The world order is on the edge of losing its balance, and China is the state currently keeping everyone from falling into a wider conflict.
The three superpowers, the United States, China, and Russia, are stepping closer to confrontation as a result of the war in Ukraine. The rest of the world is left to read the plays and hope that the critically important player, China, knows what it is doing. So far, the signs are good.
China’s “no limits friendship” with Russia has abruptly run into boundaries. The United States claims that Beijing is considering sending weapons to help Russia’s war in Ukraine. In response China has accused the Biden administration of spreading lies, but at the same time has defended its close relationship with Russia. As the war rages on, the United States and Europe are maintaining heavy support in arms and aid to Ukraine. Putin has pulled Russia out of the New START nuclear arms reduction treaty, the latest threatening signal involving Russia’s nuclear weapons. It appears China’s new proposals for a cease-fire and peace talks are designed to damp the flames, even as it abstained when the United Nations General Assembly approved a non-binding resolution that calls for Russia to end hostilities in Ukraine and to withdraw its forces.
From Russia’s point of view, it is essential to push China to actively support the Kremlin’s war with a supply of weapons. This would likely trigger sanctions against China. Quite apart from the advantages of fresh guns and ammunition, Russia badly wants to see the United States and China at each other’s throats. If open conflict flares between these superpowers, Russia will likely have the opportunity to trample over the top of both of them once they are damaged and exhausted. Russia would then achieve its highest ambition, to have the whole world under Russian domination. If you doubt the ruthless megalomania of the Russian leadership, go talk to a Ukrainian. Or a Russian. Russia believes it is destined to rule a vast empire. It has also always been paranoid and deceptive, possibly because of historic invasions of its territory. Has Putin tempted Xi Jinping with support to gain what China really wants, Taiwan? Does China really see Russia as a genuine partner? Now, more than ever, the West needs to talk to China and observe the best qualities of a regime that is imperfect but driven by internal logic. China has good reason historically speaking to mistrust the West. However, it has now stated its commitment to sovereign borders, even though it has laid claim to Taiwan. China has carefully built its relationships with outsiders on its own terms, and it is to be hoped that China’s relationship with Russia is no more than a construction of a multi-polar balancing act to contain the power of the United States and its allies. President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelensky is clearly treading very carefully in respect to China’s plan, saying that there are points in the Chinese peace proposals that he agrees with “and there are those that we don’t.” He says he plans to meet Xi Jinping. Russia has expressed muted appreciation of China’s plan, unable as a global pariah to make any demands. China’s move into the spotlight with its peace proposals is an invitation to the rest of the world to respect the finely judged position it is taking, stepping between two other nuclear-armed superpowers. Now, more than ever, the United States, Australia, and the Pacific nations need to talk to China and refrain from aggressive posturing. The world will be a safer place if Russia, currently bleeding out from its misjudged and horrific invasion of Ukraine, becomes a dependent satellite to China. The alternative, a freshly armed and emboldened Russia, stirring up conflict between the United States and China and waiting for its opportunity to subjugate both of them, doesn’t bear thinking about. We must think ahead. Ukraine is right when it says it is fighting for all of us. Even, at the end of the day, for China. For all of us, to have our borders respected into the future. Illustration: Chinese Operatic figure Guan Yu, is said to be loyal to his country, righteous, kind, and brave in battles.