Outcast Russia has left China shaken and stirred

Tough sanctions and Moscow’s flawed political and military strategy in Ukraine send shockwaves through Beijing’s elite

Savage sanctions by major democracies on Russia and Ukraine’s resistance to Putin’s war have shaken China’s ruling Communist Party elite.

The decision by the United States, the European Union and allies, such as the United Kingdom, to freeze assets close to US$600 billion has underlined the “nuclear option” in the West’s arsenal of financial weapons.

Further economic pain has seen the Russian rouble crash, losing nearly 50% of its value since the start of the year.

Moscow’s much-vaunted military machine has also spluttered against fierce Ukraine resistance, while autocrat Vladimir Putin’s strategy to target civilians in a bombing campaign has triggered worldwide condemnation.    

For President Xi Jinping’s government in Beijing, the quagmire that close ally Russia finds itself in is a massive wake-up call to the financial power that global democracies can wield.

“Whatever his other suspicions of the West, Putin seemed to think its financial system wouldn’t be turned off – not to a nation of Russia’s size,” Peter Martin, of the Australian National University, said.

“China will have taken note and won’t be entrusting any more foreign assets to banks in France, Germany, Italy, the UK and the US than it can afford to lose,” he wrote in a commentary for The Conversation, an academic website.

Shock and shame:

  • Beijing has blocked accurate coverage of Ukraine.
  • It has pushed pro-Putin talking points about outcast Russia’s illegal war.
  • State censors have even airbrushed Moscow’s bombing campaign that has killed children.
  • Yet China’s propaganda decision to support Russia is hardly surprising.
  • Xi has referred to Putin as his “best friend.”
  • The pair also agreed on a “no limits” pact on the eve of the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing last month.
  • Since then, reports have surfaced that Chinese officials knew about Russia’s plans to invade Ukraine.
  • Even after Putin’s attack on the Eastern European democracy, Beijing has refused to condemn Moscow.

They tried to depict the US, the West and NATO as not trustworthy and people in Taiwan as delusional.

Min Hsuan Wu, Doublethink Lab CEO

Delve deeper: China has been taken aback by the speed and resolve of major democracies, making a mockery of Xi’s mantra that “the West is in decline.”

Big Picture: The geopolitical firestorm has also raised questions on the Taiwan issue and Beijing’s pledge to reunify the democratic-island with the mainland. By force if necessary.

Dazed and delusional: “They tried to depict the US, the West and NATO as not trustworthy and people in Taiwan as delusional to think the US will protect Taiwan at all,” Doublethink Lab CEO Min Hsuan Wu told the Axios media site.

United front: “But that faded away after the strong sanctions and united front from European countries and NATO allies,” Wu pointed out, referring to research conducted by the Taiwan-based group, which specializes in online disinformation.

Big picture: Comrade Xi will analyze Russia’s flawed invasion strategy of Ukraine along with his political cadres and military top brass. They will also dissect the global fallout.

Unexpected surprise: “I do think … that they have been surprised and unsettled to some extent by what they’ve seen in Ukraine over the last 12 days, everything from the strength of the Western reaction to the way in which Ukrainians have fiercely resisted,” CIA Director William Burns said.

Determined leadership: “[But] I would not underestimate President Xi and the Chinese leadership’s determination with regard to Taiwan,” Burns told the annual US House of Representatives Intelligence Committee in Washington earlier this week.

China Factor comment: With the crucial 20th National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party coming up later this year, Xi can not afford to make a single mistake. Backing Russia already looks like a diplomatic disaster. There is now no room for error.