The Serious Impact of the Russia-Ukraine Conflict on Sino-US Relations

As early as a year before Russia launched a “special military operation” against Ukraine on February 24, 2022, there had been a “paradigm shift” in the interaction model of Sino-US relations – Washington generally believed that Sino-US relations had entered a “protracted war” in the strategic game. “: The Biden administration has generally taken over the mantle of the Trump administration’s containment of China. The difference is that the former pays more attention than the latter to how to shape an international environment conducive to “containment of China”, and at least verbally emphasizes the need to prevent strategic competition. Derailment sets “guardrails”. Correspondingly, Beijing also increasingly believes that Sino-US relations have entered a stalemate in the strategic game. The mainstream narrative in China is that the game between China and the United States reflects the struggle between the two countries in terms of power, system, and ideas, and will run through the entire process of the rejuvenation of the Chinese nation. Competition and struggle are generally seen as central words in Washington and Beijing’s handling of bilateral relations.

Of course, the actual situation seems more nuanced. On the one hand, unlike the frequent rhetoric between officials of the two countries, the leaders of the two sides still emphasized in the limited dialogue that there should be room for cooperation between China and the United States to jointly deal with global issues, and each expressed that Sino-US relations would not be allowed to slip. Willingness to enter a “new Cold War”. On the other hand, China is making every effort to prepare for the 20th National Congress of the Communist Party of China in 2022, and the United States is also facing a more urgent political agenda of mid-term elections. Regardless of the domestic demand for stabilizing the economy, or the less enthusiastic but more predictable interaction between the policy teams of the two countries than under Trump, people have higher expectations for a stable China-U.S. relationship. In this regard, China is obviously more action-oriented than the United States. At the beginning of this year, Beijing commemorated the 50th anniversary of the China-US Shanghai Communiqué with a high profile, and continuously called on Washington to regain the “Shanghai Communiqué spirit” of “seeking great common ground and reserving great differences” to illuminate the way forward for Sino-US relations.

However, the sharp escalation of the Russian-Ukrainian crisis and the detonation of Russia’s direct military attack on the entire territory of Ukraine not only caught Beijing by surprise, but also the protracted war and the danger of further large-scale escalation undoubtedly brought difficulties to the already very difficult and fragile bilateral relations. Another boulder has been pressed, significantly increasing the difficulty for Beijing to handle Sino-US relations.

hostility surge

Obviously, the Russian-Ukrainian crisis and conflict have further exacerbated the mutual suspicion and hostility between China and the United States. On the one hand, Washington and Beijing have profound differences over the origin of the Russian-Ukrainian conflict and the attribution of responsibility. The essence is that the two sides have major differences in the nature of the current international order and their vision for future development. Washington condemned Moscow’s “war of aggression” against Ukraine, violating the UN Charter and basic norms of international relations, and accused China of failing to publicly condemn Russia’s aggressive behavior. Beijing emphasizes that the Russia-Ukraine crisis is not only a complex historical latitude and longitude, but also that the continuous eastward expansion of NATO since the post-Cold War ignores Russia’s reasonable security concerns.

As the U.S. vigorously provides military assistance to Ukraine, passed a US$40 billion aid bill to Ukraine, and imposed unprecedented economic sanctions and diplomatic isolation on Russia, senior officials of the Biden administration and leaders of both parties in the U.S. Congress have also expressed their intention to use this to comprehensively “weak Russia.” “. The Chinese side pointed out accordingly that the United States and NATO are engaged in a “proxy war” with Russia, and the real strategic goal of the United States is to “bring down Russia” by prolonging the war in Ukraine. In addition, senior White House officials have repeatedly reiterated that the conflict between Russia and Ukraine will not change the U.S. judgment that “China is the most important strategic opponent of the United States.” In Beijing’s view, the United States and the West hope that through this war, they will try to restore their weakened dominance of the international order. , reversing the trajectory of global power development that Beijing often refers to as “rising in the east and descending in the west.”

