China’s place in the war in Ukraine
Ian Bremmer's Quick Take: Hi, everybody. Ian Bremmer here, from New Orleans of all things. I have a little bit of work down here and I thought I would bring you an opening to the week, our Quick Take.
So much going on with the war. I haven't talked much yet about China and its relations to what's going on in Ukraine, but it is coming a bigger and a bigger deal because at the end of the day, no matter what happens on the ground in Ukraine, the relationship economically between Russia and the West is broken. It is not coming back as long as Putin is there. The Europeans are going to spend more on defense. Structurally, they will end their energy dependence and much of their trade with Russia. That is, I mean even if you were to have a peace settlement and the Russians all leave Ukraine, which is not about to happen, you would still break that relationship.
But China's a different story, and if there were a knock-on impact that created a decoupling between China and the United States, China and Europe, that would be a massive, truly tectonic change in the way we think about the global order. That's much more than a Cold War. That's a bifurcation of the global economy. It's an end of globalization if it really happens. I don't think we are on track for that, but I recognize that it's a danger, and in part that's really come out over the last 24 hours to the greatest degree. Of course, Xi Jinping welcoming Putin to Beijing before this invasion starts, clearly knows that the Russians are going to attack, but also would've been told, as Putin believed to himself at the time, that it's going to go well, they're going to be welcomed, it's going to be short. The Europeans, the Americans aren't going to be able to respond effectively, and so Xi is on board for that.
Now of course, life is a lot worse and the Chinese publicly saying they are friends with Ukraine and Russia, saying they want to facilitate, act as a mediator on the ground, all sounds good, except the reality of Chinese engagement is overwhelmingly on the Russian side. The Chinese military, state media, as well as social media dominated by pro-Russia commentary. Over the weekend, the most important trending issue on Chinese social media was bio military labs in Ukraine supported by the United States, complete disinformation that's been promoted by Russia. Chinese media actually has embedded journalists with Russian military on the ground in Ukraine. It's like CNN during the Iraq war. It's very patriotic, but very aligned with one side, and that of course is making a lot of people in NATO feel like the Chinese may be prepared to help the Russians evade sanctions and deal with the isolation that they're facing from the West.
Now so far, the Chinese have not done that. But they have been approached by the Russians for economic support and military support, and the most interesting point here is that that big story over the weekend was actually leaked by the White House. In other words, the day before, you have the most important bilateral meeting between the Americans and the Chinese since the war started, between Yang Jiechi and Jake Sullivan. Iin Rome today, you have the White House saying the Russians have been asking the Chinese for military support. You better not give it to them because if you do, we are going to punish you hard. That obviously was meant to put the Chinese on notice, and certainly the Chinese government would not be happy with that going out publicly the day before that meeting. It would embarrass them. It makes it pretty clear to me that the meeting's not going to go well, but that doesn't mean Xi Jinping won't pay attention. It's just not going to happen today.
So, I mean, I suspect that Yang is going to be in note-taking mode, in message passing mode, and then we'll see in short order whether or not the Chinese government takes it seriously or not. Look, on the one hand, the Chinese government has serious problems. They are dealing with slowing growth, knock-on big challenges from zero-COVID, port of Shenzhen, second largest in China, completely shut down for one week right now. You've got record levels of case numbers in the last two years in Jilin, in Shanghai, just the zero-COVID policy of Xi Jinping does not work. There's virtually no one in China that's gotten COVID, so you don't have natural immunity and antibodies and they don't have enough treatment, and they certainly don't have vaccines that in any way work. So what that means is they're going to be dealing with a lot more shutdowns, a lot more challenges economically, supply chain, over the course of this year, and Xi Jinping going for his third term at the end of the year.
In the middle of that, there's no way you want to be painted in a corner with the Russians as Putin is increasingly seen as a pariah from the perspective of the entire G7, all of the advanced industrial democracies. On the other hand, Xi Jinping has made that bet publicly. His people are not going to undermine him unless he changes his mind, and he does believe that the Americans and others are trying to contain China in Asia the same way that the Americans and others have tried to contain Russia in Europe, and they're not happy about that. So I do think there's danger here, even though my baseline is not that we end up in a Cold War with the Chinese and Russians together. I recognize that the relationship is likely to get worse, especially if, and as, we see more fighting on the ground in Ukraine, as I expect, more refugees, trending towards 3 million in Europe, Ukrainians as of today, as I expect, and as Putin is intransigent around what he demands from the Ukrainians and from the West.
So that's a little bit on where we are right now in China. We'll be watching this news coming up the next few hours. I hope everyone's doing well, and I'm getting back to New York. Be good.
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