China faces irreconcilable choices on Ukraine
Beijing tries to strike an impossible balance with Russia, the United States, and the concept of "noninterference"
Read the full article at CarnegieEndowment.org
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is an important test of China’s policy evolution, tactical positioning, and strategic choices. Beijing is selfish about its own interests and will not want Washington to be the one to frame China’s alternatives. But Beijing is trying to strike an impossible balance by seeking to pursue three goals simultaneously: a strategic partnership with Russia, commitment to long-standing foreign policy principles of “territorial integrity” and “noninterference,” and a desire to minimize collateral damage from EU and U.S. sanctions.
Beijing cannot reconcile these three competing objectives. And since it cannot have all three, it will have to jettison one or another, or else uncomfortably shift its position from day to day under the glare of international scrutiny. China’s almost certain choice will be to abandon its principles while prioritizing power politics and practical considerations.
China does share some principles of international relations with Russia, including opposition to U.S.-led alliances, and a deep discomfort with U.S. foreign policy that dates to NATO intervention in the Balkans during the 1990s. But Russian actions flatly violate China’s often professed belief in sovereignty, territorial integrity, and noninterference. And these principles have supposedly been at the very core of Chinese foreign policy for decades.
In forsaking these principles while fudging that choice in a haze of sly diplomatic language, Beijing has made clear that the most decisive element of Chinese policy now is its lean toward Moscow.