On the other hand, after the Russia-Ukraine conflict, the US has stepped up its hype of the “China-Russia Axis Theory”, which has also increased Beijing’s strategic vigilance and confrontation with Washington. From Beijing’s point of view, Washington and NATO leaders have taken out of context the words “China-Russia cooperation has no forbidden zone” in the “Sino-Russian Joint Statement” issued on February 4, 2022, in an attempt to assert that China is an “accomplice of Russia in waging war” “Crimes.

After the United States and the West launched large-scale economic and financial sanctions on Russia, Washington also threatened that China could not help Russia out of trouble, otherwise it would face serious consequences. The U.S. Senate and House of Representatives passed the so-called “Axis Act”, which requires the U.S. State Department to submit regular reports to Congress on Sino-Russian cooperation and China’s assistance to Russia to evade sanctions against Russia by the United States and the West. Beijing denounced the US as “a thief shouting to catch a thief”, arguing that the US not only intends to use the Ukraine crisis to make money from the war, but also attempts to use the rhetoric of “democracy against dictatorship” to organize a joint camp against China and Russia internationally. Since the outbreak of the Russia-Ukraine conflict, the United States has significantly accelerated military alliance cooperation with China and Russia as imaginary enemies in Europe and the Asia-Pacific region. Beijing pointed out the trend of “Asia-Pacificization” and even “globalization” of NATO led by the United States, reflecting the strategic intention of the United States to further implement “dual containment” against China and Russia and promote a new Cold War.

The strategic hostility between the Chinese and American governments due to the escalation of the Russia-Ukraine conflict has further affected the opposition between the two countries. According to a survey conducted by the US Pew polling agency on April 28 this year, more than 90% of Americans surveyed believe that the partnership between China and Russia is a “serious problem”, and their negative views of China “have reached a new high.” ” — 82% of Americans surveyed have a negative view of China. The Russian-Ukrainian conflict has also aroused widespread concern among the Chinese people. Although the people have different views on the cause and impact of the Russian-Ukrainian conflict, as the war continues to escalate, most Chinese people believe that the Russian-Ukrainian conflict has evolved into a Western “agent against Russia”. People’s War”, and the real purpose of the United States and NATO is to try to weaken China and Russia at the same time.

Decoupling and the financial “firewall”

The conflict between Russia and Ukraine has further deteriorated the overall economic conditions and economic security of China and the United States, and has accelerated the separation of technology and key industrial chains between the two sides. On the one hand, the Russian-Ukrainian conflict, superimposed on the divergence of epidemic recovery and high inflation, has exacerbated the energy crisis and food crisis, adding to the already fragile and unbalanced post-pandemic world economic situation. Serious impact. Rising commodity prices have left the Fed torn between policy options to contain high inflation and prevent a recession. Many international economic analysis agencies have issued a warning that the United States will experience stagflation or even fall into an economic crisis again.

For China’s economy, the spread of the war between Russia and Ukraine and the unprecedented sanctions and joint sanctions imposed by the United States and Western countries on Russia have directly blocked investment and economic and trade exchanges between China and Ukraine, and restricted the normal economic and trade and investment between China and Russia before the war. project. Moreover, China is accelerating the diversification of its food import structure in recent years, especially increasing the import of agricultural materials such as food crops and fertilizers from Russia and Ukraine to improve its food security structure. The impact of extreme weather, combined with the negative impact of extreme weather on domestic food production in recent years, has further increased China’s risk exposure to food security.

On the other hand, the Russian-Ukrainian conflict not only accelerated the decoupling trend of China and the United States in technology and key industrial chains, but also had a considerable impact on the cooperation between China and the United States in the financial field. Beijing is particularly concerned about two steps implemented by the United States. One is that the Senate recently passed the revised version of the American Competition Act, marking the fast lane of the U.S. legislature’s push for decoupling China’s technology and key industrial chains. The second is that President Biden announced the official launch of the “Indo-Pacific Economic Framework” on May 23, marking that the United States is accelerating the construction of a “critical supply chain to China” alliance.

