China must stop Russia’s war or risk ‘isolation’

A Chinese academic calls for Xi to rein in Putin and Beijing’s propaganda campaign against the US ‘empire of lies’ 

So now the United States is an “empire of lies.”

Backed into a corner because of its tacit support for Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine last month, China’s propaganda machine is churning out the usual “doublespeak.”

President Xi Jinping’s geopolitical gaffe has to be covered up after trusting his “best friend” Vladimir Putin to give the liberal-world order a bloody nose in a blitzkrieg-style war.

Four weeks later, Moscow’s military machine has become bogged down in a logistical nightmare with Putin reduced to a barbaric bombing campaign.

For the ruling Communist Party of China, it has been a diplomatic disaster. Cue state-run media.

“Right now, when the military conflict in Ukraine is getting increasingly serious under Washington’s provocation, and when the energy and refugee crises become more severe in Europe, the US’ smear campaign will only unmask it as the initiator,” Global Times thundered in an editorial.

“More and more people will see the true face of the US – an ‘empire of lies,’” the English-language tabloid, which is owned by the Party’s voice piece, the People’s Daily, said earlier this week.

Rhetorical rampage

Yet beneath the surface of this rhetorical rampage in the media, there is another view. 

Voices such as Hu Wei have illustrated that there are murmurs within the upper echelons of government about China’s “no limits” pact with Russia.

In a powerful commentary that was “censored” at home but “widely shared overseas,” the Chinese political academic made a compelling argument for cutting Putin and Moscow adrift.

“China cannot be tied to Putin. At present, it is estimated that there is still a window period of one or two weeks before China loses its wiggle room. China must act decisively,” Hu, the vice-chairman of the Public Policy Research Center of the Counselor’s Office, an advisory agency under the powerful State Council, said earlier this month.

Below are extracts from his essay entitled, Possible Outcomes of the Russo-Ukrainian War and China’s Choice, which was published by the US-China Perception Monitor.

Flags of contention … China’s relationship with Russia is under pressure. Image: Shutterstock
China has nothing to gain from ‘this war’

Apart from the underwhelming title, Hu’s commentary is a fascinating glimpse into the diplomatic dilemma facing Xi and his inner circle, as well as the geopolitical risks.

Already Beijing is out of step with “the rest of world” by failing into what Hu has called the “neutrality” trap:

“China should avoid playing both sides, choose the mainstream position in the world and give up being neutral.

“At present, [it] has tried not to offend either side and walked a middle ground, including abstaining from the [United Nation’s] Security Council and the UN General Assembly votes. However, this position does not meet Russia’s needs, and it has infuriated Ukraine and its supporters, [and] sympathizers.

“[This] has put China on the wrong side of much of the world. In some cases, apparent neutrality is a sensible choice, but it does not apply to this war, where China has nothing to gain.

“Given that China has always advocated respect for national sovereignty and territorial integrity, it can avoid further isolation only by standing with the majority of the countries in the world. This position is also conducive to the settlement of the Taiwan issue.”

Another victim of Russia’s bombing campaign in Ukraine. Photo: Flicka
Beijing needs to change Washington’s ‘hostile attitude’ 

Rebuilding Beijing’s tarnished reputation in diplomatic circles should be a priority amid international outrage and a humanitarian crisis that has reached epic portions. More than three million refugees have fled the fighting.  

Hu pointed out that China needs to make “strategic adjustments” to change “hostile attitudes” in Washington and the capitols of Europe: 

“China should not be further isolated by the West. Cutting off Putin and giving up neutrality will help build China’s international image and ease its relations with the US and the West. Although difficult and requiring great wisdom, it is the best option for the future.

“The view that a geopolitical tussle in Europe triggered by the war in Ukraine will significantly delay the US strategic shift from Europe to the Indo-Pacific region cannot be treated with excessive optimism.

“There are already voices in the US that Europe is important, but China is more so, and the primary goal of [Washington] is to contain China from becoming the dominant power in the Indo-Pacific region.

“Under such circumstances, China’s top priority is to make strategic adjustments [and] to change [the United States’] hostile attitude towards [Beijing].”

Big buddies … Xi Jinping, left, and Vladimir Putin. Photo: Wikimedia Commons
China should apply pressure on Russia to stop the conflict 

China has a unique opportunity to end the war, according to Hu. Beijing needs to warn Moscow that it will walk away from the strategic partnership if Russia refuses to negotiate a peace settlement or “escalates” the conflict. 

By taking a tough stand, President Xi could make it clear that the nuclear option threatened by Putin is off the table and so is World War III. Hu said:

“China should prevent the outbreak of world wars and nuclear wars and make irreplaceable contributions to world peace. As Putin has explicitly requested Russia’s strategic deterrent forces to enter a state of special combat readiness, the Russo-Ukrainian war may spiral out of control.

“A just cause attracts much support; an unjust one finds little. If Russia instigates a world war or even a nuclear war, it will surely risk the world’s [wrath].

“To demonstrate its role as a responsible major power, China can not stand with Putin. It [should] also take concrete actions to prevent [further] possible adventures [by] Putin.

“China is the only country in the world with this capability, and [should] give full play to this unique advantage. [If] China [withdraws] support [for] Putin, [it] will most likely end the war, or at least [contain it]. As a result, China would win widespread international praise for maintaining world peace and improve its relations with the United States and the West.”