Ian Johnson

The world has been utterly confused by China’s attitude to Russia and the war in Ukraine. One thing is sure, says China analyst Ian Johnson in an opinion piece for CNN, we should not expect China to solve the war in Ukraine. “Becoming involved in foreigners’ disputes makes no sense. Better to stay out of the fray, see who is likely to win, and then cut deals,” Ian Johnson says.

Ian Johnson:

The war in Ukraine has prompted renewed appeals for China to get involved in an international crisis, with commentators discussing how the country is well-placed to negotiate an end to the fighting. Politicians have taken up the call too: the Ukrainian foreign minister reportedly asked China to get involved, while on Tuesday European leaders video-called Chinese leader Xi Jinping in an effort to keep him in the loop.

These ideas all make good sense — but are likely to fail. That’s because China, far from being able to act decisively on the world stage, suffers from a chronic leadership void that leaves it paralyzed to act in the face of global crises….
It is illusory to think that China can play a constructive role in Ukraine. On paper, it makes sense. China is Russia’s last major market now that the West has largely cut ties with them. Xi’s diplomats could easily get Russia’s ear and suggest, ever so subtly, that some sort of settlement would be beneficial to all sides.
It would also be in China’s best interests to take such a step. China grew rich in the international order that Putin seeks to destroy. Ultimately it needs to compete with the world’s leading countries, and to do that it needs an open world system with a free flow of capital and ideas. Slumming it with dysfunctional states like Russia only drags China down.
This could still happen, and China might set aside its domestic priorities to help end the crisis. But doing so would require a seismic shift. Playing the middleman would require China to distance itself from Russia, after boasting that their friendship has “no limits.”
Instead, China is likely to act neutral but continue to show most of its sympathy for Russia, not Ukraine or the democracies fighting to save its independence.
That’s because everything Xi has implemented at home has been to stifle free thought, not unleash it. He views the democratic world with similar distrust. He hopes China will supplant them but with home-grown innovation and not a robust exchange of ideas and products. It is a self-centered world vision, one where ties are mainly zero-sum: you win, I lose.
In this context, if the West is embroiled in a dispute with Russia over Europe, then China wins. Becoming involved in foreigners’ disputes makes no sense. Better to stay out of the fray, see who is likely to win, and then cut deals.

More at CNN.

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