Further to my earlier piece about China, I would just add that overall, and despite some skepticism as to whether China is serious on this peace plan, it’s good that China has finally engaged In some kind of peace process. Hitherto it’s been pretty remarkable that China has done nothing for the past year but sit on the fence and occasionally fire off pointed barbs at the West.
I would explain China’s indifference thus far to a combination of a few things. First, they were caught completely off guard by the invasion. Putin clearly did not tell Xi ahead of time, likely the opposite. This likely annoyed Xi as it showed perhaps that the alliance they thought they signed with Russia at the Winter Olympics last year was not quite what they thought it was.
Xi will no doubt also have been annoyed at the disruption the invasion caused to global markets, and I think they realized that while China benefits from the global status quo - globalization - the status quo does not work for Putin and he is trying to mix the global security order up in Russia’s favor. That makes him worryingly rash from the Chinese perspective, a lose canon, quite literally. They have felt uncomfortable with that.
But, and second, likely initially the Chinese assumed the conflict would be over quickly, with a Russian win, and that would have been a punch in the nose for the US and NATO, which maybe was no bad thing. But as the conflict dragged out, they were concerned about the impacts on the global cost of living, hurting Xi’s popularity at home. That was annoying.
Some months in though, and third, China began to see opportunities in an extended conflict: sanctions created opportunity for economic arbitrage, and getting cut price commodities from sanctioned Russia.
Fourth, they were also quite happy to see Putin cut down to size as his forces struggled in Ukraine. Therein the Chinese have always seen the China - Russia relationship as a big brother - little brother relationship. Only Putin did not see it that way, he saw Russia as a twin brother, at least. But as the crisis extended, they saw that Russia was now clearly seen globally as weakened, and increasingly dependent on China.
Fifth, as Russia weakened, it also brought geopolitical opportunities as Russia’s grip on Central Asia weakened, this has allowed China to exert stronger influence in important alternative commodity suppliers to Russia.
So, China seemed to have grown accustomed to the benefits of a longer conflict.
But something seems to have changed in recent weeks to encourage China to seek to draw a line to try and stop this war. I think this was Russia’s latest failed mobilization and offensive in Ukraine. And the talk increasingly in the West of the best outcome now being a defeat for Russia in Ukraine and an end game without Putin in Moscow.
The Chinese finally realized that not only was it now likely that Russia would lose in Ukraine but that such a devastating defeat for Russia in Ukraine could produce regime change in Moscow itself. And they then began to think that regime change might not be in China’s favor, that it could bring (not actually my base case but I think what is important is what China thinks) a more pro-Western administration which would leave China encircled. Hence now the move to try and broker a peace that gives Russia and Putin a lifeline. China is intervening in Ukraine not because it wants peace particularly but that it does not want Putin to lose that badly that his survival would be at stake.
Now Chinese friends have said to me that at least China is now trying to bring peace but it likely will fail as the US is now set on Putin’s defeat and removal and wants a long war. There is certainly an increasingly dominant view in the West that Putin needs to be defeated to bring security in Ukraine and in Europe. And maybe the Chinese peace plan, revealing the Chinese also think that Russia is losing and Putin is vulnerable, could encourage those in the West to further the conflict some time yet.
But wars are uncertain by nature. And, I would argue that, still the positive here is that the China peace plan does offer the hope of a peace that could be acceptable to Ukraine and the West. It has though, at the minimum, got to include withdrawal back to Feb. 23, 2022 territorial positions, if not to 2014, and then clear and cast iron security guarantees for Ukraine, if NATO membership is to be forfeited. Ukraine has to be assured that it will be able to defend itself against future Russian aggression and that it has allies that will provide maximum and realistic assurance therein.
I think this is possible to do, but I doubt that Putin would want that. Any such deal would mean Putin giving up on his territorial ambitions over Ukraine, permanently. He would have to accept he has lost Ukraine forever. That seems unlikely but I guess it depends on whether he understands that if he does not give up on those ambitions over Ukraine now, he could risk losing Russia itself.
Reprinted from @tashecon blog. See the original here.
The views expressed are the author’s and not necessarily of Kyiv Post.
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