Will China "do a Putin"?
China to West: Don’t You Dare Sanction Russia

In an interview with Reuters, China’s ambassador to Germany offered a stark warning to the West as it seeks to sanction top Russian officials over the Ukraine invasion. “We don’t see any point in sanctions,” said Ambassador Shi Mingde. “Sanctions could lead to retaliatory action, and that would trigger a spiral with unforeseeable consequences. We don’t want this.”

No doubt few countries are watching the Ukraine crisis as closely as China. Both Russia and China share an interest in limiting the West’s ability to interfere in certain sensitive areas. As Beijing continues building a formidable navy and coast guard, and flexing its muscles in the South and East China Seas, policy-makers are paying close attention to how much provocation the West is willing to endure. As Gideon Rachman, the FT‘s foreign affairs guru, wrote this week, “If President Vladimir Putin gets away with it then other governments, such as China and Iran, may decide defying America is getting less risky.”

The question of how the US, which has defense pacts with Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan, will react to increased and ongoing Chinese belligerence in Asia is one of the most important geopolitical questions of the moment, and one of the top reasons to pay attention to what’s happening in Ukraine. In this age of deep economic links between countries that rival each other for political and strategic power—like China and the US—sanctions can inflict pain on the sanctioner almost as much as on the target country. Rachman writes: “In theory, the US could restrict the imports of Chinese goods – or even, in extremis, use the US navy to block China’s energy imports. But, like the Russians, the Chinese would have plenty of economic weapons with which to retaliate, from the disruption of the supply chains of American corporations to a refusal to buy US Treasury bills.”

Ultimately, Rachman concludes, “Even if the Ukraine crisis makes the west look temporarily weak, the long-run trends are still much more favourable to the US and the EU than to Russia.” With China however, which is playing this game with a much stronger hand than Russia’s, that conclusion is far from certain.

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  • Ghosts of Benghazi

    Not to worry, Barry Soreto and his merry band of kool-aid drinkers (aka his administration) have it covered and will solve it all. Have faith in our self appointed dictators!

  • dfooter

    Chinese leaders have far more to lose, but of course (as with Putin) this presumes they view their own interests in the same way as we do. And their overriding interest (like Putin), is to stay in power, so we may not be able to understand their calculations about what is their interest, and whether cooperation or confrontation with the West is more helpful.

  • Atanu Maulik

    The Chinese are in no less difficult position than Russia. The Chinese are surrounded by other great powers who have no intention of becoming a Chinese poodle and it is orders of magnitude more difficult to invade and hold territory by the sea route. Unlike Russia marching into adjacent Crimea, it is not possible for China to march into islands in the Pacific and South China seas.

    • dfooter

      Not possible if the US Navy opposes them, quite possible if it doesn’t. And with Obama, God knows if he has the will to confront China, after kowtowing to the Syrians, Iranians and Russians, powers far weaker and with far less leverage over the US than China (as pointed out above).

      • Fred

        But can you really see President Gelding using the (yuk!) military, especially in something as tacky as the national interest? I certainly can’t.

        • dfooter

          As I former law student, I recognize his worldview as being completely consistent with that of a professional law professor. He has a theory of how the world should work, and applies it as if the world does work that way. When the outcome isn’t what he expects, then the fault is with the world for not conforming to his pristine theory. Surgical assassination with drones against people who can’t respond fits, using the professional military soils his vision (and thus in his view is not in the nation’s interest). I do not see Obama, Kerry or Hagel as have the stomach to confront. Churchillian they are not, rather they are Baldwinian-Chamberlainian-Daladierian appeasers. And Putin’s correct historical analogy is Mussolini, a weak strutter. But the Chinese are watching, and they are not weak.

        • Jim__L

          Of course not! The military is a vehicle for social engineering, nothing else. What good are studies on combat effectiveness and unit cohesion, when Leftist principles are on the line? They don’t even belong in the courtroom!

          It’s really revolting to watch this president in action.

    • El Gringo

      They wouldn’t necessarily have to. Just preposition some special forces beforehand and seize some key areas. With the huge Chinese diaspora spread throughout the Pacific, taking a page out of Putin’s book would be easy. They might not be able to pull it off with a sophisticated country like Singapore but there are plenty of easy opportunities throughout the Pacific.

      • Atanu Maulik

        Frankly I don’t see too many easy takeover opportunities for China. Even if one assumes US inaction. Will Taiwan be easy or Japan ? Nopes. It just takes a million dollar missile to sink a billion dollar ship. Island nations have inherent advantages when it comes to defense. Just ask Britain.

        • El Gringo

          I agree with that point but you are talking about a classic invasion vs. an insidious “uprising” a la Russia and the Crimea. It is unlikely to happen in Taiwan or Singapore but somewhere else is certainly possible. For example, 1/3 of the Malaysian state of Johor is ethnic Chinese. China could pull the same act Putin did: foment civil and racial unrest and then begin to preposition unmarked forces in the area. Once violence has come to a head, seize what territory you can in the name of “protecting” the diaspora. Rinse and repeat.

  • lukelea

    The West (EU, Washington) were foolish to let the situation in the Ukraine to develop the way it has. There was an utter lack of realism in supposing that Russia would allow the Crimea to drift into the Western orbit in the first place. And how do we defend a coup in the name of democracy, which is based on following procedure to change governments, not on rushing the barricades. It looks like amateur hour in the White House to me and I am frankly surprised that WRM has not commented more decisively than he has so far on this issue of American foreign policy.

    As for China, it would be a mistake to shape our response to the situation in the Ukraine on what we think the Chinese might think this shows about our resolve, etc., etc.. Reminds me of our justification for going into Vietnam: US credibility and “prestige” were on the line, as if the war itself did not damage our credibility and prestige far more than a rational calculation of the costs and benefits of waging that particular war. You could say similar things about our so-called “war on terror” in Iraq and Afghanistan. I guess the policy making community in Washington is more concerned about being accepted by their friends and colleagues in terms of the conventional wisdom — whatever that happens to be — than about actually thinking about these things. It’s just human nature, alas.

    • Jim__L

      Are you certain our efforts in Vietnam didn’t help deter Russia from making moves on Europe, leading to a victorious end to the Cold War? I’m not. Far from it.

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