Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks to Chinese President Xi Jinping at the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation summit in Samarkand on September 16. Photo: AFP
Dong Lei
Dong Lei

Why is the US provoking China if it needs Beijing to help end the Ukraine war?

  • It is peculiar how Washington expects help from China on Ukraine while maintaining a campaign of hectoring and humiliation, including on China’s refusal to condemn Russia, and on Taiwan
  • Much as Nixon’s visit to Beijing reshaped the US-China relationship, peaceful means can be found to end both cross-strait tensions and the Ukraine conflict
To those wishing to see a rapid conclusion to the war in Ukraine, including many in China, the West’s approach seems rather peculiar. In the wake of a Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) meeting in Uzbekistan, during which Russian President Vladimir Putin noted China’s “ questions and concerns”, Western coverage seemed more concerned with driving a wedge between China and Russia than ending the war on mutually agreeable terms.
This follows a US pressure campaign on China’s refusal to condemn Russia, which amounted to a series of ham-fisted threats compounded by US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s Taiwan visit.
In Western coverage, Putin’s comment overshadowed all other developments around the SCO conference, which was Chinese President Xi Jinping’s first foreign trip since the pandemic began, including the signing of a Kyrgyzstan-Tajikistan ceasefire that may have prevented a war in Central Asia and an offer of private diplomacy from Pope Francis to Xi.

In Russia, Xi and Putin’s remarks at the SCO were cited as evidence that Moscow retained Beijing’s support. Chinese state media, meanwhile, emphasised how the SCO meeting illustrated China’s role as a responsible international stakeholder – a position the West seems to demand that Beijing play, while simultaneously preventing it from doing so.

It is understandable, if tiresome, that in election years, American politicians and officials compete to appear “tough on China”. Likewise, in peaceful and troubled times alike, it is established US foreign policy that it should be closer to Russia and China separately than the two are to each other.


Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin speak in person for first time since Russia invaded Ukraine

Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin speak in person for first time since Russia invaded Ukraine
Through this dark lens, the Sino-Russian partnership is seen as threatening. But it is less comprehensible how Washington expects to obtain help from China on the Ukraine matter while maintaining its hostile and provocative posture.
Despite Western media claims, Beijing has been no more enthusiastic than many other nations about Russia’s declaration of its “ special military operation” in Ukraine. Nor has it been any more forthright than Pope Francis or political scientist John Mearsheimer in pointing out that pushing Nato’s expansion to Russia’s borders exacerbated the potential for conflict.

Instead of noting and welcoming China’s relative neutrality, Washington has responded with threats, accusations and deliberate provocations at a politically sensitive time.

If maintenance of the world order is truly Washington’s goal, it again seems peculiar to believe that a campaign of hectoring and humiliation will secure those interests. Overtures supporting Taiwan’s independence are far more than a sensitive issue or the crossing of a red line to Beijing; unification with Taiwan is a matter of faith, not only to China’s government but to its people.


US President Biden says US troops would defend Taiwan from attack by Beijing

US President Biden says US troops would defend Taiwan from attack by Beijing
Given this, Pelosi’s visit and President Joe Biden’s remarks on US intentions to militarily defend Taiwan not only violate the one-China principle that has secured regional peace for over half a century; they also sabotage attempts to begin rebuilding trust.

Despite their differences and heated rhetoric, China and the United States have a shared interest in promoting global peace and prosperity. If Beijing or other outside parties are to play a constructive role in bringing the Ukraine war to an end, they must maintain relative neutrality and broad-mindedness, proceeding with great subtlety and care.

Even in those circumstances, given the pride, prestige and resources expended by Russia, securing its acceptance of the pre-February Ukrainian border will be no easy feat. Insisting on Putin being tried as a war criminal, rather than merely encouraging his graceful exit from power, similarly worsens any prospect of the West achieving its aims. A highway with no off-ramps is a road that leads nowhere.


Putin ‘cannot remain in power’ says Biden in speech condemning Russia's invasion of Ukraine

Putin ‘cannot remain in power’ says Biden in speech condemning Russia's invasion of Ukraine
This same uncompromising approach that Washington applied to Nato’s expansion, one that provokes and humiliates while claiming the moral high ground, then feigns innocence regarding the inevitable result, characterises the American approach to Taiwan. Its forays in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria and Libya, among others, seem neither to have humbled US confidence nor subjected it to the slightest circumspection.
I sincerely hope that peaceful means are found to resolve cross-strait tensions and to bring the Ukraine conflict to a rapid end. Indeed, much as the anti-communist former US president Richard Nixon’s visit to Beijing reshaped the US-China relationship, a Taiwan administration hostile to Beijing can be persuaded to accept a long-term peaceful solution.

However, Washington’s habit of playing the hero to its Western and domestic audiences, while causing, exacerbating and extending conflicts around the globe, threatens to take this time of uncertainty and transformation into a far bleaker age.

Dong Lei is a non-practising solicitor in Hong Kong and the principal at AB Highwood Consultants