Andrew Small Profile picture
Mar 7 16 tweets 3 min read
The fact that China clearly supports Russia would not preclude them taking a mediation role. Beijing typically does this precisely when it’s sympathetic to one side but thinks they’ve gone too far. But there are other reasons I doubt this will happen 1/
There is plenty of precedent for this if “mediation” is defined expansively - from the DPRK six-party talks (where China hosted and actively mediated) to cases such as Kargil in ’99 (China didn’t mediate but conveyed disapproval to Pakistan and coordinated closely w/the US) 2/
The cases where China has played a helpful role to any degree are precisely the ones where it can lean on its friends - Sudan, DPRK, Pakistan, to a lesser extent the Taliban - but where its friends trust that Beijing has their security interests at heart 3/
The cases where China is not useful and only plays a simulated role - such as the pretend Middle East peace processes it sometimes undertakes - are cases where it is actually fairly neutral but has neither leverage nor real expertise 4/
The distinctions of what it means to “mediate” matter though. China can do that in places where it has depth/ familiarity e.g. DPRK, Myanmar. In Afghanistan, where it has little, China could “host” and convey broad messages but not do the detailed work involved in real mediation
With Ukraine/Russia/European security, China's expertise is minimal. They have no real capacity to shuttle between parties with proposals, nudge here and there, frame alternatives etc. They could host (which isn’t needed) or convey messages between parties (which isn’t needed) 6/
More important than that - the thing China can usefully do, they won’t. The cases where Beijing has been helpful, it’s played an overt “Big Brother” role, conveying tough messages to its partners, conditioning its support to them, and coordinating behind their backs 7/
They could theoretically do that here without “mediating”. But nothing in China-Russia/Xi-Putin dynamics suggests that Beijing thinks it would be a remotely good idea to try to push Russia around like that, let alone in these circumstances. I doubt they think it would work anyway
In fact what China has done with Russia is precisely the opposite of this- refusing to coordinate even modestly with US / Europeans, conveying US attempts to do so directly to Moscow, holding the pro-Russian line in private, and very publicly agreeing a “no limits” partnership 9/
Xi has made his bet - that given China’s strategic landscape, there is a price worth paying for the Sino-Russian partnership. No amount of articles on what various sections of the Chinese ”foreign policy community” think or what we think China’s “real” interests are obviate that
The price now looks higher than Xi had expected; it looks like a miscalculation to have leaned in so far. But it would also be damaging to walk that back now. And it is not being walked back (despite the periodic “China has shifted its position!” spurts of misplaced excitement)
So if China is not likely to do any of the things that were useful in comparable situations and has no expertise to mediate, that would only leave the simulated / pretend version. At a push Beijing might agree if it thought it might get some credulous politicians off its back 12/
At present though, I think China will still be wary of even doing that - there’s a real risk that it could either be misperceived by Russia, or that Beijing would end up with even more exposure and blame if it’s seen as simply aligning with Moscow’s positions in the process 13/
Pushing China on discrete areas still has value: UN votes; warning that sanctions-busting will hit Chinese entities too. Continuing to ask Beijing to help during one of Europe’s gravest security crises and having them continually refuse has demonstration value too 14/
But any hope of Chinese mediation should be tempered by the fact that they will be reluctant to provide it, and that it is very unlikely to take a helpful form if they do 15/
Worst of all would indeed be if China taking on a mediation role was predicated on “improvements in the relationship”, the sort of gambit that Beijing attempted with Afghanistan and climate change cooperation (to no avail), concessions with nothing of actual value in return 16/16

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More from @ajwsmall

Mar 5
Reading another article saying that the Sino-Russian joint statement "doesn't mention Ukraine" as a sort of "ah ha!", I'm curious whether Russia even asked for that. What Moscow certainly wanted - and received - was support for its entire stance on the European security order 1/4
The joint statement is not vague on this - China supports "the proposals put forward" by Russia, which FWIW, certainly mention Ukraine. They call for a huge buffer zone, including NATO removing any troops or weapons from countries that joined the alliance after 1997 2/4
These proposals, rather than a Ukraine-specific set of positions, were what Russia was pushing in the period leading up to Putin's visit. China would have seen the shocked reaction to the proposals in Europe and the US. And still chose to put Xi's personal stamp on them 3/4
Read 5 tweets
Feb 28
So this piece seriously doubles down on the "China didn't know Russia was going to invade" argument. As Yun Sun says, that would reflect some interesting things about the Xi-Putin relationship, Chinese intelligence etc. if true. But... 1/
Even if one doesn't credit the account widely circulated in diplomatic circles (cited here…) that Xi asked Putin to hold off any invasion until after the Olympics, there are alternatives that arguably fit the facts better than China getting "played" 2/
For a start, Xi can perfectly plausibly have been given a heads-up by Putin without thinking that this needed to be shared so widely that Jin Canrong and Shen Yi got to know about it... 3/
Read 13 tweets
Feb 27
Yun Sun -“If Russia works with Chinese financiers, in order to block that channel, the US needs to increase the cost for China Eximbank and China Development Bank”:… 1/3
Everyone following the China-Russia relationship expected this from the Chinese commercial banks:… But read the @J_Jakobowski great recent report for details on how the Chinese policy banks swung in post-2014:… 2/4
US officials are, of course, well aware of this and have "pointed out [to Chinese officials] that they knew how China had helped Russia evade some of the 2014 sanctions, and warned Beijing against any future such aid":… 3/4
Read 4 tweets
Feb 19
The messaging from various European governments to China on how it handles the crisis with Russia has sharpened up in the last few days, increasingly making it clear that it will have an impact on the relationship. Clearest was @ABaerbock yesterday: 1/8
Today one of the toughest characterizations of China from a European Commission president, based on the joint Sino-Russian statement: 2/8
And the NATO Secretary General, also responding to the NATO-specific sections of that Sino-Russian joint statement: 3/8
Read 9 tweets
Sep 17, 2021
It was hard this week not to think back to the CAI drama in December, when Germany/France jammed the agreement through in the window before the Biden administration took office, taking advantage of Xi's interest in pre-emptively spiking US coalition-building on China 1/
It was characterized by its advocates as a victory for "strategic autonomy". In numerous meetings at the time, the suggestion that waiting for consultations with the new US administration might be mutually beneficial was treated almost as an affront to European sovereignty 2/
I raise this not in the spirit of whataboutism, nor to suggest that the CAI and AUKUS are remotely like-for-like, nor to suggest that the manner in which the latter was handled stemmed at all from the former 3/
Read 17 tweets
Sep 16, 2021
A few snippets from the background briefing on AUKUS last night from senior US administration officials, specifically with reference to France, Europe and the Indo-Pacific 1/5
Considerable emphasis was placed on this being about bridging European and Asian allies and combining efforts in the Indo-Pacific. UK was framed as a European power... "The only states pivoting to the Indo-Pacific faster than the US are in Europe" 2/5
It was framed as a unique set of circumstances facing an Australia that felt "isolated". That it was an independent Australian decision to move away from the French program and to explore this capability with US/UK, not something DC/London initiated at the expense of Paris 3/5
Read 6 tweets

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