Vladimir Putin’s Aggression Against Ukraine has thrown China’s Policy in a Geo-political Quagmire


Authors: Stephen Nagy and Phar Kim Beng, PhD*

Wielded by diplomatic practitioners to close the scholars’ gap with the rest. foreign policy is the manifestation between foreign policy theory and the practice.

In the 1970s, Robert Keohane and Joseph Nye, who co-authored the book “Complex Interdependence.”  They argued that inter-state conflict would be increasingly unlikely in future as international trade concurrently becomes more vulnerable and sensitive than ever to supply chain disruption. 

This has not been the case of Russia’s invasion of the Ukraine and by extension China.

In hindsight, they could have added sanctions or the removal from the SWIFT banking system in their analysis after accounts, which was the observing the surprise reaction speed, cohesiveness and coordinated of the US and EU SWIFT sanctions on Russia following its invasion of Ukraine. 

Unexpectedly, more than 400 even hundreds of private companies have unilaterally withdrawn their operations from Russia, in order to insulate themselves from being morally criticized and implicated in the world’s largest sanctions ever. 

The Russian-interruptus by corporates also speak to the cost and benefit analysis and hypocrisy of remaining in Russia during a time of war when other states such as China have also engaged in egregious behaviour domestically and abroad.  

Looking back, sanctions were not the foreign economic statecraft of choice in the past.

Nevertheless, much has since changed between 1970s and the current era. In the past, sanctions were used against Saddam Hussein and his generals in Iraq.  

They were approved by the UN Security Council, to prevent the country from misbehaving with total abandon, such as attacking Kuwait in August 1990. 

David Kortright at the Kroc Institute of Peace Studies at University of Notre Dame as well as scholars such as well as Meghan O Sullivan, at Brookings Institution, had both referred to “Smart,” and “Shrewd,” Sanctions respectively in the late 1990s. 

This is precisely what the US and EU deployment did. Indeed, since the onset of President Vladimir Putin’s aggression against Ukraine on February 24 2022, the Swift system to remit funds into Russia has been suspended.

Be that as it, the reality of Putin’s strategic miscalculation is becoming clearer and clearer by the day. 

With partial successes and many unexpected failures, it has becoming abundantly clear that Putin blundered into a prolonged insurgent quagmire bolstered by much of the world and strategic defeat.

With 144 million Russians to appease and another 44 million Ukraine to control, not to mention the global narrative that Putin has largely lost, he has brought to life what veteran Russian specialist Robert Sullins at St Anthony’s College at University of Oxford averred thar “While Putin may win the war, he cannot win the peace.” 

His one saving grace may be China. This is where the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and Putin’s comrade in arms Xi Jinping are up against an American-led “international order”; is still titling towards Putin to the extent that it has even contradicted Beijing’s longstanding Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence.

 These principles include mutual respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity, mutual non-aggression, non-interference in each other’s internal affairs, equality and mutual benefit, and peaceful coexistence.

Notwithstanding Beijing’s nuanced support for Putin’s position, could not make any head ways, granted that Putin’s choice of assault platforms was a combination of tanks, heavy artillery and armed personnel, these are military logistics that have to be refueled, replenished (with more ammunition) by railway or roads, and the soldiers fed. It is clear that Putin has blundered into a colossal strategic defeat. 

With 164 million Russians to appease, and another 44 million Ukrainians to control, not to mention that Putin has completely lost his strategic plot across the world, including China’s.

The domestic audience in China is not monolithic. When it comes to the invasion, there are parallels in China history. 

Some have likened it, to the Manchurian invasion of 1931 against China. The latter reminds some Chinese of the Imperial Japanese aggression against Manchuria.

Other scholars such as Hu Wei, the vice-chairman of the Public Policy Research Center of the Counsellor’s Office of the State Council of Chine, have even argued called the severance of any ties with Russia lest China is guilty by association. 

Hu has asked for the “Cutting off the relationship with Russia so that China can be the sacred cow to prevent any irredentist behavior, in Hong Kong, Xinjiang, Taiwan and Tibet.”

But Putin is the same person who talked about peace, through the intermediary of President Emmanuel Macron, only to invade Ukraine. 

Since President Macron has won his presidential election this June 2022, all global leaders would know that any proximity to Putin is now and forever, politically toxic. France’s reputation as a member of G 7 could immediately be in the dumps.

As the Vice Chairman of Standards and Poor’s Daniel Yergin said : “Putin has destroyed 22 years of his own legacy.”

Even during the last year of Stalin’s life in 1955, Vincent Bevin, a reporter at Washington Post wrote “Stalin was constantly visited by members of his Politburo in his Dacha in Georgia.”

This does not seem to be the case judging from his many TV appearances where he is seated 50 to 100 feet away.

The Mere bombardment from the North, South and East of Europe’s “most arable land,” also known as the continent’s biggest  “bread basket of Europe,” except Kherson, Russian troops have done poorly in its inability to control Kviv, Odessa, Khakiv, or, the port city of Mahiupol.

