China stands to gain from a weakened Russia. The West should prepare now

By | June 5, 2023

Andrew A. Michta writes:

As the war in Ukraine enters yet another phase with the coming Ukrainian offensive, it is clear that China is positioning itself to benefit from the outcome regardless of which side ultimately prevails. China has already been able to pocket significant gains in its relations with Russia as Moscow has grown more dependent on Beijing for its economic survival and for political support. China also has gained ground in its relations with the European Union, especially with Germany and France, which appear to have recognized Beijing’s growing role in shaping relations between Kyiv and Moscow. Although there is no consensus in Europe on relations with China going forward, the series of recent high-level visits to China by German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, French President Emmanuel Macron, President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen, and German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock have driven the point home that, though geographically distant, China is increasingly a power in Europe.

How China has stood to benefit from Russia’s war has changed over the last year and a half. In early February 2022, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese leader Xi Jinping met shortly before Russian forces launched their full-scale invasion of Ukraine. If Putin divulged his plans then, Xi evidently did not dissuade him from launching the brutal attack. The joint statement coming out of this meeting proclaimed a “no limits” partnership. Had Russia succeeded in its initial invasion and taken Kyiv in the first days, the rules-based international order would have been weakened. Having extended support to Ukraine for so long, the United States and its allies and partners would have had their commitments called into question. Autocratic might would have won the day. All of this, of course, would have been music to Xi’s ears, and all without Beijing firing a shot.

Today, it’s a different story, but China nonetheless stands to benefit. A protracted war of attrition in Ukraine serves Beijing’s interests in that it will lead to the long-term weakening of Russia, thereby fundamentally shifting the Sino-Russian power balance decisively in China’s favor for years to come. China is also benefitting from cheap Russian energy, which is supporting its economy and improving China’s competitive position in world markets. Measured by value, Russia’s pipeline gas exports to China increased two-and-a-half times in 2022, while its liquefied natural gas exports to China more than doubled. Last year China also increased its volumes of Russian coal by 20 percent. [Continue reading…]

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