Alona Lebedieva: China could compel Russia to end the war in Ukraine

Chinese President Xi Jinping visited France on a state visit. This marks his first official trip to Europe since 2019. Following France, he will visit Serbia and Hungary.

During the negotiations in France, discussions focused on EU-China trade relations, fair competition, market access, and investments. The war in Ukraine, or as the Chinese refer to it, the conflict, was also a topic of discussion. Interestingly, parallel to the visit of the Chinese leader to Europe, European representatives also departed for China.

The Chinese neutral side

In society, there is a belief that China has sided with the aggressor in Russia’s war against Ukraine, although China’s official position remains more neutral. Furthermore, there is speculation that China is indirectly fighting against the West in Ukraine through Russia. While this version is not fantastical and may contain some truth, the issue has a broader and more pragmatic nature.

China’s economy is going through tough times, and the Russian market, which has lost most of its export and import capabilities due to Putin’s military adventures, is now largely controlled by them. Some analysts believe that Russia could be used by Chinese leader Xi as a tool to make money and increase global influence.

Trading in the same pocket

Over the past two years, China has not only increased its presence in Russia, but actually captured and made many sectors of the Russian economy and production dependent on it. Most of the products produced in Russia today are either Chinese or made on Chinese equipment. Russians simply stick labels “Made in Russia”. Chinese business quickly filled the neighboring country with a chronic shortage with goods of its own production. Thanks to the sale of Russian oil and the purchase of electronics, industrial equipment and cars, Moscow’s trade with China reached a record $240 billion in 2023, more than double the figure of $108 billion in 2020.

However, due to sanctions and settlements for energy resources in yuan, Russians can only buy goods in yuan from China. This cooperation is extremely advantageous for the Chinese, and such a situation suits them perfectly.

Despite the fact that China is a global player on the world political stage and independently decides with whom it should be friends, it tries not to lose its authority and influence in the world, balancing among itself. After all, his foreign policy is focused not only on leadership in the so-called Global South, but also on the development and maintenance of relations with Western countries, the USA and the EU. China needs these markets and Western technologies. Therefore, it is likely that Xi came to Europe to understand the Europeans’ position on the complex relationship between China and the United States.

Gentle coercion

Increasing pressure from the West and the risks of losing the European market, which is very important for the Chinese, force the leadership of the Celestial Empire to take measures. After all, Xi Jinping’s statement that China and France will look for ways to resolve the Russian-Ukrainian conflict can hypothetically be interpreted as a positive shift towards a more active role for China in resolving this situation. He also stated that he understands what Europeans are facing in the “Ukrainian crisis” and supports a number of norms regulating international relations. Among them are “mutual respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity, mutual non-aggression, mutual non-interference in internal affairs, equality and mutual benefit, peaceful coexistence”.

In addition, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen directly stated after meeting with the Chinese leader: “We rely on China to use all its influence on Russia to stop the Russian war against Ukraine.” French President Emmanuel Macron thanked Xi Jinping for his commitment to “refrain from selling any weapons” to Russia and, in general, not to assist Moscow.

The key message from European leadership is that if the Chinese are interested in cooperation with the continent, it must occur under normal conditions, which cannot currently be described as such due to Russian military aggression. In other words, if you want to work with us, trade, and build relationships – help calm the aggressor down.

Despite Russian propaganda’s attempts to portray relations between Russia and China as friendly, everyone actually understands who is who in these relationships.

In fact, everything known today is the public side of the negotiations. There’s always another part, behind closed doors, where the main issues are decided and agreements and alliances are formed. And their results are not always quick or something that can be openly shown.