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Beijing's Balancing Act
Treading Carefully, China Opposes Sanctions on Russia

China faced a difficult choice in response to the Ukraine crisis. Should it support its ally, Russia, even though Moscow interfered in the affairs of a sovereign nation, something China has often decried? But could it back the freedom-loving, pro-European protestors on the Maidan?

It isn’t surprising that China has proceeded with caution, first by abstaining from the U.N. Security Council’s vote on Crimea. However, Putin still thanked Beijing for the abstention, saying, “We are grateful to the people of China, whose leaders have always, when considering the situation in Ukraine and Crimea, taken into account the full historical and political context.”

As the West prepared its response, China voiced its opposition to sanctions while urging all sides to play nice. Beijing’s ambassador to Germany warned against “unforeseeable consequences,” and said, “we don’t see any point in sanctions.” Today, China’s foreign ministry underlined the government’s position: “We believe that sanctions are not conducive to an issue’s resolution, and may worsen tensions,” said a spokesman. He added, “Sanctions are not in any party’s interests.”

While treading carefully, China is keeping an eye on its long-term interests. Beijing may one day seek to annex islands in the South and East China Seas (perhaps asserting that the islands have “always been part of” China, as Putin said of Ukraine). The Chinese government will be watching the ongoing crisis closely, as a preview of how the West is likely to respond should China make its move.

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  • Anthony

    Isn’t China the 2nd largest consumer of Russian oil if not the largest? And aren’t there agreements to develop offshore oil exploration between the countries? Also, doesn’t Gazprom export billions of cubic meters of gas to China? Treading carefully may be impelled by convergence of interests as well Russian/Chinese counter to West (U.S.).

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