How Ukraine May Have Saved Communist China

Commentary Russia’s war with Ukraine saved the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and its People’s Republic of China (PRC). The isolation of Russia as part of the U.S.-led global information warfare campaign has driven Russia “back into the arms of Beijing,” just as China’s economy was imploding, and China desperately needed Russian energy and food. So the PRC now becomes more dependent on Russia, allowing the CCP to survive. China, as the world’s largest importer of food and energy, now has diminishing foreign currency reserves, and sees that Russia has nowhere else to go except to sell to the PRC. It took several decades to reach the point where the world had once again become strategically bipolar. The wake-up call for Beijing came with the May 7, 1999, “accidental” strike by U.S. direct attack munitions (DAM) on the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade, during U.S./NATO Operation Allied Force. The strike did far more than just anger Beijing and the Chinese people; it triggered a sober internal assessment of the state of China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA). The incident had a similar impact on Russian strategic planners. That may have been the single most important U.S. act of self-inflicted damage since President Jimmy Carter withdrew the United States from control of the Panama Canal in 1977. From that point, both Beijing and Moscow began examining ways to leapfrog U.S. technological leadership and operational doctrine in the military sphere, creating, as a result, capabilities which have overtaken the United States in many areas. The watershed of the 2022 Russian action against Ukraine has stimulated the next phase of Beijing’s evaluation of the prospects of conflict and competition over the coming decade. What, then, are some of Beijing’s concerns? Moscow Now Dominates the Eurasian Balance Beijing recognizes that Moscow emerges stronger from the Ukraine war, militarily and strategically, even if it is isolated from Western markets and capital. Russian President Vladimir Putin gestures after signing a treaty to incorporate Crimea into Russia in the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia, on March 18, 2014. In his New Year’s Eve televised message to the nation, Putin hailed the annexation of Crimea as a historic achievement and the rightful return of the peninsula’s people to the bosom of Russia. (Alexander Zemlianichenko/AP Photo) This is not universally positive for Beijing, but it gives China short-term comfort. Beijing understands that Moscow now dominates the Sino-Russian relationship in the way that the Cold War USSR dominated the Sino-Soviet relationship. Then, during the massive post-Cold War growth of the Chinese economy, a weak post-Soviet Moscow was desperate for trade and support from Beijing. Russia had to sell its crown jewels—its latest military and space technology—to the PRC, and to tolerate Beijing’s theft of Russian intellectual property. China’s economic difficulties since about 2012 gave Moscow an opportunity to regain dominance over the relationship, particularly following the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan in August 2021. Russia rapidly rebuilt influence in Central Asia, and Beijing gained far less than it had hoped from that event. Russian isolation from the Western world offers profound relief for Beijing, including the prospect that Russia’s significant strength in global grain markets could be turned to providing food for China, along with more Russian energy. There has been, for several years, a great impetus to create an internal marketplace between China, Russia, Iran, and smaller states in Central Asia, Africa, and the Americas. What Lessons on the Taiwan Question? There are few military parallels between the Russian military operation in Ukraine and a proposed amphibious operation by the PLA to conquer Taiwan, other than to assess the merits of various weapons systems, particularly air defenses. But Taiwan’s air defenses are far more sophisticated than those of Ukraine. The real focus for the PLA would be on the success and challenges of the Russia-Ukraine cyberwarfare, but it would be clear to Beijing that Russia had, by early March 2022, scarcely deployed anything like its full cyber (or military) capability. Of far greater importance to Beijing would be the extent to which the Ukraine crisis stimulated Western cohesion, and whether this would be indicative of a possible response to a Chinese attack on Taiwan. Beijing is paying attention to the positioning of Russian nuclear and hypersonic capabilities to compel the United States/NATO onto the sidelines of the Ukraine dispute. Beijing would also raise nuclear deterrence with regard to Taiwan. Not deterrence of the United States from directly undertaking a nuclear first strike against China, but to intimidate Washington away from supporting Taiwan; to create paralysis in Washington. The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) will need to determine whether Ukraine “conflict exhaustion” could be used to dampen U.S. resistance t

How Ukraine May Have Saved Communist China

Commentary

Russia’s war with Ukraine saved the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and its People’s Republic of China (PRC).

