June 4, 2023

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Russia's invasion of Ukraine tests China's 'sovereignty' rhetoric

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine tests China’s ‘sovereignty’ rhetoric

With Russian troops pouring into Ukraine, officials in Beijing are angered by any suggestion that they are betraying one of the basic tenets of Chinese foreign policy – that sovereignty is sacred – in order to protect Moscow.

They wouldn’t even call it an invasion. “Operation Russia” one Favorite description. The “current situation” is another thing. And China’s leader, Xi Jinping, says his stance on the crisis is quite consistent.

“The sudden changes in the eastern regions of Ukraine have drawn the close attention of the international community,” Mr. Xi told his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, in a call on Friday. Chinese official summary.

“China’s fundamental position has been consistent in respecting the sovereignty and territorial integrity of all countries, and adhering to the mission and principles of the United Nations Charter,” Mr. Xi said.

Outside the echo chamber of China’s state media, there appears to be little doubt that Russia’s war has put its partner Beijing in a dire predicament, including its stance on countries’ sovereign rights.

China’s predicament may have played a role on Friday in what appeared to be a fresh offer from Russia to negotiate with the embattled Ukrainian leadership.

After a phone call from Mr. Putin with Mr. Xi, the Russian president indicated he was open to talks – reversing his foreign minister’s statement hours earlier. The Kremlin formulated Putin’s position in response to Ukraine’s President, Volodymyr Zelensky, that he was ready to discuss Ukraine’s “neutral status”.

Whether Mr. Xi pressured Mr. Putin to be more accommodating remains unclear at best. But it is clear that talks to resolve the crisis will be in China’s interest, easing what critics see as double standards on the issue of sovereignty.

On the one hand, China has long said the United States and other Western powers routinely trample on other countries, most egregiously most recently in the 2003 invasion of Iraq. China’s message has been that it is the true guardian of sovereign independence, especially for poorer countries.

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On the other hand, Putin expected President Xi to accept, if not support, the invasion. Mr. Xi’s government has played all the way so far, blaming Europe’s worst war in decades on US arrogance. China has also distanced itself from condemning Russia at the United Nations.

“China’s central attack on the United States as a world power since Xi Jinping took office has been its accusation of continuing to violate the principles of the United Nations Charter on national sovereignty,” said Kevin Rudd, a former Australian prime minister who served as a diplomat in China, in a phone interview. “That blew up that middle argument.”

Unless the Ukraine crisis is resolved, former experts and diplomats said, China will continue to conduct verbal warping to try to balance its solidarity with Russia with its self-proclaimed devotion to the sanctity of the nation-state.

If the war expands and continues, China’s costs in terms of curbing a fatal crisis may increase.

Beijing’s stance has already infuriated Western European leaders and increased Americans’ frustration with China. Russia’s actions have been condemned by Asian and African countries traditionally close to Beijing. One of the main currencies of Chinese diplomacy can be devalued – its avowed dedication to the sovereign rights of all countries.

“Inconsistency hurts China in the long run,” said Adam Ni, an analyst who publishes China NikkanNewsletter on current Chinese affairs.

“It undermines long-established Chinese foreign policy principles, and makes it difficult to portray itself as a responsible superpower,” he said. It will also be viewed by the United States and European Union member states as duplicity and complicity in Russian aggression, Mr. Ne said, which will likely have costs for Beijing.

Chinese newspapers uniformly stuck to the government’s position on the war, accusing the United States of provoking Russia by suspending the possibility of Ukraine joining NATO.

“China believes that the main reason for this war is the long-term failure of the United States to respect Russian security,” he said. Xuewu GuDirector of the Center for Global Studies at the University of Bonn, Germany. In this sense, China sees this war as a self-defense war by Russia, and therefore naturally would not describe it as an invasion.

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In private, some Chinese academics have shared concerns about Mr. Xi’s embrace of Mr. Putin. On the Chinese Internet, some users have questioned China’s position on the Ukrainian battlefield with its staunch principle that countries should manage their own destiny.

“Ukraine is an independent, sovereign country, and if it wants to join NATO or the European Union, this is its freedom and no one else has the right to interfere,” he said. 1 comment on friday On Weibo, a popular Chinese social media service.

More than most countries, China has endorsed the idea that national sovereignty trumps other concerns, including human rights standards. The modern Chinese concept of sovereignty – “zhuquan” in Chinese – has developed since the 19th century when Western powers subjugated Qing rulers.

“There is a great insistence on a whole concept of sovereignty, which is typical of colonial or semi-colonial Third World environments,” he said. Ryan Mitchell, Professor of Law at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, on how these concepts have developed in China. “That is still true today.”

Beijing’s strong idea of ​​the reach of its sovereignty has become one of the main drivers – and flashpoints – of Chinese politics.

Beijing has maintained it Taiwan, the autonomous island Which the Chinese Communist Party has never ruled, must eventually unite with China, even if armed force is required. Beijing has made extensive claims to the islands and waters across the South China Sea. It also engaged in clashes with India over disputed border areas.

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In domestic politics, too, the Chinese government has focused on sovereignty. When authorities prosecute opponents in secret, they ignore requests for access or information under the pretext of “judicial sovereignty”. When Chinese Internet censorship is criticized, officials cite China’s right to maintain its “cyber sovereignty.”

Mr Rudd, the former Australian prime minister who is now president of the Asia Society, said in meetings with Chinese diplomats, word came often.

“The whole idea of ​​mutual non-interference and respect for national sovereignty was not just a cosmetic principle but an operational principle of the Chinese system internally,” he said.

Chinese diplomats will be busy explaining how this fits into their position on Ukraine.

This can be difficult, but they do have some practice. When Russian forces seized Crimea from Ukraine in 2014, China tried to strike a balance. He. She avoid The UN Security Council resolution urges countries not to recognize Russia’s claim to the area, but it has not formally recognized Russia’s claim either. Chinese leaders too Try riding positions After Russian forces seized territory in Georgia in 2008.

But this time, Mr. Xi leaned much more toward China and toward Russia. He and Mr. Putin met in Winter Olympics start in Beijing In early February, issued a joint statement Declaring that their country’s friendship “has no limits.”

Susan Sherk, a former Deputy Assistant Secretary of State who now leads The Chinese Center for the Twenty-first Century At the University of California San Diego.

“But it is also difficult for China to send signals to the world that it does not support Russia’s move,” she said. “It looks like Putin took advantage of Xi.”