beijing sees at least one winner emerging from ukraine war china - Beijing sees at least one winner emerging from Ukraine war: China

BEIJING (NYTIMES) – The war in Ukraine is far from over, but a consensus is forming in Chinese policy circles that one country stands to emerge victorious from the turmoil: China.

After a confused initial response to Russia’s invasion, China has laid the building blocks of a strategy to shield itself from the worst economic and diplomatic consequences it could face, and to benefit from geopolitical shifts once the smoke clears.

China’s President Xi Jinping has avoided criticising Russian leader Vladimir Putin, but he has also tried to distance China from the carnage. His government has denounced the international sanctions imposed on Russia but, so far at least, has hinted that Chinese companies may comply with them, to protect China’s economic interests in the West.

Mr Xi reached out to European leaders last week with vague offers of assistance in negotiating a settlement, even as other Chinese officials amplified Russian disinformation campaigns meant to discredit the United States and the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (Nato).

Officials in Washington claimed, without providing evidence, that after the invasion, Russia asked China for economic and military assistance, which a Chinese official has denounced as disinformation.

In the end, China’s leadership has calculated that it must try to rise above what it considers a struggle between two tired powers and be seen as a pillar of stability in an increasingly turbulent world.

“This means that as long as we don’t commit terminal strategic blunders, China’s modernisation will not be cut short, and on the contrary, China will have even greater ability and will to play a more important role in building a new international order,” Professor Zheng Yongnian from the Chinese University of Hong Kong, Shenzhen, wrote in a widely circulated article.

At the heart of China’s strategy lies a conviction that the United States is weakened from reckless foreign adventures, including, from Beijing’s perspective, goading Mr Putin into the Ukraine conflict.

In this view, Russia’s invasion has dragged American power and attention towards Europe, making it likely that US President Joe Biden will try but fail to put more focus on China and the broader Asia-Pacific region.

“All the difficulties and all the balancing and all the embarrassment… those are short-term,” said Ms Yun Sun, director of the China Programme at the Stimson Centre in Washington.

“In the long run, Russia is going to be the pariah of the international community, and Russia will have no one to turn to but China.”

China’s path ahead is by no means certain. Drawing too close to Russia might entrench animosity towards China in Europe and beyond, a possibility that worries Mr Xi’s government.

And if Germany, France and other allies build up their defences as promised, the US could ultimately be freed up to shift more of its military resources towards countering China.

“We also feel very, very anxious because the Russia-Ukraine war will force Europe to lean to the US, and then China will be dragged deeper into a dilemma,” said Professor Zhu Feng, who lectures international relations at Nanjing University.

America’s allies in the Pacific, including Japan and Australia, “will also adopt a stronger military posture. So it all seems unfriendly to China”, he said.