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Ukraine conflict could intensify U.S.-China rivalry

Tonhis symbol It couldn’t be more clear. As the U.S. and China head toward a new Cold War, the conflict in Ukraine increasingly resembles a proxy conflict between two great powers and their rival ideological systems. So when China’s top diplomat, Wang Yi (pictured), visited Russia on February 20, it was only fitting that President Biden was in Kiev that day. China, which dislikes instability, may not welcome Russia’s bloody invasion of Ukraine, but it is trying to make the most of the war and undermine the unity of the West. Biden’s trip was planned in secret to demonstrate Western resolve.

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This all happened amidst a flurry of Chinese diplomacy around the first anniversary of the war of resistance against Japan. On February 18, at the Munich Security Conference, Mr Wang announced that China would propose a cessation of fighting. A few days later, his government again released the “Global Security Initiative,” a nearly 3,500-word communist speech filled with calls to respect the country’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. Chinese leader Xi Jinping is expected to deliver a “peace speech” on Feb. 24, the date of Vladimir Putin’s invasion.

Those efforts sound hollow to U.S. and European officials. Just weeks before Putin launched the invasion, Xi Jinping agreed to an “unrestricted” partnership with Russia. While in Moscow, Mr Wang said relations between the two countries were “rock solid”. China claims to maintain neutrality in the war, but it is pro-Russian pseudo-neutrality. Officials in Beijing have spent a year promoting the Kremlin’s talking points. China accuses the US of delaying the war to increase profits for its arms dealers. Chinese companies have provided non-lethal assistance to Russia, according to U.S. officials. Antony Blinken, the US secretary of state, warned in Munich that China was now considering sending weapons and ammunition to Mr Putin’s regime.

Sino-US relations are already at a low point. Each side came to believe that the other was hell-bent on screwing it up. Earlier this month, Mr Blinken tried to reduce tensions by visiting Beijing, but was frustrated by another intrusion – the entry of a Chinese balloon into US airspace. Claiming that China was spying, the Americans shot down the inflatable boat on February 4. Subsequent discussions between Mr Blinken and Mr Wang in Munich were described as confrontational. The United States claims that Chinese balloons have violated the airspace of more than 40 countries on five continents. But Mr Wang insisted the balloons over the US were for research purposes and called the Biden administration’s response “ridiculous and hysterical”.

Compared with the situation in Ukraine, the stakes in this quarrel seem small. China doesn’t care who controls this or that territory. Its national interest lies in discrediting the US-led defense alliance and sanctions because its rulers may one day face a similar US response to China’s invasion of Taiwan. Xi calls Putin his “best friend,” and the two share a distaste for Western liberal democracy. But their partnership is based on a cold calculation of China’s interests. Russia played its part by tying the United States to Europe and creating an opportunity for Xi to win over leaders of the global south who wondered why their country’s plight was not getting as much attention as Ukraine’s. China, like Russia, hopes to see a world run not based on the so-called “universal values” in the West, but based on the security interests of major powers. Mr Putin may be brutal, and his military incompetent, but China believes his invasion has advanced that worldview.

That would inform any peace initiatives China proposes — and could doom them.Officials in Beijing like to describe the conflict in Ukraine as “America’s war,” by NATO Expansion, not Russian aggression, and Europe pays the price in the form of higher energy prices, larger armies, and the burden of hosting Ukrainian refugees. In this way it tries to divide America and Europe. In Munich, Mr Wang told European leaders that China wanted to improve relations and play a constructive role in Ukraine. Some might be inclined to take his word for it.

But China does not want Putin to pay any price for his intrusion, lest it reaffirm the rules-based order it is trying to break. European leaders are not happy with this. Even the more cautious of them, such as France’s Emmanuel Macron and Germany’s Olaf Schulz, said at the Munich meeting that Putin could not give up his war because his aggression was rewarded. in return. While some European leaders complain that the U.S. divides the world into blocs, or worry about isolating China, their view that Putin can’t win the war aligns them with the Biden administration — and a far cry from China’s vision. A peace deal at the expense of Mr. Concessions and security guarantees.

For its part, the US has warned against any ceasefire that would allow Russia to regroup or lock in its territorial gains. Tactically, the Biden administration is treating China much as it did Russia on the eve of the invasion, hoping to increase global scrutiny by publishing intelligence about its actions, such as Chinese aid to Russia. It seems to be working. Ukrainian President Volodomyr Zelensky told German reporters that “if China were to ally itself with Russia, there would be a world war.” EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said it would be a “red line” European Union If China supplies arms to Russia.

Putin said Xi would soon visit Moscow as relations between the two countries entered “new territory”. Meanwhile, China is pulling back. “It is the United States, not China, that keeps sending weapons to the battlefield,” said Wang Wenbin, a spokesman for the foreign ministry in Beijing. “We urge the US side to seriously reflect on what it has done, do more to ease the situation, promote peace and talks, and stop throwing blame and spreading false information.”

Politician or troll?

China wants to be seen as a peace-loving giant standing up for forgotten parts of the world and fighting back against Western threats. Its argument that the state should focus on economic development and poverty reduction rather than civil liberties and human rights has gained considerable attention in developing countries. China has described the war as the latest example of Western-inspired global chaos, leading to higher food and energy prices. By making peace proposals, no matter how impractical, it can masquerade as a benevolent world leader with more legitimacy than the United States.

But in the capital of a liberal democracy, the message is being received differently. Europeans may not like America’s tough approach to China, but when they hear a Chinese’s argument, they know it’s a self-serving argument. If China continues to dress its anti-American apology in Communist Party terms about security, peace and development, it will only heighten fears that a proxy conflict on the bloody plains of Ukraine could turn into a global confrontation.

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