China’s old gray men have an image problem.
Back in 2019, the aging inner circle of “Grandpa” Xi Jinping’s close-knit cabinet embraced “Wolf Warrior” diplomacy, stoking the fires of nationalism.
Now, they are being scorched by the flames and singed by President Xi’s “no limits partnership” with Russia as Vladimir Putin’s illegal war in Ukraine rages on.
In turn, this has prompted China’s ruling Communist Party to blame the United States and NATO for the carnage in the Eastern European democracy, conveniently covering up its complicity in the invasion.
“The Ukraine crisis is essentially a creation of the United States,” Ma Xiaolin, of the Zhejiang International Studies University, said.
“After the Cold War, the US has used every excuse to expand NATO eastward. It has also prompted European Union leaders to do the same with the aim of alienating China from the international community and weakening Russia,” Ma wrote in a commentary for the state-run China Daily on June 6.
Between the lines:
- Academia in China has joined the growing Party chorus to smear major global democracies for the Ukraine conflict.
- The truth is that Beijing and the Party’s old gray men probably knew about the Kremlin’s plan to invade the country weeks before the tanks rolled in.
- Pro-Putin propaganda in China’s state-controlled media has only infuriated nations across the world.
- With each passing day, this is looking like a colossal geopolitical gaffe by Xi.
Delve deeper: “[This is] Xi’s mistake [as] China is increasingly isolated in foreign policy because of its support for Russia,” Johnny Erling, of the Mercator Institute for China Studies, told the MERICS China Essential newsletter.
Party line: “[The] Russia-Ukraine conflict is Putin’s ‘counter-strike’ against the US-led West’s plan to dismember Russia,” Qiu Wenping, of the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences, a state-funded think tank, told The Guardian media group, parroting Moscow’s “fake narrative.”
Big picture: For Ukraine and Russia, read Taiwan and China. Beijing has been shocked by the performance of Russia’s military and the rock-solid diplomatic stand by the US, NATO, and its European and Asian allies.
Fanning the flames: “China is in a position that is somewhat comparable to Russia’s … The US is clearly manipulating the Taiwan issue and constantly fanning the flames in order to dismember China by creating a Ukraine of the Orient,” Qiu said, referring to Beijing’s pledge to unify Taiwan with the mainland by force if necessary.
Alternative view: “Given that Russia is now bogged down in a long conflict that has hit its military credibility and economy, the Ukraine invasion may actually serve as a warning to Beijing,” Meredith Oyen, of the University of Maryland in Baltimore, wrote in an analysis for The Conversation, an academic website.
China Factor comment: Comrade Xi’s stranglehold on all the levers of power has silenced any dissenting views. A few might pop up on the Twitter-like Weibo social media site. But the army of censors quickly erase them, orchestrated by the old gray men.