Analysis: Russia’s attack on Ukraine forces Beijing to dance diplomacy

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Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi poses for a photo before meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Rome, Italy October 31, 2021. Tiziana Fabi/Pool via REUTERS

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BEIJING, Feb 26 (Reuters) – Russia’s attack on Ukraine, which China refuses to condemn or even call an invasion, has plunged Beijing into a diplomatic scramble to limit backfire while standing alongside a partner with whom he has become increasingly close in opposition to the West.

China has repeatedly called for dialogue, with Foreign Minister Wang Yi telling senior European officials in a flurry of phone calls on Friday that China respects the sovereignty of countries, including Ukraine, but that Russia’s concerns about NATO’s eastward expansion should be properly addressed.

After a call between Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping, China said Putin was willing to engage in “high-level” dialogue with Ukraine and the Kremlin later said Putin was ready to send a delegation to Minsk for talks with representatives of Ukraine. .

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The diplomatic overture follows an invasion that some diplomats in Beijing say surprised China, which did not tell its citizens to leave Ukraine in advance and which has repeatedly accused the United States of America. United to exaggerate the threat of a Russian attack.

This week Beijing, which bristles at criticism of its stance on Ukraine, did not directly comment on whether Putin had told China he planned to invade, saying Russia as a independent power did not need China’s consent.

China’s foreign policy is based on non-interference in other countries’ affairs, and it has yet to recognize Russia’s claim to the Crimean region of Ukraine after its 2014 invasion.

“Their first reaction to deny there was an invasion surprised us,” said a Western diplomat in Beijing who declined to be identified, given the sensitivity of the issue.

“It’s a complete contradiction to their long-standing positions on sovereignty, territorial integrity, non-interference.”

IN THE MELEE

Three weeks ago, Putin met Xi hours before the start of the Winter Olympics in Beijing and they signed a far-reaching strategic partnership aimed at countering American influence and said they would not ” no “prohibited” areas of cooperation.

The attack on Ukraine, which counts China as its biggest trading partner with bilateral trade totaling $19 billion and with which it had cordial diplomatic relations, came days after the Olympics ended.

“I feel like their initial instinct was to follow Crimea’s 2014 post-annexation playbook, which worked pretty well for them, where they managed to stay out of the fray and blend in a bit in the back,” said Helena Legarda, senior analyst at the Mercator Institute for China Studies, Germany.

Legarda said there was more geopolitical competition now than in 2014 and more scrutiny from China.

“People are watching a lot more carefully, and that ‘We’re not going to take sides, and we’re going to move into the background,’ is no longer a viable option,” she said.

EUROPEAN LINKS TEST

Beijing’s relations with the United States have deteriorated for years and its diplomatic support for Russia could accelerate the decline of ties with Western Europe, China’s biggest export market, according to some analysts, although others believe that China has retained some leeway.

“We understand Russia, but we also have our own consideration,” said Yang Cheng, a professor at Shanghai International Studies University, one of those who expressed surprise at the Russian attack.

“But that wouldn’t be the case if our relations with the West weren’t affected at all.”

Late Friday in New York, China abstained in a vote on a draft UN Security Council resolution that would have deplored Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine.

The abstention, seen as a victory by Western countries, was achieved after a two-hour delay for last-minute negotiations between the United States and others to secure China’s abstention, diplomats said . Read more

Just last month, Xi celebrated 30 years of relations with Ukraine, hailing “the deepening of political mutual trust” between them. Ukraine is a hub of the Belt and Road Initiative, a sprawling infrastructure and diplomatic enterprise that brings China closer to Europe.

The Ukraine crisis is creating uncertainty for China in a year in which it yearns for stability, with Xi set to secure an unprecedented third term in the fall.

“It’s a very unfavorable situation in which an unprepared China has been dragged into by Russia,” said Beijing-based independent political analyst Wu Qiang.

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Reporting by Martin Quin Pollard and Yew Lun Tian; Editing by Tony Munroe and Clarence Fernandez

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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