As things stand, the Russian economy is losing USD 20 billion a day, even though the gains in the price of oil per barrel has hovered between USD 100-130 over the recent month to allow Russian Central Bank to accumulate close to USD 670 billion. 

This figure has been the highest financial water mark of the Russian Central Bank since 2015, when the Russian economy began experiencing an inflation of 20 per cent. 

This was; at a time when crude oil per barrel was being traded internationally at USD 40-50 permanently too. But with the price that has beached USD 100 per barrel, Russia can weaponized this policy instrument further. 

The inflation was also due to some sanctions on Russia for occupying Crimea in 2008, which belongs to Ukraine.

Be that as it may, the Russian Central Bank cannot make full use of the reserves. They are frozen by the US.

It can only assuage the confidence of the world that the Russian currency ie. Ruble is still of value.

It fell 14 per cent as of March 21 2022, not 37 per cent when the war had suddenly begun on February 24 2022.

Although the oil and Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) from Russia to member states of EU and US have been spared from the sanctions, to prevent a spike in their own inflation caused by the disruptions of pandemic of Covid- 19.

To be sure, the likes of Lawrence Summers, the former Chief Economist of former President Bill Clinton, has explained to Fareed Zakaria over CNN last week, “This aggression must not stand. As a nation, we have to pay a price for our freedom. What we will pay is nothing compared to what the Ukrainians are suffering. I am an economist. But I am a political economist.” 

To which Fareed Zakaria agreed, only to be even more hawkish:

“Sanctions can only have limited effected if the oil and gas of Russia are not targeted. The US is the biggest producer of shale. Our economy only needs 10 per cent of what Russia’s energy sector had produced.” 

The US allies across the Atlantic may be more vulnerable, especially Germany and Italy where their energy imports are higher at 45 and 55 per cent respectively. 

But the world has more than one supplier too. These countries can weather this if their oil reserves stockpile is released and increased.

At any rate, despite Lawrence Summers and Fareed Zakaria’s view, one still cannot answer the ease with which Russia and Belorussia attacked Ukraine granted what Robert Keohane and Joseph Nye had argued in 1970s.

With up to 45 and 55 per cent of Israel’s wheat and oat reliant on Ukraine being conflict-free, it is no surprise that Israel has taken the lead in brokering for peace. 

In fact, wheat, oat and cereals may not be the staple diet of Asians, such as China, Japan, South Korea and the rest of the member states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), but they can be turned into animal feed for poultry and other livestock. 

As and when the prices of these staple food increases, so would the rate of their inflation. However, in the developing economies of the Indo-Pacific-Asia region, which is not the one region affected by the US and EU alone, the effects could spread.

If one were to use Egypt as an example of the Middle East and North America, not excluding Israel and Turkey, the pictures are just as gloomy.

In Egypt, for instance, the interest rate of the Central Bank has been raised on March 21 from 6 to 9 per cent, to prevent the devaluation of the Egyptian Pound because President Mohammad El Sissi understood the dynamics of inflation way too well

Inflation is caused by too much money chasing over too few goods. Thus, if interest rates are not raised, the cost of borrowing would be cheap. Leading to more liquidity in the system to curtail its Egyptian pound in circulation.

Similarly, since Turkey has relied on Russian tourism to enhance its economy over the last twenty years, it is not to the benefit of Turkey to see this was impoverishing both Russia and Ukraine. 

In the case of the latter, by the second week of the Russian onslaught, its GDP had been halved by USD 100 billion.

President Volodymyr Zelensky, meanwhile, has agreed to diplomatic solution from the very start. 

But he added: “I am for any diplomatic solutions. But I don’t believe they will work. Let not the citizens of Ukraine believe that I have not tried.”

Although President Biden has requested another 33 billion, on top of approved another USD 1 billion on March 18 2022, and USD 800 million in March 2021, US disallowed these spendings earmarked for anti- tank arm to shoulder missiles such as Stingers and anti- land and aerial based assaults such as Javelins. With the remaining USD 200 focused on humanitarian assistance.

Here one comes to the thesis of John Mueller author of who wrote “The Obsolescence of War” in the mid- 1990s.

The latter argued that as the international community goes into the future, the shame attached to war, would lead it to be rendered obsolete; not unlike the twin social institutions of slavery and dueling at one stage in the 19th century. 

By the 20th century, these two institutions were banned domestically and internationally. 

Yet, once again, the discipline of international relations could not explain the puzzle of Putin’s action, especially a Judo black belt holder at that. 

Judo is a martial art that believes in using one’s stamina, the weakness of the other person’s position, and will, to over throw the victim, without inflicting life threatening injuries or permanent disabilities, let alone death. 

The latest projection of the UN affirmed that if the war is prolonged and escalated by Russia, the number of internally displaced refugees in Ukraine in the coming weeks would reach 11 million interim million people.

Meanwhile, another 7 million wad refugees had sought their safe shelter in Poland.

The fact is, while Professor John Mearsheimer, faulted the West for allowing the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) to expand eastward, he has been known to argue that the “best way to wreck Russia is to let it invade Ukraine and be trapped there,” to which he added, “I think President Putin is too smart for that.”