The isolation of Russia as part of the U.S.-led global information warfare campaign has driven Russia “back into the arms of Beijing,” just as China’s economy was imploding, and China desperately needed Russian energy and food.

So the PRC now becomes more dependent on Russia, allowing the CCP to survive.

China, as the world’s largest importer of food and energy, now has diminishing foreign currency reserves, and sees that Russia has nowhere else to go except to sell to the PRC.

It took several decades to reach the point where the world had once again become strategically bipolar.

The wake-up call for Beijing came with the May 7, 1999, “accidental” strike by U.S. direct attack munitions (DAM) on the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade, during U.S./NATO Operation Allied Force. The strike did far more than just anger Beijing and the Chinese people; it triggered a sober internal assessment of the state of China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA). The incident had a similar impact on Russian strategic planners.

That may have been the single most important U.S. act of self-inflicted damage since President Jimmy Carter withdrew the United States from control of the Panama Canal in 1977.

From that point, both Beijing and Moscow began examining ways to leapfrog U.S. technological leadership and operational doctrine in the military sphere, creating, as a result, capabilities which have overtaken the United States in many areas.

The watershed of the 2022 Russian action against Ukraine has stimulated the next phase of Beijing’s evaluation of the prospects of conflict and competition over the coming decade.

What, then, are some of Beijing’s concerns?

Moscow Now Dominates the Eurasian Balance

Beijing recognizes that Moscow emerges stronger from the Ukraine war, militarily and strategically, even if it is isolated from Western markets and capital.

Epoch Times Photo
Russian President Vladimir Putin gestures after signing a treaty to incorporate Crimea into Russia in the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia, on March 18, 2014. In his New Year’s Eve televised message to the nation, Putin hailed the annexation of Crimea as a historic achievement and the rightful return of the peninsula’s people to the bosom of Russia. (Alexander Zemlianichenko/AP Photo)

This is not universally positive for Beijing, but it gives China short-term comfort.

Beijing understands that Moscow now dominates the Sino-Russian relationship in the way that the Cold War USSR dominated the Sino-Soviet relationship. Then, during the massive post-Cold War growth of the Chinese economy, a weak post-Soviet Moscow was desperate for trade and support from Beijing. Russia had to sell its crown jewels—its latest military and space technology—to the PRC, and to tolerate Beijing’s theft of Russian intellectual property.

China’s economic difficulties since about 2012 gave Moscow an opportunity to regain dominance over the relationship, particularly following the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan in August 2021. Russia rapidly rebuilt influence in Central Asia, and Beijing gained far less than it had hoped from that event.

Russian isolation from the Western world offers profound relief for Beijing, including the prospect that Russia’s significant strength in global grain markets could be turned to providing food for China, along with more Russian energy.

There has been, for several years, a great impetus to create an internal marketplace between China, Russia, Iran, and smaller states in Central Asia, Africa, and the Americas.

What Lessons on the Taiwan Question?

There are few military parallels between the Russian military operation in Ukraine and a proposed amphibious operation by the PLA to conquer Taiwan, other than to assess the merits of various weapons systems, particularly air defenses. But Taiwan’s air defenses are far more sophisticated than those of Ukraine.

The real focus for the PLA would be on the success and challenges of the Russia-Ukraine cyberwarfare, but it would be clear to Beijing that Russia had, by early March 2022, scarcely deployed anything like its full cyber (or military) capability.

Of far greater importance to Beijing would be the extent to which the Ukraine crisis stimulated Western cohesion, and whether this would be indicative of a possible response to a Chinese attack on Taiwan.

Beijing is paying attention to the positioning of Russian nuclear and hypersonic capabilities to compel the United States/NATO onto the sidelines of the Ukraine dispute. Beijing would also raise nuclear deterrence with regard to Taiwan. Not deterrence of the United States from directly undertaking a nuclear first strike against China, but to intimidate Washington away from supporting Taiwan; to create paralysis in Washington.

