The Impacts of Ukranian Invasion on China Part II - CCP's Reaction to the Invasion



Poster hailing the friendship of the Soviet and Chinese People


Two items in the past twenty four hours cycle featured on the Global Times present an interesting picture, in parts and in whole. 

The first item that Global Times put out is the news story, Russia 'ready to talk' after militarily paralyzing Ukraine within hours.

On reading through the article, one notices a typical pattern to the reporting line pursued. While the story tends to put the Chinese people at the centre of the story in multiple ways, the interpretation of the 'demilitarization' that was called upon by Russia's Vladimir Putin speaks for itself:

"Demilitarize" could be understood to be putting down arms and surrendering, which can also be understood as incapacitating the opponent and rendering them unable to form a threat in a broader sense, Song Zhongping, a Chinese military expert and TV commentator, told the Global Times on Thursday.

Moreover, they carried the Russian version of the story by quoting a Yury Tavrovsky, who heads the "Russian Dream-Chinese Dream" analytics center of the Izborsk Club, calling Russia's military operations in Ukraine "completely legal." In this version, it stated that both chambers of Russia's Duma (parliament) had earlier approved recognition of Donetsk and Lugansk as "independent states." The Upper Chamber (the Senate) later approved use of armed forces outside the national borders.

These bits are significant, because that is the kind of ecosystem China itself would aspire to around itself. While it refrains from calling Russia irresponsible through the piece directly, it chose to drop hints by quoting other news agencies and talking about 'crashing markets'. It also tried to portray itself as an important sane voice in the global order, calling for 'restraint' from all sides. 

Also, the fact it chose to cite the 'approval' from the Russian Parliament to justify the invasion is rather quirky. This approval is similar to what the People's Congress will grant to Xi Jinping for invading any country, whenever it wants. This would be a potential possibility should the South China Sea clashes escalate to the point that China wishes to 'punish'. 

The second item is the editorial written by Hu Xijin. This piece offers three reasons why Russia's actions have 'extensive support from society'. To quote these verbatim:

First, Continuous eastward expansion of NATO pushed by the US has squeezed Russia's strategic space and deeply humiliated this fighting nation. Putin drew his sword. He is creating a historical turning point to end Russia's forced retreat since the disintegration of the Soviet Union. The shells that fell on Ukraine are also Russia's spit in the face of Washington.

Second, Ukraine and Russia have lived together for more than 300 years, and their cultures have been integrated. However, Ukraine has turned against Russia in recent years and has fully tilted to the West, taking an anti-Russian path similar to that of the Baltic countries. This path is common in the countries of the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. Those countries are convinced that with the backing of the US, it is safe for them to be hostile to Russia. This has long irritated Russians. Therefore, they generally support Putin to use Ukraine as a warning to the rest of Eastern Europe.

Third, Russia has already gotten used to being sanctioned by the US and the West after so many years. It is even prepared for a worst-case scenario, where the US shuts down Russia's internet. With oil prices staying at a high level and sufficient foreign-exchange reserves, Russia now has the ability to resist sanctions. Therefore, Russians are not worried if sanctions will affect their life heavily.

Another important section that one should read from this is as follows:

This incident and war have given small countries an important lesson: when they are caught between major powers, they should try to avoid completely being inclined to one side and helping this side challenge the other. This is very dangerous. In the modern world, wars between major powers tend to be impossible, as they are unable to withstand wars between them. When a great power punishes the pawns of another major power, it is a very difficult decision for the latter to fulfill its promise to join the battle to defend its smaller ally. As a result, weak and small countries must maintain their strategic independence at least to a certain extent at all times. They cannot turn themselves into a mortal enemy of another great power that must be eliminated in order to please one great power.

This section is a huge indicator that any observer would spot. In the Chinese universe, it makes perfect sense to punish the pesky countries that dare to not profess neutralization. This is a hint as much to countries like VietNam and Philippines as it is to India - pursue a path of Finlandization, and you will be spared. No one will come to your aid, as Ukraine found out painfully, should China choose to attack. This is not a new discovery; since 2010, it has been observed that China is pursuing this path. Even earlier, it pursued this line of justification, when it had chosen to clash with VietNam on the issue of Cambodia's Khmer regime, with disastrous consequences. However, some view it as part of a bigger plan to ensure that VietNam did not 'behave out of line' with China. In some ways, the 1962 war with India was also driven by similar motives - punishing India and putting it in its place for daring to think it could challenge China. As pointed out in 2019 by a Chinese professor before attempts at revisionism:

from 1960 to October 1962, judging that India was unwilling to negotiate a solution, China “made preparations for deployment of its military”, creating interlocking positions “for long-term armed coexistence on the border issue ultimately proceeding to the border conflict”.

Moreover, as Claude Arpi has noted in this fantastic essay, the war was a strategy for internal political control as much as it was about external power projection. By the end of 1961, Mao Tse Tung was literally powerless. In the face of an ouster, Mao had in a calculated fashion taken the issue of a border conflict and timed it with his control on the power reigns within China, which was within a month or two of the war that would 'slap' India was unleashed.

The messaging is easy to read given China's history. Of course, it would think twice before doing it, because it is very afraid of losing lives. In a country of single children, any losses will have a severe social backlash that can literally cause the party to collapse overnight. Hence it would be wary of the same.

However, there are a few parallels going on within China. Just like Mao faced a power struggle, Xi Jinping is currently locked in a power struggle with the other factions, notably the Jiang Zemin faction, in gaining absolute authority. The latest sign of the worsening of the squabble is seen in a 60 page essay lambasting Xi Jinping's failures that appeared on Overseas Chinese forums. Should he choose, he could easily replicate Mao's strategy of calling for a war to force the party at large to rally behind him, leaving the faction heads all alone, and easy meat. This is not out of the realm of possibility, and even then, using the shield of the Cuban Missile Crisis, India was attacked.

Will it India? Maybe, maybe not. But it certainly will not be Taiwan.

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