China’s Strategic Interests Amid the Reshuffling of Global Geopolitical Patterns
With the conflict between Russia and Ukraine entering a stalemate, on the evening of March 18, Chinese President Xi Jinping had a video call with U.S. President Biden for about 2 hours. Judging from the minutes released by the Chinese and U.S. officials after the meeting, the major topic of discussion between the Presidents was the Russia and Ukraine war.
According to China’s official state news agency Xinhua, President Xi pointed out that “the prevailing trend of peace and development is facing serious challenges, and the world is neither tranquil nor stable”. “China does not want to see the situation in Ukraine to come to this. China stands for peace and opposes war. This is embedded in China’s history and culture,” Xi said. He stated that China and the United States should not only lead the development of the bilateral relations on the right track but also should bear the international responsibilities to make efforts for world peace.
The readout released on the White House’s website stated that the focus of the conversation between Biden and Xi was Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine. Biden outlined what the U.S. and its allies are doing to prevent and respond to the invasion, including “imposing costs on Russia”. He affirmed the implications and consequences if China provides material support to Russia in its attacks on Ukrainian cities and civilians. The President reiterated that U.S. policy toward Taiwan has not changed, and stressed that it continues to oppose any unilateral action that seeks to change the status quo.
This communication is another exchange between China and the U.S. in the geopolitical game. While both leaders emphasized the importance of achieving peace and endorsed a diplomatic solution to the crisis, overall, the positions of the two countries differed significantly. China feels that there is a cause for the worsening of the situation between Russia and Ukraine and that it can only be resolved by those who initiated the problem. Meanwhile, the main purpose of the call for the U.S. was to send a stern warning to China, expecting that the latter would not offer material help to Russia in the war. Because the U.S. is well aware of China’s position over the Taiwan problem, Biden stressed that the U.S. stance toward Taiwan has not changed.
According to the current scenario, China’s strategic space is narrowing as the Russia-Ukraine issue persists. Following the two Presidents’ meeting, China was asked by the U.S. not to offer material help to Russia in the Russia-Ukraine conflict. Under such circumstance, China and Chinese companies should brace for sanctions from the U.S. and its allies. Furthermore, if China’s support for Russia is used directly in the war against Ukraine, it could result in humanitarian issues. In the case that China does not assist Russia, it is tantamount to complying with Western sanctions against Russia, which would not only harm some of China’s economic interests but also cast doubt on the China-Russia comprehensive strategic partnership of coordination.
In such a difficult situation, how should China make its strategic decisions? Researchers at ANBOUND continue to believe that China must make decisions based on its own strategic interests, rather than those of a certain nation or other type of interest. China’s strategic interests, in our opinion, should be evaluated in the following ways:
First and foremost, China requires a steady environment to further its economic growth. Despite being the world’s second-largest economy, the country must continue a lengthy period of peaceful growth in order to strengthen its economic interests and national power. China should realize that its science and technology, finance, national security, military, and cultural influence still has room for improvement. To achieve its second centenary goal of building a modern socialist country, it needs to maintain a stable development environment for at least 27 years, as this will allow the economy to grow on a greater scale and the overall national strength to increase. This is China’s most important strategic interest in the future and should be the focus of any of its strategic options.
Second, China needs to prepare for a long-term geopolitical game with the U.S. To the U.S., China has become its foremost strategic competitor since the Trump era, while such a position is not assumed by Russia. During the Biden era, the long relationship built after President Richard Nixon’s visit to China has passed, and the two countries are now entering a period of intense competition. In American politics, the Democrats and the Republicans have never been more united on the issue of restricting China. The U.S. will join forces with its allies to “contain” China’s development for a long time to come. Therefore, concerning the U.S.’ stance and strategy, China must realize this will be an extensive trend. Its strategic choices and policies involving the U.S. should therefore pay more attention to the long-term, instead of short-term and partial ones.
Third, the Taiwan issue is China’s core strategic interest. From China’s point of view, the Taiwan issue is completely different from the Ukraine issue. In China’s perspective, the former is an internal affair while the latter is an international issue. Many Western countries, however, see both as the same, and they regard Russia’s military action against Ukraine as a kind of prelude to China’s “armed unification” with Taiwan. The confrontation between Russia and Ukraine has not only increased the West’s alertness against military activities in the Taiwan Strait, but it has also allowed them to develop a cooperation model and acquire experience in collectively penalizing “hostile powers”. What is certain is that no matter what the final result of the conflict between Russia and Ukraine is, the West will become warier of China’s “armed unification” with Taiwan. China, therefore, will have to accept a period of “hostility” from the West. Its current strategic choices will then be linked to the future handling of the Taiwan issue.
Fourth, China needs to reserve space for the future development of its relations with Europe. One objective impact of the Russia-Ukraine crisis is that the United States can unify NATO, and may effectively restore the transatlantic alliance unity using the external “threat” of geopolitical confrontation. Under the intensification of the crisis, Russia has “helped” Biden to achieve the goal of “making America great again”, a goal that Trump was so desperate to attain. In a short period, the main countries of “Old Europe” such as France and Germany have temporarily given up their dream of “strategic autonomy” in Europe. However, the “Old European” nations may still cherish that hope in the long run, while the “New Europe” led by Central and Eastern European countries would see a widening of the gap with the “Old Europe”. Regardless of whether a country belongs to Old or New Europe, China needs to deal with and negotiate with these countries for the long-term, while reserving space for cooperation. As a result, its strategic option now will be closely tied to the future space for its collaboration with European nations.
Final analysis conclusion:
Regardless of the outcome of the Russia-Ukraine war, Russia will experience problems, and perhaps “denationization” as a result of the West’s unprecedented sanctions. The world’s geopolitical pattern will be reshuffled. Hence, China must maintain its course in the face of shifting circumstances and pursue growth programs based on its own strategic interests. As a major power, China cannot be strategically connected to any country. Instead, maintaining a balanced policy and neutrality is in its long-term interests.
Writer by ANBOUND
ANBOUND is a multinational independent think tank. We specialize in public policy research covering geopolitics and international relations, urban and social development, industrial issues, and macro-economy. We enjoy professional reputation in the areas of strategic forecasting, policy solutions, and risk analysis. Over the past three decades, we are committed to independence and openness as our operating principles.
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