The crisis between Russia and Ukraine is characterized by a strong tendency to compare it with the illegal annexation of Crimea in 2014. Apart from a mutated geopolitical landscape, the main change is focused around the important, if not leading, role of China.
In order to understand how influential the Asian giant became, suffice it to think how its standpoint breaks the analogy between the current crisis and the 2014’s one. Beijing did not recognize the Russian annexation of Crimea because it didn’t want to be involved in the matter but through veiled diplomacy, it refrained from the initiatives introduced by the United Nations to officially condemn the Kremlin’s actions. This only led to an approach of the two Countries' economic spheres. The reconciliation saw the West as a skeptical spectator that thought that this collaboration would have been a short term one, which would have not led to a true alliance.
However, China’s observation has both historical and geopolitical basis. First of all, the relationship between China and Russia has a turbulent past. If, in 1949, after the proclamation of the People’s Republic of China, a friendly bond was created, Mao Zedong kept its distance from the USSR, laying the basis for an alternative way for communism, better fitted for China’s economic system, based on the rural world. The relationship worsened further with the conflict by the Ussuri river in 1969, a border contested by the two giants. Another element as confirmation of the West’s caution regards the interest shared by both Beijing and Moscow to expand their economic power within Central Asia. In the Russian Federation regards it as its influence zone, so much so that in 2015 it created a Eurasian Economic Union; on the other hand China aims at building the Silk Road in Eurasia, leading to a contrast with Russia. Finally, the border beween the two Countries, which has been a source of conflict in the past, especially due to the Kremlin’s fear of Chinese illegal immigration, cannot be ignored.
Despite this has all been already demostrated, a major detail that can make a difference has been ignored: both those two countries feel like they have been betrayed by the West. The Russian Federation is now not only diplomatically, but also economically isolated from the West, due to the imposed sanctions that followed the annexation of Crimea. Moscow feels like it has been deprived of its role in Eastern Europe and feels threatened by NATO’s expansion. On the other hand, despite Washington being China’s biggest trading partner, America wants to prevent the Asiatic giant from asserting itself as a major world power by its side.
On the basis of these considerations, it is possible to talk, if not of an alliance, of a friendly relationship between the dragon and the bear. From an economic perspective, a settlement has been signed in 2015 in which both parties committed to coordinate the development of the EAEU (Eurasian Economic Union) and of the Silk Road and to create a free trade area. To this day, by the virtue of the crisis between Russia and Ukraine, this friendly agreement has been strengthened even further by the meeting between Putin and Xi Jinping on January 4th 2022. Thanks to that event, a combined declaration has been produced that aims at shedding light on how this relationship has “no limits” and “knows no prohibited areas” and how it can thus expand everywhere, both in the military and in the technological field. This is an historical episode in international relations that shows an agreement between two potentially rival forces. Despite this, the document reflects a greater advantage for China, to which Taiwan has been acknowledged as an inalienable part. Furthermore, the support to the thesis that claims “the origins of the Coronavirus infection as a scientific matter”, eliminating the politicization of the issue, has also been recognized. The Chinese advantage shows how Moscow is under great pressure due to the ongoing crisis.
The Dragon will never opt for an alliance, but it will limit itself to a friendly relationship, because taking a stance on the issue does not seem to be in its style. On the other hand, according to several analysts, in case of potential sanctions against Russia from the West, Beijing will pick a side by economically supporting Moscow. The decision would clearly have consequences that explain the non favorable attitude of China on the issue of a conflict between Russia and Ukraine. The People’s Republic is more eager to find out how the US will act in case of a pacific resolution and which measures they will take regarding Russia. This interest lies in the similarity that China sees between Ukraine and Taiwan, it only takes a false step from the United States and the goal of annexing the former Island of Formosa will be achieved by Beijing.
For the most part of history the Asian giant has been the most advanced empire from an economic, military and technological point of view. The thought of China as a weak power refers to a short time frame and the crisis between Russia and Ukraine might confirm this. The event might be used by Beijing in order to undermine the success of an international order based on liberal principles, guided by the United States, showing the effectiveness of authoritarian governance, typical of the Chinese dragon.
Translated by Immacolata Balestrieri