For Beijing, the conflict between Russia and Ukraine not only makes Beijing face further pressure on the decoupling of Sino-US technology and key industrial chains, but also the United States and the West have launched an unprecedented financial war against Russia, including freezing Russia’s foreign exchange assets of more than 300 billion U.S. dollars in the United States and Western countries. It also makes Beijing increasingly aware of the importance and urgency of comprehensively preventing and counteracting the “financial war” carried out by the United States against China. How to comprehensively improve the defensive and offensive capabilities of China’s “financial weapons” in its struggle against the United States has become an important task that the Chinese government needs to vigorously plan and build. This also indicates that the “decoupling” trend of economic relations between China and the United States is accelerating from the real economy such as technology and key industrial chains to the virtual economy represented by finance and banking.

Taiwan Strait sounded the alarm again

On the one hand, long before the escalation of the Russian-Ukrainian conflict, the Biden administration inherited its predecessor’s strategy of “taking Taiwan to control China”, that is, under the framework of Washington’s long-term competition strategy with China, the political role of Taiwan in the US global and regional strategy has been greatly enhanced. , economic and military security status, the US government’s “one China policy” is constantly being hollowed out.

For Beijing, the Biden administration’s two major setbacks on the Taiwan issue have aroused China’s high vigilance and dissatisfaction. The first is that Biden basically inherited the major adjustments to the Taiwan policy of the previous Trump administration, and clearly put the “Taiwan Relations Act” and the “Six Assurances” side by side with the three Sino-US joint communiques, as the handling of the Taiwan issue and cross-strait relations. The legal and political basis of the US-Taiwan relations has greatly enhanced the political and strategic significance of the US-Taiwan relations. The second is that the Biden administration continues to intentionally confuse the U.S. positioning of the mainland and Taiwan under the “one China policy”, and the U.S. frequently threatens and pressures the “Taiwan diplomatic country” to establish diplomatic relations with Beijing. It is a serious provocative move of the “one China, one Taiwan” policy actually implemented by the Progressive Party government.

In China’s view, the increasingly hollow “one-China policy” of the United States and the “one-China principle” emphasized by China no longer have much policy overlap, and the cornerstone of the normalization of Sino-US relations has been seriously eroded. The U.S. government is not only making its “one China policy” increasingly false, but is also preventing the mainland’s reunification of Taiwan by stepping up political, military and economic cooperation between the United States and Taiwan. Whether the time for peaceful reunification is still in China’s hands has become a hot topic in China’s domestic discussions. question. China’s perception of US-Taiwan relations is bound to affect the policy orientation of the Chinese government and people towards resolving the Taiwan issue.

On the other hand, after the Russia-Ukraine conflict, the US government’s Taiwan Strait policy has the tendency to accelerate “strategic clarity”, making it more difficult for China and the US to effectively manage the Taiwan issue. Although in recent years there has been debate in the United States about whether to abandon the “strategic ambiguity” in the Taiwan Strait policy, it is generally limited to the circle of think tank experts. But after the Russia-Ukraine conflict, not only did think tank experts in Washington discuss the so-called “Russian-Ukrainian conflict on the Taiwan Strait” intensively, but the U.S. government and Congress also issued warnings about the prospect and consequences of the so-called Beijing’s possible military attack on Taiwan. Sullivan, the National Security Adviser to the US President, said that the Chinese mainland will learn from Russia’s war in Ukraine to prepare for a future “invasion” of Taiwan, and reiterated the US’s security commitment to Taiwan. U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen has threatened to impose sanctions on Beijing similar to those against Russia if mainland China uses force against Taiwan.

From the perspective of the United States, the United States and the West have united all-round sanctions to isolate Russia, and assisting Ukraine to carry out a “protracted war” against Russia can not only weaken Russia, but also increase the deterrent effect on Beijing’s so-called “armed Taiwan”. The most striking thing during this period was when Biden visited Japan on May 23 and publicly declared that if war broke out in the Taiwan Strait, the US military would help defend Taiwan. Although the White House and Biden himself said afterwards that the US policy towards Taiwan has not changed, Beijing’s trust in the Biden administration, including his own policies on the Taiwan issue, has also dropped to a new low. At the same time, many think tank experts in Washington also unabashedly encouraged Taiwan to learn more from Ukraine’s “asymmetric” and “flexible” military strategy against Russia in confronting the mainland in conflict scenarios. In addition, Washington has also encouraged allies such as Japan and Australia to put pressure on Beijing on the Taiwan issue by strengthening military alliances in the Asia-Pacific.