The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) will need to determine whether Ukraine “conflict exhaustion” could be used to dampen U.S. resistance to a PLA Taiwan operation. Alternately, the CCP must consider whether the West’s reluctance to commit more to the defense of Ukraine means that it merely continues to keep its powder dry in readiness for a Chinese break-out.

Beijing’s key consideration for a Taiwan operation relies more on the independent responses of India and Japan.

TAIWAN Air Force
A People’s Liberation Army (PLA) H-6 bomber flies on a mission near the median line in the Taiwan Strait, which serves as an unofficial buffer between China and Taiwan, on Sept. 18, 2020. (Taiwan Ministry of National Defense/via Reuters)

In any event, Beijing is aware that the “correlation of forces,” despite the anticipated sanctions, has moved in favor of a strong Eurasian bloc under Russia.

Minimizing Sino-Russian Competition

A new economic framework will be needed for the new Eurasian bloc. This has been considered for some time.

Russia was able to counter the loss on March 1, 2022, of access to the SWIFT financial transfer system. Moscow had been preparing for some years for the final rupture of what it had hoped would be a Russian integration into the Western-dominated trading system.

The introduction of the Financial Message Transfer System of the Bank of Russia (SPFS) some six years earlier, was well thought out, and has been perfected in operational use by banks in Belarus, Armenia, and the Kyrgyz Republic. Beijing is negotiating to join the system.

The new Eurasian bloc is now divided from the Western trading system. Russia, however, has high reserves of gold to provide a solid underpinning of the ruble, and this will eventually begin to tell as Western debt levels begin to erode confidence in the U.S. dollar and the euro. It also explains why Russia and China focus efforts on developing good relations with gold-producing states such as Mali and South Africa.

The world has, anyway, been moving back to a greater bilateralization of trade since the end of the Cold War, and this lends itself to barter and countertrade, which will again feature heavily for Moscow and Beijing.

Forcing the US/West to Focus on the Euro-Atlantic Theater

Beijing has for some time attempted to find Euro-Atlantic distractions, which would force the United States and United Kingdom to diminish their Indo-Pacific focus. The Ukraine conflict, then, has been a major success for Beijing.

The “correlation of forces” it faces in the Indo-Pacific has been altered by a U.S. political need to refocus on NATO. This will make it more difficult for the nascent AUKUS bloc of Australia, the UK, and the United States, to gain traction in Washington.

Even within the Quad alliance of India, Japan, the United States, and Australia, India is now in an ambiguous position with Russia, which had long been its major national security partner. The August 2021 withdrawal by the United States from Afghanistan reawakened the “Great Game,” allowing India to compete against Moscow and Beijing for influence in the Central Asian states in a way not possible since the late 19th century.

India now may find itself having to find a new modus vivendi with a consolidated Eurasian power bloc. This may dampen India’s ability to directly challenge China on the Tibetan Plateau, or over Pakistani-occupied Kashmir, as easily as might have been the case when Russia was less intimately linked to China. This, in turn, positions Pakistan in a new light. It might now once again be seen as a stable link for China into the Indian Ocean.

Everything has, again, become ambiguous, and this works well for Beijing. Its certain decline has been given a safety net.

The Ukraine war has stabilized the position of the CCP as Xi Jinping moves toward consolidating his domestic position in history at the Party Congress in October 2022.

What had helped end the Cold War was the West’s ability to exploit Sino-Soviet differences, including promises by U.S. President Ronald Reagan and British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher to Russia, and U.S. President Richard Nixon’s earlier promises to Beijing.

But the West is not in a position to use those same tools so easily in the future.

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.


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Gregory Copley is president of the International Strategic Studies Association based in Washington. Born in Australia, Copley is a Member of the Order of Australia, entrepreneur, writer, government adviser, and defense publication editor. His latest book is The New Total War of the 21st Century and the Trigger of the Fear Pandemic.