China faces ‘collateral damage’ from Putin’s war

Pro-Russian and anti-Western narratives have shattered President Xi Jinping’s international reputation

China’s well-oiled state-media machine continues to defend the indefensible.

Fallout from President Xi Jinping’s “no limits” diplomatic deal with Vladimir Putin earlier this year has consigned Beijing to the international wilderness.

By refusing to condemn Putin’s war in Ukraine, China instantly broke one of its golden rules to respect “sovereignty and territorial integrity” by “opposing interference in the internal affairs of another country.”

The Communist Party cadres also appeared to back Russia’s illegal invasion of a European “sovereign” state and the horrific bombing campaign that has decimated cities, killing women and children.

In short, Xi and his inner circle are firmly in the “arc of autocracy.”

Any lingering doubts about that were swept away by another bizarre editorial in the state-controlled tabloid, Global Times, blaming the United States for the “crisis.”

“As the initiator of the Ukraine crisis, the US is trying to push the entire world into its huge trap. The US has lured and threatened developing countries including China, attempting to make the international community share the responsibilities and consequences of the crisis,” Global Times stated in classic “doublespeak.”

“Nevertheless, it must be pointed out that no other country is obligated to pay the price for the crisis created by the US and that Washington is not qualified to set redlines for other countries,” it added on March 28.

Fact from fiction:

China could wind up suffering significant collateral damage from the war.

David Shambaugh, of George Washington University

Delve deeper: Yet there have been dissenting voices on China’s social media, which is heavily patrolled by a praetorian guard of censors.

Anti-war stand: “During the Russian invasion of Ukraine, many Chinese people have expressed anti-war opinions,” Zhifan Luo, of McMaster University in Ontario, and Muyang Li, of York University in Toronto, wrote in an essay for The Conversation, an academic website.

Growing opposition: “On February 26, five Chinese historians published an anti-war open letter. Two days later, over 130 alumni of China’s top universities issued a statement condemning the invasion,” Luo and Li said.

Celebrity anger: “Several social media celebrities, one of whom has more than 13 million followers, posted messages calling for peace,” Luo and Li added in an article published on March 30.

But wait: The posts were “deleted within hours.” Now, there is “no trace” they existed. Even so, “we should be cautious in assuming the levels of support for” the “war among the Chinese population,” Luo and Li stressed in their closing argument.

Big picture: David Shambaugh, of George Washington University, has warned that Xi’s administration is walking a tightrope by keeping the general public in the dark when it comes to what is really happening in Ukraine.

Ignorance is not bliss: “All of this ignorance has fed the pro-Russian and anti-Western narratives inside of China. None of this bodes well for Beijing,” Shambaugh, the director of the China policy program, said in a commentary for China-US Focus, an academic website.

Collateral damage: “China could wind up suffering significant collateral damage from the war. Its reputation has already suffered a lot. The question, still to be determined, is how much more damage will Xi’s China suffer from its ‘Comprehensive Strategic Partnership of Coordination for a New Era’ with the Putin regime?” Shambaugh said.

China Factor comment: The phrase “empire of lies” has been used by China’s state media to ridicule the US, the European Union and NATO allies for highlighting the catastrophe in Ukraine. But the only “lies” being spread are coming from Beijing and Moscow.   

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