Will the Ukraine War Ease US-China Tensions?
The restoration of a peaceful and constructive Sino-American relationship must happen gradually, supported by the steady rebuilding of trust. But developments in recent weeks suggest that the Ukraine war may mark a turning point for bilateral relations, at least in the economic domain.
BEIJING – The Ukraine war has put China in a bind. As a friend of both Russia and Ukraine, China has no desire to pick a side. On the contrary, conventional Chinese wisdom dictates that, when two friends fight each other, the primary objective must be to end the conflict through mediation. While China’s balanced stance has aroused more than a little suspicion, it could end up hastening the end of the war – and easing tensions with the United States.
When the war began, Western observers highlighted China’s seemingly pro-Kremlin stance, reflected in Chinese officials’ refusal to use the word “invasion” to describe Russia’s aggression in Ukraine, their accusation that NATO’s actions pushed Russia-Ukraine tensions to the “breaking point,” and their criticism of Western sanctions. But Westerners paid less attention to China’s repeated calls for all countries to respect one another’s sovereignty and territorial integrity – a clear, if indirect, reproach of Russia – and provision of humanitarian aid to Ukraine.
In fact, the West seemed eager to assume that China – which forged a cooperation agreement with Russia just three weeks before the invasion – was on Russia’s side. On March 13, the day before meeting his Chinese counterpart, US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan warned that China would “absolutely” face consequences if it provided military assistance to Russia or helped the country to evade Western sanctions.