From the Chinese perspective, Washington deliberately compared Ukraine, a sovereign country, with Taiwan, a non-sovereign state, which exposed its hypocrisy of “not supporting Taiwan independence” and was a rationale for interfering in China’s reunification process in the future. After the Russian-Ukrainian conflict, the US government’s latest policy announcement on the Taiwan Strait issue or its threat to China further proves that the US’s “Taiwan to control China” is escalating, and its policy of preventing cross-strait reunification by force has become clearer. With Beijing’s growing dissatisfaction and distrust of Washington on Taiwan-related issues, and the current mechanism for dialogue and exchanges between the two sides is not functioning smoothly, uncertainty and crisis risks surrounding the Taiwan Strait issue will continue to rise in the future, which is bound to seriously impact Sino-US relations and even global peace. Stablize.

The Curse of the “Security Dilemma”

Whether it is for the international security order, the relationship between major powers or the development of the world economy, the military conflict between Russia and the United States and the West over Ukraine is another event of watershed significance since the end of the Cold War 30 years ago. Chaotic times are thought provoking. For Sino-US relations, there are many lessons and inspirations behind the conflict between Russia and Ukraine, two of which are particularly important.

First, the security dilemma between great powers must be carefully managed. Generally speaking, unless an alliance is formed, security dilemmas between great powers are the norm and cannot be eradicated but managed. Numerous historical case studies have shown that the way to effectively alleviate the security dilemma of major powers first requires regular strategic communication and confidence-building measures between major powers to prevent each other’s stereotypes from consolidating their own dynamic cognition of their opponents, so as to continuously enhance mutual understanding of each other. Accurate grasp of strategic intent. Second, major powers should maintain a high degree of sensitivity to each other’s core security interests, and prevent the security dilemma from escalating or even getting out of control by constantly “cutting sausages” on each other’s core interests. The security dilemma theory also emphasizes the need to manage the stimulating effect of domestic political and ideological factors on the security dilemma, especially to prevent the intensification of strategic hostility and confrontation between major powers by hyping up “foreign enemies” in order to alleviate domestic pressure and transfer various domestic difficulties. .

These theoretical summaries are all derived from the tragedies of the evolution and even deterioration of the security dilemma of great powers that have been repeated in history. The outbreak of the US-Soviet Cold War after World War II was closely related to the failure to manage the security dilemma between the United States and the Soviet Union. For example, due to differences in security culture and historical experience, both the United States and the Soviet Union after World War II had difficulty understanding the complex reasons for each other’s security policies.

In the process of this security dilemma, it is further magnified by two factors. One is to attribute the so-called “structural factors” such as ideology and even racial characteristics to the judgment of the other side’s strategic intentions. For example, Kennan’s long telegram was a typical representative of the US’s understanding of the Soviet Union at that time. Another important factor is that the domestic politics of the two countries have further exacerbated the mutual security dilemma. The nature of the U.S. political system, the checks and balances of power, and the role of interest groups have led U.S. leaders to exaggerate the dangers from abroad and increase their power at home. Similarly, the Soviet Union’s ideological interpretation of the behavior of the United States and the strong desire of the Soviet Union to control the Eastern European region made the inherent security dilemma between the United States and the Soviet Union escalated into a series of security confrontation events, which led to the full-scale outbreak of the Cold War.

