With an aim to end the Russia-Ukraine war, French President Emmanuel Macron last week made a state visit to China where he appealed to President Xi Jinping to help push Russian President Vladimir Putin to the negotiating table with his Ukrainian counterpart Volodymyr Zelenskyy to resolve the more than one-year old conflict.
The Chinese President accorded a warm welcome to the visiting French President and gave him a guided tour to his father’s residence in Guangzhou. The Chinese President, during talks with his French counterpart, said that China always stands on the side of peace and would like to work with the rest of the world to make its contribution to the realisation of peace.
Almost the same words President Xi Jinping had used regarding the Ukraine-Russia war during his talks with Olaf Scholz when the German Chancellor, in the course of his shortest visit of 11 hours to Beijing in November last year, had urged the Chinese President to use influence to end Russia’s conflict with Ukraine.
However, if there was any difference in these two statements by Xi Jinping after his meetings with Olaf Scholz and French President Macron, it was about the timing; the Chinese President met the French President more than three weeks after his visit to Moscow on March 20-22, while Xi’s meeting with the German Chancellor took place in November 2022 when the Europe was grappling with cold which had rather turned out to be harsher in the absence of energy supply from the sanction-ridden Russia.
Significantly, China touted Xi Jinping’s Russia visit in March as a “peace mission” centred around 12-point aimed at ending the Ukraine war. These 12 points, proposed by Beijing on February 24, well five weeks before the Chinese President’s much-hyped visit to Moscow, included respecting the sovereignty of all countries, abandoning the cold war mentality, ceasing hostilities, resuming peace talks, resolving the humanitarian crisis, protecting civilians and prisoners of war, keeping nuclear power plants safe, reducing strategic risks, facilitating grain exports, stopping unilateral sanctions, keeping industrial and supply chains stable and promoting post-conflict reconstruction.
Speaking to the Chinese President in front of television cameras on March 20, Russian President Putin said he had “carefully studied” the Chinese proposals, was “open to peace talks” with Ukraine and welcomed China’s “constructive role.”
In their joint statement issued on March 21, they maintained that they are “opposed to any states and their blocs damaging the legitimate security interests of other states in order to obtain military, political and other advantages. The Chinese side positively assesses the willingness of the Russian side to make efforts to restart peace talks as soon as possible.” The China-Russia joint statement further said, “The parties stress that responsible dialogue is the best way for a sustainable resolution of the Ukrainian crisis, and the international community should support constructive efforts in this regard.”
Ironically, even when the two countries were busy making joint statements, Russia was using lethal arms like drones and missiles at its disposal to target Ukraine. The ground realities showed that the two sides were more interested in offering lip service to the Ukraine war than they ever wished peace to prevail in the region. Experts are particularly suspicious about China’s sincerity towards pushing Russia to end the war against Ukraine. For China, the war in Ukraine seems to be a blessing in disguise as it is draining out both the West and Russia of their economy and strength.
According to the Rand Corporation, a non-partisan American non-profit global policy think tank, the US has so far given the most to Ukraine. It has provided $47.9 billion to the war-torn country, but nearly all of it has been given in military and humanitarian aid. In September 2022, the World Bank estimated that the cost of rebuilding Ukraine would be about $349 billion. Most of these rebuilding costs will be borne probably by the US, Europe, and their allies.
Then the ongoing Russia-Ukraine conflict is proving to be a drag on the American economy. The gas price has surged in the US. As per USA Today, it is currently hovering between $3.79 and $4.93 a gallon. In the coming days and weeks, it is expected to cross $5 per gallon. While the average food price jumped 11.3% in January 2023 from a year earlier, data from the US Labour Department revealed. Last month, the US Federal Reserve raised interest rates by a quarter point in its attempt to fight high inflation.
As per CNN, the Federal Reserve raised lending rates to a range of 4.75% to 5%, the highest level since 2007. In the midst of such a scary scenario for the US economy, there are reports that suggest that the real US GDP will grow by 0.4% only this year, down from earlier projections of 0.5%. While altogether the US economy is expected to grow by 1.2% in 2024, a cut from 1.6% as projected by the US authorities in December 2022.
In Europe, the epicentre of the ongoing war, cut in energy supplies by Russia has thrown a significant challenge to the economy. As per the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), the economies of Hungary and Latvia will contract this year, while Poland, the region’s industrial powerhouse in recent years, is expected to grow by 1%, down from 4.8% in 2022. For the European governments, the key challenge is to confront fiscal pressures from additional spending on energy security and defence budgets. Already, the European Union is burdened by 800 billion euros that it borrowed to help member states recover from the Covid-19 pandemic.
Prevailing of such economic situations is viewed by China with interest as Beijing feels it will prevent the US and its allies from launching a full-scale war against the country in the wake of its planned annexation of Taiwan. However, experts like Huang Jing who teach at Shanghai International Studies University, have a different opinion. They say a complete victory for either Ukraine or Russia is not in China’s interest. If Ukraine wins the war, it will help the US and the West in consolidating and strengthening their global position and they will be more confident to take on China next in the wake of any military action by it against Taiwan.
Similarly, Huang Jing says that if Russia loses the war, then a defeated, demoralised and devastated Russia will be keener to make peace with the US and balance its over-reliance on China. Therefore, these experts argue that it is very important for China to save Russia from getting trounced in the war against Ukraine by whatever means to ensure that Moscow keeps fighting against the US and the West.
But then a decisive victory for Russia in the war against Ukraine will be equally detrimental for China and its interests, feel experts. Because, if Russia wins then of course, its influence in Central Asia, the Middle-East and Africa will increase, giving China little space to go unchallenged in these regions. Therefore, China will see that Russia remains engulfed in the war against Ukraine. In this background, it will be quite naïve to expect that Xi Jinping will genuinely desire that the Ukraine war should come to an end so soon.