18 Mar 2022

Russia's invasion of Ukraine: Experts doubt China will take sides in conflict

7:04 am on 18 March 2022

Experts doubt China will help Russia in its invasion of Ukraine, saying the global superpower has too much to lose and very little to gain.

Firefighters are seen at the site after airstrikes hit civil settlements as Russian attacks continue on Ukraine in Dnipro, Ukraine on March 11, 2022.

Firefighters are seen at the site after airstrikes hit civil settlements as Russian attacks continue on in Dnipro, Ukraine on 11 March. Photo: State Emergency Service of Ukraine / Anadolu Agency via AFP

But they say it could be catastrophic for the global economy if Beijing does back the war.

Russia's invasion of Ukraine has been condemned globally, with countries imposing tough sanctions on Putin and his regime. Countries like China and India have not joined in.

Top China researcher Jason Young said China did not have a clear position on the war.

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Researcher Jason Young. Photo: VUW

"It hasn't really condemned Russian action... China obviously abstained in the vote in the [United Nations] Security Council and has actively criticised the sanctions that have been put in place by a number of countries around the world.

"Within China, we also see that there is this strong campaign in the media to present the crisis roughly along some of the similar lines that you see being presented within Russia. But at the same time, the foreign minister, Wang Yi, presents China's position as one that supports the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Ukraine, as well as acknowledging what they describe as Russia's security concerns."

Recent reports from the United States suggest Russia has asked Beijing for military equipment and economic support.

Chinese officials have quickly rejected the claims, calling them malicious disinformation.

International Business Forum executive director Stephen Jacobi said it was unlikely China would want to help when such a move could cause massive disruption to world trade.

"China doesn't have an agenda to bring the West to its knees, it might want to influence the way the West develops, but it has a lot at stake and an orderly global economy so it seems to me that China has a lot to lose and very little to gain."

National Party MP Gerry Brownlee

National Party Foreign Affairs spokesperson Gerry Brownlee says it doesn't do New Zealand well to dwell on speculations of whether China would help Russia in its invasion. Photo: RNZ / Dom Thomas

National Party Foreign Affairs spokesperson Gerry Brownlee said the unconfirmed reports should not worry New Zealand.

"There's a lot of speculation ... and I think it actually doesn't do the New Zealand-China relationship much good by speculating on something like that. In the end, I'd be very surprised if they did take those sort of actions."

The US has already warned China it will face the consequences if it does act.

Meanwhile, New Zealand's new Russia Sanctions law allows it to penalise countries actively supporting the invasion.

Deputy Prime Minister Grant Robertson was asked if he would rule out sanctioning China - New Zealand's biggest trading partner.

"We want the global community to remain unified in our condemnation of the illegal invasion of Ukraine and we want to make sure that we're doing all we can to come to a peaceful resolution. New Zealand will deal with the situations that are in front of us, at the moment we haven't had to consider that matter."

Any possible Chinese involvement in the invasion would not just be a problem for New Zealand, Jacobi said.

Executive Director of NZ China Council, Stephen Jacobi

International Business Forum's Stephen Jacobi. Photo: supplied

"It would be a catastrophe for the global economy if Western nations were led to sanction China in some way. The fallout would be considerably felt all around the world."

Victoria University of Wellington professor of international relations David Capie suspected the US was just sending a strong message to China.

"The US and others are really sending a signal to China to say 'Hey, stay out of this. There'll be significant costs that could come your way if you lean too heavily towards Russia'."

Jason Young said he would be worried - and surprised - if Beijing chose to back the invasion.

"I would imagine that China's position will be one where it maintains its relationship with Russia, which it sees as strategically significant, perhaps at some point steps in and tries to to be part of calls for dialogue and for mediation."

China has already signalled a willingness to act as a mediator - but whether that eventuates is yet to be seen.

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