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EXCERPT: The Winner of the U.S.-Russia Conflict in Ukraine: ChinaPosted: 04/17/2014 4:20 pm EDT Updated: 04/17/2014 4:59 pm EDT
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Artyom Lukin, Deputy Director for Research at the School of Regional and International Studies, Far Eastern Federal University (Vladivostok, Russia).
VLADIVOSTOK -- There is one international player that stands to gain from the recent turn of events in Ukraine, regardless of its outcome. This player apparently has nothing to do with the crisis, which has engulfed Russia, the EU and the United States, and makes a point of staying on the sidelines. The country in question, of course, is China.
The leadership in Beijing must be secretly delighted watching the struggle between Russia and the West. The Ukraine mess can seriously poison Moscow's relations with Washington and Brussels for a long time to come, thus reducing their mutual ability to coordinate policies on the major issues in world politics. One such issue, perhaps the most important, concerns geopolitical risks associated with China's rise and its impact on the global economic and military balance.
Up to the present, Russia has pursued a relatively balanced and circumspect policy toward its giant Asian neighbor. Although the Chinese side recently has signaled that it would welcome closer strategic ties with Russia, even a security alliance perhaps, Moscow so far has been reluctant to transform their current "strategic partnership" into a full-blown geopolitical entente. In particular, Russia has not been ready to back Beijing's assertive stance on the various territorial disputes in East Asia.
Political and economic sanctions, now threatened against Russia by the West, will inevitably push Moscow toward Beijing, increasing the likelihood that the sides will align their policies toward the West. This, in turn, will reinforce the Middle Kingdom's strategic positions in Asia. Having acquired Russia as a safe strategic rear area, as well as privileged access to its vast energy and minerals base and advanced military technologies, China would feel far more confident in its rivalry with the United States for primacy in the Asia-Pacific. For one, just watch Putin's visit to China in May. The Ukraine events are likely to finally clinch a Russia-China gas pipeline deal long delayed by haggling over the fuel price. Western sanctions will certainly make Moscow more compliant with Beijing, landing China a bargain which will provide it with a stream of cheap Siberian gas.
China's response to the recent developments around Ukraine is telling. Ever since the crisis began to develop last fall, the Chinese media have tended to blame the Western meddling for what was happening there. After Russia took over Crimea and declared its readiness to use military force, the PRC's Foreign Ministry blandly urged "the relevant parties in Ukraine to resolve their internal disputes peacefully within the legal framework so as to safeguard the lawful rights and interests of all ethnic communities in Ukraine." Discussing the crisis with Putin, China's President Xi Jinping remarked, somewhat enigmatically, that "the situation in Ukraine, which seems to be accidental, has the elements of the inevitable." So far there has been no sign whatsoever of Beijing's condemnation of the Kremlin's moves in Crimea and the rest of Ukraine.
China's official press commentary is sympathetic with Moscow, stressing that Putin's determination to protect the interests of Russia and Russian-speaking citizens is "quite understandable." Many of China's netizens blogging on the websites like Weibo have displayed admiration for Putin's defiance of the West.
Beijing's abstention at the U.N. Security Council vote on Crimea can hardly be interpreted as opposition to Russia. In fact, Beijing has made it quite clear that it disapproves of using the U.N. stage to pressure Russia, with China's foreign ministry commenting that the Security Council's vote on the draft resolution prepared by the United States "will only lead to confrontation among all parties, which will further complicate the situation. (READ MORE ............)