China finds itself in an unenviable position because of its decision to abstain, and not reject, from the UN Security Council resolution condemning Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Thousands of its students are stuck in the European country unable to return home, while Chinese traders are beginning to feel the pinch of the invasion. The Chinese government, however, is on a spree to clarify to both Russia and the European Union why it voted the way it did.
Foreign Minister Wang Yi spoke with his counterparts in the UK, EU, France and Germany, trying to convince them that “China supports and encourages all diplomatic efforts conducive to a peaceful settlement of the Ukraine crisis” and “China welcomes the earliest possible direct dialogue and negotiation between Russia and Ukraine”
China is eagerly awaiting the outcome of any talks between Ukraine and Russia. It is worried that its abstention will come back to haunt it in case Russia takes a hardline approach in talks with Ukraine. Russian President Vladimir Putin increased China’s jitters by conveying to Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett Ukraine’s leaders have shown “inconsistency” on the matter.
The calculation of the Chinese government is that Russia is not forcefully attacking Ukraine as yet because it does not want the conflict to drag along as that would give it the chance to change strategy mid-way depending on how the situation develops. To the chagrin of both Russia and China, the Ukrainian forces, far from being weak as suspected, are putting up a brave fight. This has encouraged the West to begin to supply arms to Ukraine.
Pro-China Global Times reports about the Ukrainian counter: “This is actually bad for negotiations, as the longer the conflict continues, the more casualties there will be, and the West wants to maximize the losses for both Russia and Ukraine rather than minimize the damage, said Chinese experts. China’s stance of neutrality is important because if there is one country that can one day effectively mediate the conflict, that country should be one with real neutrality and which respects Ukraine’s sovereignty and also did not follow the West in sanctioning Russia and harming the livelihood of Russian people.”
The state organ explains what China’s interpretation of real neutrality is. It is double-edged. On the one hand, China wants “sovereignty and territorial integrity of all countries should be respected and protected”. On the other, it also says: “The legitimate security concerns of all countries should be respected. Given NATO’s five consecutive rounds of eastward expansion, Russia’s legitimate security demands ought to be taken seriously and properly addressed.” IN practice, what China wants is that “western voices should not be allowed to dominate the voice of the international community over the Ukraine situation, as Western powers, especially the US and NATO, have actually been the key forces in instigating the crisis and contradiction between Russia and Ukraine”. China therefore means to say that the West is deliberately taking sides unlike China. That is real neutrality.
Meanwhile, China’s abstention stand has left it with not enough influence that it can help evacuate the thousands of Chinese students in Ukraine. It continues to refuse to condemn Russia for invasion and perhaps that is the reason it is not finding any cooperation from Ukrainian authorities.
China had to keep on hold a plan for charter flights to evacuate its citizens out of Ukraine after heavy fighting broke out and the air space was closed. Chinese ambassador in Kyiv says evacuees must wait until it is safe for them to go. Meanwhile, do not antagonise local residents or take videos out of curiosity, he cautions the Chinese people in Kiev and other Ukrainian cities.
The students were expecting for the evacuation call a week before the invasion, but it did not come. They had packaged their bags in anticipation and by the time the call came, hostilities were on and airports closed down. Videos are doing the rounds in Chinese social media platforms showing students “hiding in air-raid shelters and police closing off roads to the airport”.
On the trade and commerce front, the invasion is beginning to impact China. Its traders and logistics service providers have warned their government about the conflict’s potential impact on certain aspects of the China-Europe freight train and shipping routes by sea and air.
The Global Times says: “While the actual impact remains unclear given the fast-changing developments, some Chinese and international traders have canceled or diverted certain trading channels and routes to fend off possible disruptions.
What is worrying the traders most is “some European clients have expressed deep concerns over the possible impact from the escalating tensions and have started cancelling orders delivered by China-Europe freight trains, with small and medium-sized traders bearing the brunt”. The quote is attributed to Tommy Tan, president of Shanghai EPU Supply Chain Management Co, who is a veteran agent of China-EU freight trains.
Tan says: “Due to the escalation of the conflict between Russia and Ukraine, all our trains passing through Ukraine can only be diverted to other routes.… direct shipments to Ukraine have stopped.” As a result, his company is avoiding the borders between Ukraine, Russia and Hungary when designating new trade routes.
The disruption has also affected sea transportation, with international shipping companies changing routes. The impact on logistics includes shipments of goods such as shoes and clothing from China to Ukraine, the newspaper report says.