With apologies to Charles Dickens, allow me to present A Tale of Two Chinas. It was the best of Beijings, via CNN:
China is extending an olive branch to the United States in a bid to prevent Chinese firms from being kicked off the US stock market.
The China Securities Regulatory Commission, the country’s top securities watchdog, has proposed changing a decade-old rule that forbids Chinese firms from sharing sensitive data and financial information with overseas regulators.
The amendment might allow US regulators to inspect audit reports of Chinese companies listed in New York. That could end a dispute between the two countries that threatened more than 200 Chinese firms with possible expulsion from the New York Stock Exchange or Nasdaq.
In the new draft rule published Saturday, the regulator struck out a requirement that examination of the financial documents of overseas-listed Chinese firms must be “mainly conducted by Chinese regulatory agencies.”
And it was the worst of Beijings, via the New York Times:
While Russian troops have battered Ukraine, officials in China have been meeting behind closed doors to study a Communist Party-produced documentary that extols President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia as a hero.
The humiliating collapse of the Soviet Union, the video says, was the result of efforts by the United States to destroy its legitimacy. With swelling music and sunny scenes of present-day Moscow, the documentary praises Mr. Putin for restoring Stalin’s standing as a great wartime leader and for renewing patriotic pride in Russia’s past.
To the world, China casts itself as a principled onlooker of the war in Ukraine, not picking sides, simply seeking peace. At home, though, the Chinese Communist Party is pushing a campaign that paints Russia as a long-suffering victim rather than an aggressor and defends China’s strong ties with Moscow as vital.
Chinese universities have organized classes to give students a “correct understanding” of the war, often highlighting Russia’s grievances with the West. Party newspapers have run series of commentaries blaming the United States for the conflict.
Of course, these are at one level two different issues. However, Xi Jinping has been careful to walk a line on Ukraine (outside of domestic messaging) to protect China’s access to western markets, especially in the US. Not only does China need the sales to keep its economy afloat, it needs access to technology and innovation that China largely cannot generate on its own, at least not in its current structure. After watching the West’s furious and surprisingly united reaction in locking Russia mostly (but not entirely) out of its economies, Xi appears to have recalculated his embrace of Putin … at least to the global audience.
Domestically, however, Xi clearly wants to expand his anti-Western and anti-democratic paranoia with an embrace of Putin. One might think that the recent revelations of genocidal crimes in Ukraine could change that calculus, especially now that Russian state media has begun baldly proclaiming Putin’s genocide as official policy. Of course, genocide is also the state policy of China regarding the Uyghurs, but that’s an internal population, and Xi has already publicly defended Ukraine’s sovereignty. If more of these videos and photographs of war crimes come to light, Xi might have to make that distinction a little more explicit.
The next question will not be asked of Beijing but of the Western capitals. If the West starts ramping up sanctions on Russia, especially on expanding the SWIFT system lockout to a total block, then China runs the risk of getting locked out of the West if it keeps doing business with Putin. Xi apparently wants to offer concessions on previously standing issues to relieve pressure related to sanctions on Russia and China’s trade with it. China cannot afford to lose economic engagement with the West, but the more Putin’s genocidal/annihilationist policies become explicit, the less room China will get to play both sides against the middle.
They’ll play it that way until they’re forced to do otherwise, though. On that we can all bet.