American Diplomats Scramble Dither and Yawn

March 15, 2022

U.S. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan met Chinese Diplomat Yang Jiechi Monday in a meeting that outlasted the runtime of the original Star Wars trilogy -- seven hours. On the agenda was a "substantial discussion of Russia's war against Ukraine," including China's aid to Russia. While reports of the meeting are sparse on details, one White House official said the administration has "deep concerns about China's alignment with Russia" and that "the national security advisor was direct about those concerns and the potential implications and consequences of certain actions."

Charitably assuming the Biden administration has learned hard lessons about how to negotiate since the president tried to get "tough" on Putin -- by giving him a list of key American infrastructure, for instance, or hinting a "minor incursion" into Ukraine would be okay -- there's still one major problem: China "already is helping Russia," said China expert Gordon Chang on "Washington Watch." That includes "commodity purchases -- oil, gas, wheat, coal." Additionally, "China is making its financial system available to Russian institutions that have been cut off of SWIFT," the Western-run banking system from which Russia has been sanctioned. "China's diplomats are working overtime to help Putin, and China's propaganda machine is propagating" Russia's "absurd and ludicrous notions."

While the West "cancels" Russia, China is publicly standing by its friend -- or possibly its dependency. "No matter how precarious and challenging the international situation may be," said Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, "China and Russia will maintain a strategic focus and steadily advance our comprehensive strategic partnership of coordination for a new era." Chang believes China is helping Russia "because Xi Jinping sees the United States as its enemy. He explained that Xi "is pushing the notion that China is the world's only legitimate state." Thus, "anything that goes after the United States" is "good" for his vision. "Beijing has been all in" for Russia, said Chang. "We should be treating it as a combatant because it is."

However, it's still anyone's guess whether China's strategic gamble to back Russia against the West will pay off. "Xi Jinping made an assessment that Vladimir Putin would be able to win," explained Chang. Obviously, that hasn't happened; instead, "the Ukrainian people have rallied." Additionally, "China was taken a little bit aback by the swift response after the invasion started," said Chang. "Biden, to his credit, has been able to rally our friends." On the other hand, "China has heard American [leaders] make threats and not carry through" for years. "The calculus of Beijing" could be "that Sullivan is just bloviating," Chang continued.

That may explain why China has signaled "willingness to provide military assistance to Russia" according to media reports on U.S. intelligence shared with our allies. Russia has certainly been asking China to provide military assistance like drones and rations. If China does resupply Russia's military, that will escalate China's involvement in the war, because the Russian army's poor logistics have been a lifeline for Ukraine.

But China's sights are set further than Putin's bully war. They want to finish what Mao started and conquer Taiwan, which their jets buzzed yesterday for the seventh time this year. Chang said China is closely watching world reactions to Ukraine as a test run. Based on Ukrainian resistance they may have concluded "Taiwan's people probably can make life extremely difficult for China's invading forces." But that won't necessarily stop them.

The only sure solution Chang sees is for Western financial institutions to cut off China as they did Russia. "Freeze all of their dollar accounts. The Chinese economy falls. The Communist Party goes with it." Reactive sanctions are too little, too late.