China goes all-in on Russia's war effort?
The New Axis appears to be back on track.
Note: Since this post came out, China has pledged not to sell arms to Russia. It remains to be seen whether that promise will be kept, and some kinds of arms transfers are fairly easy to do secretly. But since this definitely indicates that China is once more trying to back away from Russia at least to some degree, I’d say that the characterization of “China goes all in” is not currently warranted. So I added a question mark to the title of this post.
In my last post, I argued that freaking out about everything you read in the news is bad because it prevents you from focusing on the most worrying pieces of news. Well, here is a genuinely worrying piece of news: China has reportedly decided to start supplying Russia with lethal aid for its attempted conquest of Ukraine:
(Updates: Biden says he thinks China’s military aid to Russia won’t be “major”. U.S. intelligence reports that China is leaning toward giving Russia both drones and artillery ammunition. Josep Borrell, the EU foreign affairs rep, claims that China’s top diplomat, Wang Yi, assured him that China wouldn’t provide arms to Russia. Meanwhile, National Secucrity Advisor Jake Sullivan says China is still considering whether to provide the arms, and hasn’t gone through with it yet. The U.S. State Dept. says that they’ve seen China “very clearly take a side” in the war. The CIA says it’s confident China is considering providing lethal aid, but doesn’t think China has made a final decision.)
Previously, China had refrained from taking this momentous step, sticking to its stated principle of “territorial integrity of all countries”. Of course, that doesn’t include Taiwan, which China doesn’t consider a country. But it allowed China to maintain the fig leaf of neutrality in the conflict, and to preserve its relations with both Ukraine and — much more importantly — the European Union. In the initial days of the invasion, China pointedly distanced itself from Russia’s actions, calling for a halt to the violence. It reduced its investment in Russia, as sanctions began to bite. It made sure its rhetoric sounded even-handed, and in return, Ukraine’s leadership always made sure to say nice things about China. And Xi Jinping notably refused to visit Moscow. It looked as if Xi might be having second thoughts about forming a New Axis with Putin.
All that has recently changed. Xi Jinping is now going to visit Moscow. Without consulting Ukraine at all, China is about to release a “peace plan” that reportedly involves Ukraine making major territorial concessions to Russia and also promising not to join NATO. Meanwhile, China’s foreign ministry has begun to echo Russian propaganda, blaming the U.S. for the Ukraine war. But of course lethal aid is the final crossing of the Rubicon; once China is actively supplying weapons to help Russia conquer Ukraine, there’s no way to maintain the facade that China supports countries’ territorial integrity.
Assuming it’s confirmed, this is extremely worrying news, for a number of reasons. A proxy war between China and the West is one that plays to China’s advantages in terms of mass production of low-tech armaments and basic components. And by setting itself in direct opposition to Europe, China is advancing the process of hardening the world into opposing blocs, raising the likelihood of a more severe and rapid economic decoupling more likely. Finally, by being willing to take these steps, China is signaling that it’s committed to a New Axis strategy of geopolitical confrontation.
China can match (and probably outmatch) Western war production
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