From the beginning of the global economic war against Vladimir Putin and Russia, China has seemingly tried to sit on the fence, sometimes speaking up for Putin while participating in some sanctions (or at least supporting them) at other times. This strategy has obviously been enacted in the hopes of not getting hit with crippling sanctions themselves while still maintaining their lucrative trade agreements with Russia. This week that pattern seemed to continue when China’s Foreign Minister hosted Sergei Lavrov, Russia’s Foreign Minister, for talks in Anhui Province. The talks were supposed to be focused on future relations with Afghanistan and the Taliban, but the Chinese Foreign Minister emerged to condemn the ongoing sanctions against Russia, describing them as “illegal and counterproductive.” (Reuters)
Foreign ministers from Russia and China on Wednesday condemned what they called illegal and counter productive Western sanctions imposed on Moscow over its action in Ukraine, the Russian foreign ministry said in a statement.
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi held talks with his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, in the eastern Chinese province of Anhui, where China was set to host two days of meetings on Afghanistan.
The meeting comes a little over a month after Russia sent tens of thousands of troops into Ukraine in what Russia calls a special operation, triggering unprecedented Western sanctions.
One of Lavrov’s comments was particularly noteworthy. He pointedly described the sanctions as having been enacted by “the United States and its satellites.” This is straight from the typical Russian playbook, attempting to drive a wedge between America and the rest of NATO by insulting the European countries and treating them as American chess pieces on the global board.
It’s a rather spurious accusation, particularly when you consider that several European nations got out ahead of Joe Biden in everything from personal sanctions to cutting off the flow of Russian oil and closing their airspace to Russian planes. In fact, as we’ve noted here before, Joe Biden has been “leading from behind” a lot more than he’s actually taken the lead. But clearly, the Russians are desperate to break up the forces currently aligned against them.
As for China, as long as all they are doing is issuing supportive statements, they can likely get away with it. Everyone is nervous about fully opening another front against the Chinese in the ongoing economic war because of the huge disruptions to global markets and commerce that would ensue. That’s part of the price we’re paying for allowing China to lock up control of the global supply chain for decades.
But at the same time, China also doesn’t want to lose all of its trade deals with the west, either. If they were left with no trading partners other than Russia, North Korea, Iran, and a few others, they would likely become as economically diminished as Russia will probably be by the end of the year, if not sooner.
Despite all of the supportive talk about how closely the two nations are aligned, a Chinese foreign ministry spokesman appeared to try to walk back those announcements almost immediately. He told reporters, “China-Russia relations are non-aligned, non-confrontational and not targeted at any third party.” The shorter translation of that would be to say, ‘yes, we are good friends with Russia. But we’re not going to violate the sanctions so don’t get any ideas.’
As I said, a few supportive statements won’t bring the ban hammer down on China and they clearly know this. So they can afford to play footsie with Putin for a while longer and try to stay on the sideline until they have a clearer picture of how this is all going to play out.