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Between the Eagle and the Panda: The Case of Ukraine

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Photo: There are two extremely powerful world leaders who can influence many political processes. Source: Collage The Gaze.
Photo: There are two extremely powerful world leaders who can influence many political processes. Source: Collage The Gaze.

Today, there are two extremely powerful world leaders who can influence many political processes. That is why negotiations between these leaders are very important, especially as conflicts in different regions of the world grow and deepen. After all, the allies of the United States and the states supported by China through the so-called free economic processes are actually at war with each other.

Therefore, it is important to understand whether the parties have a consensus on Ukraine, whether these two superpowers have managed to bring their positions closer together over the past year. And the biggest question is whether China will really influence a change in the aggressive policy of the Russian Federation, and whether China supports, for example, a potential escalation amid the threat of a North Korean attack on South Korea. On the eve of a possible meeting between US President Joe Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping in San Francisco (USA) in November, let's try to find out where both sides can start a dialogue on Ukraine.

Stability in Relations Between Ukraine and the United States Is the Key to a Lasting Partnership

The US support for Ukraine has been and remains stable. This foreign policy direction in the work of the US State Department has been unchanged for years. As Secretary of State Antony Blinken noted in his speech "Russia's Strategic Failure and Ukraine's Secure Future" during his visit to Helsinki, Finland, in June 2023, the United States, together with its allies and partners, used all public forums to try to prevent war, from the NATO-Russia Council to the OSCE, from the UN to direct US-Russia channels. 

"President Biden has made it clear that no matter which path President Putin chooses, we will be ready," Blinken recalled, noting that even before a full-scale invasion, Putin was made clear: "If Russia chooses war, we will do three things: support Ukraine, impose serious sanctions on Russia, and strengthen NATO by rallying our allies and partners around these goals."

The promised support was not long in coming. In August 2021, the United States began providing military equipment to strengthen Ukraine's defense, including Javelin anti-tank systems and Stinger anti-aircraft systems. The US Cyber Command team was also deployed to help Ukraine strengthen the ability of its power grid and other critical infrastructure to withstand cyberattacks from Russia.

In the weeks following Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine, the United States doubled the number of ships patrolling the North and Baltic Seas, doubled the number of battlegroups in the region, and decided to establish a permanent military presence in Poland. At the NATO summit in Vilnius, the United States clearly outlined its position on Ukraine's future membership in NATO and helped speed up this process by eliminating the requirement for Ukraine to fulfill the MAP. With the diplomatic assistance of the United States, the EU and its member states have provided Ukraine with more than $75 billion in military, economic, and humanitarian support. 

For its part, since Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine, the United States has allocated more than $43.7 billion in defense support for Ukraine under both presidential authority and the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative.

In September of this year, US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin called Ukraine's newly appointed Defense Minister Rustem Umerov to discuss Umerov's new role and continued US support as Ukraine continues to fight Russia's illegal invasion. One of the topics of the talks was the agenda for the future work of the Contact Group on Ukraine's Defense, better known as the Ramstein format.

The continuing support of Ukraine by the United States goes back to the days of the collapse of the Soviet Union and the risks that the American establishment saw even then due to the possible threat of cooperation between Russia, China, and Iran. For example, almost 30 years ago, Zbigniew Brzezinski warned in his book The Grand Chessboard about the great danger of a possible geopolitical rapprochement between Russia, China, and Iran, which, in his opinion, could form an anti-American coalition. And future negotiations between the United States and China will necessarily take into account this risk, which has become as realistic as possible in thirty years. And this geopolitical rapprochement between the three countries has accelerated due to Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

For China, Supporting Russia Is a New $1 Trillion Silk Road to Nowhere

Almost a decade ago, Chinese leader Xi Jinping announced the launch of the largest and most expensive logistics and cultural project, the new Silk Road. The implementation of this project was supposed to bring China to the position of a world leader that not only has a powerful economy and significant military potential, but also determines the rules of the game in the world on a par with the United States and the EU. 

The New Silk Road has already cost China more than $1 trillion, which was spent on building roads, bridges, and related engineering infrastructure in the poor countries that joined the project. But a step before the project was launched, Russia's full-scale war against Ukraine began, and because of the aggressor's support for the collective West, the new Silk Road became a road to nowhere. 

Out of the 27 EU leaders, only Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban (Putin's main ally in Europe) came to Beijing for the anniversary summit of the One Belt, One Road, held in October 2023. And before the summit, Italy, the only G7 representative in the project, pulled out of the new Silk Road.

At the same time, according to experts at the Royal United Service Institute (RUSI), despite China's official non-alignment policy, Western aid and support for Taiwan, economic competition, including US restrictions on semiconductors, and the formation of "blocs" perceived as hostile to Beijing in the Asia-Pacific region will test the strength of this non-alignment. In this sense, the invasion of Ukraine has only accelerated the deepening of ties, forcing China to choose a "side" between Russia and the West in favor of Russia. 

However, the duration of this position is questionable. Despite the fact that trade between Russia and China has reached a record high over the past two years, reaching $190 billion in 2022 (an increase of 30% compared to 2021, according to the General Administration of Customs of China), and in the first nine months of 2023, reaching $176.4 billion (+29.5% compared to the same period last year, and by the end of 2023, it is projected to reach $200 billion), this growth does not compensate for the losses from the decline in foreign trade with the US and the EU.

Thus, in the first three quarters of 2023, China's trade with the United States decreased by 14% year-on-year to $495.9 billion. As for the EU, while in 2022 the trade turnover between China and the EU reached $847.3 billion, in the first half of 2023 there was a decrease of more than 5% (trade turnover amounted to $399.172 billion). In general, China's total trade with the EU and the US is 8 times higher than its trade with Russia. 

And now, due to Russia's support, it may decline. This is not just "unpleasant," but jeopardizes China's plans to set the rules of the game in the global market and maintain the country's high technological level. The key to the large volume of Chinese exports to the EU and the US was the transfer of a large number of high-tech industries to China, where both labor and the cost of raw materials for factories are cheaper. 

Now, Europe and America are gradually trying to bring production back to their countries in order to solve social problems and increase security by reducing dependence on Chinese goods and components (primarily in the military-industrial complex). Even a possible "return" of Taiwan by force would not compensate for the possible losses from this. And the resource capabilities of the Russian Federation, which China is currently using, will become unnecessary due to the loss of the EU and US markets. 

Obviously, realizing the complexity of resolving these issues, it is Chinese leader Xi Jinping who plans to arrive in the United States in San Francisco. This demonstrates China's great interest in the negotiation process, as otherwise the meeting would have been organized on neutral territory. Accordingly, this is quite positive news for Ukraine, which will definitely be part of the talks between the US President and the Chinese leader.

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