China risks a New Cold War by backing Russia

Xi Jinping’s government has become one of Moscow’s staunchest allies and one of NATO’s biggest critics

Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine has triggered a global backlash.

Words such as “horrific” and “barbaric” littered statements of condemnation from world leaders as Russian President Vladimir Putin launched an unprovoked attack on the Eastern European nation.

In the early hours of Thursday, bombs and missiles rained down on Ukrainian military and civilian targets.

International reaction was one of horror. Belgium’s Prime Minister Alexander De Croo described the chilling events on a Twitter post as “Europe’s darkest hour since the Second World War.”

Undertones of Churchillian rhetoric.

Yet one country remained aloof from one of the biggest crises facing the international community since the end of the Cold War.

Russia’s staunchest ally, China, refused to criticize, or rein in, Putin’s act of madness.

“China believes that the door to a peaceful solution to the Ukraine issue has not been completely closed and should not be closed,” Zhang Jun, the Chinese ambassador to the United Nations, said as reported by China’s state-run media.

“At present, to avoid intensifying conflicts, China will continue to promote peace in its own way,” he added.

Timeline to war:

  • Sanctions on Russia by the United States, the European Union and its allies were condemned by China on Wednesday.
  • Hours later, Moscow unleashed military action after recognizing two “breakaway regions” of eastern Ukraine.
  • Missile strikes and explosions were reported in major cities across the country.
  • Putin later warned that Moscow would respond “instantly” if his troops were attacked.
  • He also urged Ukrainian soldiers in eastern Ukraine to lay down their weapons.
  • The US and EU are now planning new “massive punitive” sanctions on Russia.

So far, China has not shown a great willingness to stop the war.

Wu Qiang an independent political analyst

China’s conundrum: “This is a very unfavorable situation that an unprepared China has been pulled into by Russia,” Wu Qiang, an independent political analyst in Beijing, said, according to media reports.

Risk of confrontation: “It is possible that China may lose its existing relationship with Europe, a friendly relationship, and that China and the United States may soon fall into a confrontation because of a quasi-alliance between China and Russia,” Wu pointed out.

Reluctant peacemakers: “And so far, China has not shown a great willingness to stop the war,” Wu added.

Big picture: China might come out with all the right noises at the UN, but Beijing sees Moscow as a trusted “friend” against the West and its allies. The battle lines between autocracy and democracy have been drawn.

Delve deeper: “By agreeing to back Russia against NATO, Beijing gained Moscow’s reaffirmed support on Taiwan, which China claims as its own territory,” Alexey D Muraviev, who specializes in National Security and Strategic Studies at Curtin University in Perth, warned. 

Putin playbook: “In fact, China may borrow Russia’s approach towards Ukraine as a model to pressure Taiwan into unifying – or an outright invasion of the island,” Muraviev wrote in a commentary for The Conversation, an academic website

China Factor comment: President Xi Jinping’s decision to throw China’s weight behind Russia’s invasion of Ukraine risks plunging Beijing into a New Cold War with the US and its allies.