significant in shaping international relations and addressing serious global concerns due to its broad presence and crucial talks. This high-stakes gathering occurs at a pivotal juncture, marked by escalating divisions among major powers on a multitude of pressing global issues, including the Russia-Ukraine conflict, global economic recovery, food security, and climate change.

The recent inclusion of the African Union (AU) as a permanent member within the G20 serves as a positive signal, signifying consensus among major economies. However, lurking concerns persist about the formidable challenges involved in achieving unity and issuing a joint declaration in the midst of these complex global dynamics.

Chinese Premier Li Qiang’s opening remarks at the 18th G20 Summit in New Delhi resonate as he underscores the paramount importance of unity and collaboration among G20 member nations. He emphasizes the critical need for effective coordination of macroeconomic policies to restore hope and generate momentum for long-term economic growth.

 Premier Li eloquently highlights the interconnectedness of humanity’s destiny and calls upon nations to demonstrate mutual respect, seek common ground while momentarily setting aside differences, and work tirelessly towards peaceful coexistence. In a world characterized by profound crises and shared hardships, he aptly observes that no nation can thrive in isolation. Therefore, the only plausible pathways for guiding humanity forward are those rooted in cooperation and harmony.

The G20, originally established to navigate global financial crises and forge collective strategies for addressing economic challenges while fostering global economic development, has, regrettably, experienced a decline in consensus and a rise in differences among major powers. This shift has been particularly evident since the onset of the Ukraine crisis and the United States’ strategy of containment against China. Consequently, the G20 is increasingly devolving into a forum marked by discord, rather than the once-productive and constructive multilateral mechanism it was intended to be.

Nevertheless, the G20 retains its significance as a pivotal forum for international collaboration in confronting global challenges. With the increasing contributions of developing nations like China, India, and African countries, the voices within the G20 have diversified, no longer solely dominated by Western perspectives. As a response, the United States seeks to regain control of the multilateral process to further its agenda of great power competition. However, this approach is unlikely to be warmly received by the broader international community.

China remains steadfast in its commitment to deepen reforms and open up further to foster high-quality development and its unique brand of modernization. China views itself as a catalyst for additional momentum in global economic recovery and sustainable development. China stands ready to collaborate with all stakeholders to contribute to the well-being of our shared Earth, our common home, and the future of humanity. Despite Western media’s attempts to sensationalize China’s stance and magnify perceived differences, China continues to play a constructive role within the G20, dedicated to its multilateral mission.

To ensure that the G20 remains a platform focused on global governance rather than being overshadowed by geopolitical conflicts, China remains determined to fulfill its constructive role within the group, regardless of attempts by Western powers to politicize the mechanism. China’s efforts have expanded the G20 to include the African Union, effectively transforming it into the “G21.” China was the first nation to endorse African Union membership in the G20 and advocates for the African Union to assume an even more significant role in international governance.

The growing divisions and disputes within the G20 have eroded its effectiveness as a platform for addressing global challenges. These divisions, primarily driven by American actions and policies, have spawned tensions with far-reaching global implications, from the Ukraine crisis to escalating tensions in the Asia-Pacific region, particularly in the Taiwan Straits and the South China Sea. These developments underscore the critical role the G20 plays in promoting cooperation and unity.

Amid the current geopolitical landscape characterized by major powers’ divisions, tensions have surged, resonating globally and causing ripple effects. From the Ukraine crisis to tensions in the Asia-Pacific region, particularly in the Taiwan Straits and the South China Sea, the significance of the G20’s role in fostering cooperation and unity cannot be overstated.

All G20 member nations must recognize the urgent imperative of cooperation in building a world that is safer, more prosperous, and increasingly peaceful. Given the global challenges that transcend narrow national interests, effective responses can only be crafted through international cooperation. The G20 stands as a pivotal arena for this cooperation, with China’s positive contribution being indispensable in promoting cohesion.

Despite Western media’s efforts to sensationalize China’s position and magnify perceived gaps, China remains a committed multilateral partner within the G20, dedicated to constructive engagement. The G20 continues to serve as a critical platform for addressing global concerns, fostering unity, and promoting international collaboration. As the world grapples with intricate issues, it remains imperative that nations adhere to the principles of multilateralism and collaborate relentlessly to secure a more prosperous, peaceful, and sustainable future for all.

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