Putin’s miscalculation in Ukraine is grotesque:

Apparently, intelligence has nothing to do with this war, since Putin could have easily weakened Joe Biden by not attacking Ukraine at all, leading him to be seen globally as the “President of the US,” who cried wolf. 

The Democratic Party’s foreign policy credentials would have been significantly damaged in face of the November 2022 Congressional and Senate Election, since global issue such as the rise of China has been entwined with US domestic politics across both sides of the aisles. 

Using the same strategy, what more for the 2024 Presidential election, Putin could indeed boost Trump’s chance of re- election too, as in the recent election in 2020, 

Trump received 72 million votes in total. That is 9 million votes higher than his prior presidential attempt.

The only one person who has praised him as a “genius,” with the evangelicals being oddly sympathetic to Putin given Putin’s anti LGBT stance.

John Lewis Gaddis, in an interview with a major Indian newspaper online, argued that President Putin has committed a serious strategic blunder, where the personal consequences to him are “”much more severe and messy,”” since the palace coup against him could potentially come from Russian intelligence agency (FSB).

On intelligence gathering, for example, President Xi has relied his understanding of the situation in Ukraine on what the Chinese United Front intelligence agency has been feeding him, when in fact China learned everything on Ukraine based on what FSB has proved with it.

Thus, when 6500 Chinese students and workers were trapped in various cities in Ukraine, none could be flown home. Buses had to be chartered to get them to Poland, only then from Warsaw back to China safely.

Such a slow gathering of intelligence abroad does not bode well for China’s intelligence gathering in foreign lands without substantial overseas Chinese who have formed their fifth column. 

But as the scholarship of Professor Terence Gomez, formerly at University of Malaya, pointed out, the idea of a “”Bamboo Network,”” is flawed and antiquated.

Overseas Chinese may be interested in trading with China. But it does not mean they are disloyal to the countries of their birth. 

In fact, the theory of the fifth column resulted in the death of millions of people all over Southeast Asia especially Indonesia. 

If these professionals, merchants, laity, or, what Professor Wang Gung Wu called “Hua Yi Chinese tribes/ 華夷,” are systematically discriminated, driven away, or, worse, decimated, who would hold up the private pillars of their political economy both domestically and internationally? 

China’s response to Russia’s invasion exemplifies David Shambaugh’s thesis of “China as a Global Partial Power.” 

In the view of Shambaugh, a prominent Sinologist in George Washington University, China’s lack of comprehensive depth in all dimensions of powers, that is except economic power where it is strongest in terms of its exports, may explain its contradictory position with Russia.

While China seeks to engage with the West economically, to make the most gains of it, Beijing has had to enlist Russia as a military ally.

At the same time, Beijing’s contorted diplomatic position on the invasion of Ukraine embodies Edward N. Luttwak notion of great power autism in his 2012 book The Rise of China vs. the Logic of Strategy. 

He argued that in history “China was isolated from peer states, and its foreign policy limited the receipt of tribute from smaller states and the management of barbarians, leaving current Chinese leaders less capable of navigating the modern Westphalian international system.”

These perspectives speak to the diplomatic impotence that have been demonstrated in the face of a critical juncture in international relations.

The world is now witnessing a return of great power competition, and the fragmentation of globalisation. 

China’s promotion of globalization, where it seeks to promote more of its goods and services is being eroded, as the US and European Union have become increasingly wary of the bond of China and Russia.

This is too be expected. China has done quite well   in Cambodia, Pakistan and a few other states but even there, states want more options than just China which speaks to Beijing’s poor acumen in shaping global events.

To be fair, during the first 30 years of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) it was distracted at home and with Maoism’s ideas that become extreme during The Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution between 1955-1960 and 1962-1976 respectively, China was wracked by extreme poverty. 

As things stand, while 600 million people had been redeemed from poverty, the goal of President Xi Jinping is to eradicate poverty by 2049, the 150th anniversary of Chinese Communist Party’s victory over the Kuomintang.

Thus, China’s ability to throw its geopolitical weight around has been established since 2012 when it possessed more resources to be influential across various regions of the world. 

However, by supporting Russia through the “Cooperation Without Limitation,” on February 4 2022, China now stands accused of being complicit to President Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. 

This has cost China to lose significant soft power both within the country and without. They still don’t have the acumen, experience, and appeal to tell the “China Dream” well.

*Dr Phar Kim Beng is founder and CEO of Strategic Pan Indo-Pacific Arena . He is a regular featured writer for The Jakarta Post and was the former Director of Political and Security Community in ASEAN Secretariat, a former visiting fellow with the Japan Institute for International Affairs (JIIA, 1999), and an Associate Fellow of Edx. Org, an online learning platform pioneered jointly by Harvard University and MIT since 2016.

Stephen R. Nagy
Stephen R. Nagy
Stephen R. Nagy (@nagystephen1) is a senior associate professor at International Christian University and a visiting fellow with the Japan Institute for International Affairs.


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