Now the conflict between Russia and Ukraine has finally erupted into a confrontation, which has brought a serious impact on the security of the European region and the stability of the international order. Although there are complex historical origins and real entanglements of security interests behind it, it also reveals that Russia supports the same The failure to manage the long-standing security dilemma between the U.S. and NATO under the current Ukrainian government. Many American strategists and former high-ranking officials, including Kennan, Kissinger, and Gates, also admit that after the Cold War, NATO reneged on its commitments and continued to expand eastward, which seriously stimulated Russia’s hostility. The long-standing “zero-sum game thinking” of the United States and the West towards Russia, the deep-rooted “stereotyped enemy intentions”, and the need to serve the domestic political agenda have ultimately led to a sharp escalation of the security dilemma between the United States and the West and Russia, with catastrophic consequences. Likewise, China and the US should also draw lessons from historical and real tragedies to jointly manage the increasingly severe security dilemma between the two countries.

The “mushroom cloud” of new hybrid warfare

Another important revelation is that every effort must be made to prevent a new hybrid war between great powers from spiraling out of control. The Russian-Ukrainian conflict has not only evolved into a “proxy war” between the United States and the West and Russia, but also a 21st century war involving multiple fronts such as military warfare, intelligence warfare, financial warfare, cognitive warfare, and diplomatic warfare. New hybrid warfare. The new hybrid warfare has many similarities with traditional military conflicts, including a large number of military and civilian casualties and property losses, but the biggest difference is the unpredictable risk of war escalation (whether horizontal or vertical) further rise. This unpredictability is reflected in at least three aspects.

The first is that the economic impact of a new type of hybrid warfare will quickly extend beyond the geographic scope of traditional warfare, creating a global economic crisis. According to the research of the United Nations agency, the military conflict between Russia and Ukraine, especially the super-large-scale economic war carried out by the United States and the West against Russia, has caused severe energy, food shortages and heavy debt crises to rapidly impact the vast number of developing and emerging economies, making them face the epidemic The post-recovery difficulty and the double blow of the Russian-Ukrainian conflict. Unlike traditional military conflicts, the risk of harm to the world economy from a new type of hybrid warfare between great powers has risen sharply.

The second is that financial “weaponization” and its misuse increases the risk of escalation of traditional military conflicts. Although the U.S. and Western governments are talking about the super economic sanctions against Russia that are seriously eroding Russia’s economic operation, the damage to Russia’s economy and society and the harm to the Russian people due to the super-large-scale financial sanctions and economic blockade are often not as bloody as the war. casualties and city destruction, so the perpetrators often do not have much psychological burden, leading to financial weapon abuse and long-term trends. For the victims, is it just a tit-for-tat economic countermeasure against the opponent, or is it a comprehensive escalation of the military conflict itself to counter financial and economic warfare? If a party to the war believes that the opponent’s financial war has caused irreversible damage to its core security interests, it may significantly increase its incentive to escalate the war on a large scale to force the opponent to retreat.

Third, the shadow of nuclear war once again loomed over Europe. Don’t forget that behind the conflict between Russia and Ukraine is still the contest between the world’s two major nuclear forces. With the Biden administration sending a clear signal to “permanently weaken Russia” through the Russia-Ukraine war, the United States has significantly elevated Ukraine’s position in the U.S. global strategy. Will this reinforce an inherent notion of the Putin government that Russia’s contest with the US and the West in Ukraine is Russia’s “life and death” battle? The Russian side has also sent a signal once again that if NATO and the US and the West’s involvement in the Ukrainian war and their support for Ukraine cause a strategic price that Russia cannot afford, Russia will not hesitate to use lethal weapons to counterattack, which also means that the entire NATO will fight back. In the face of another “Cuban Missile Crisis” and the danger of a “nuclear war” caused by it.

2,500 years ago, Sun Tzu, an ancient Chinese military strategist, pointed out that soldiers are the major events of the country, the place of life and death, and the way to survive and die. No matter how many changes in the form of war, we still need to be soberly aware of its fundamental impact on the life and death of the country and the people. For Chinese and American policymakers, maintaining the stability of Sino-US relations, managing Sino-US competitive relations, and preventing out-of-control or even falling into confrontation and military conflict are major national affairs that must be kept in mind and must be observed. Especially for those in the United States who are talking about the effects of a new type of hybrid warfare, they should seriously learn lessons from the Russian-Ukrainian conflict.

Chen Dongxiao, President of the Shanghai Institute for International Studies

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