The US has no leverage over Beijing
US President Joe Biden decided on March 18 to call Chinese President Xi Jinping. Washington, apparently, still hopes to win Beijing over to its side in order to deprive Moscow of its traditional strongest partner. We figured out how great China's support for Russia is and whether the United States is able to reverse the trend in existing international relations.
Photo: Global Look Press
China not only did not join the anti-Russian sanctions after the start of the special operation in Ukraine, but also became one of the countries that did not even condemn the actions of the Russian Federation at the declarative level. This forced analysts to talk about Beijing's unequivocal support for Moscow, although, of course, the Taiwan issue did not escape the attention of observers – the sovereignty of the island has long been disputed by the PRC, which leaves an imprint on the Chinese position on other territorial issues.
However, the collective West is most concerned about the actual rather than declarative help that Beijing can offer Moscow.
Firstly, China’s supplies of analogues of Western goods that fell under the sanctions can reduce the negative effect of anti-Russian restrictions on the Russian Federation. Secondly, direct financial injections are not excluded. Finally – and this, of course, is most important in the context of ongoing hostilities – according to representatives of the US defense department, the PRC authorities may be ready to provide Russia with military-technical support; although speculation about Moscow's request and Beijing's alleged readiness were refuted in both capitals.
In this context, White House officials predicted even before Biden's conversation with President Xi that the leaders' communication session would be tense. On March 14, U.S. National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan and Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Daniel Kritenbrink met in Rome with Yang Jiechi, head of the office of the Chinese Communist Party Central Committee Foreign Affairs Commission. The seven-hour talks did not bring any breakthroughs – except, apparently, an agreement to increase the level of discussion (prior to this, Biden and Xi spoke directly by phone in November last year). The delegations only once again confirmed their previous statements: on the part of the PRC – on non-alignment with anti-Russian sanctions, on the part of the United States – on the inadmissibility of direct support to Moscow.
“We are concerned that they (the Chinese authorities) are considering the possibility of direct assistance to Russia with military equipment for use in Ukraine,” said the head of the US State Department, Anthony Blinken, on the eve of the Biden-Xi Jinping conversation.
Many American analysts note that Beijing's high degree of support for Moscow may be an exaggeration. As for bilateral trade relations, even according to the official data of the PRC, the American and European directions remain a priority for Beijing in this regard. The volume of China's trade with the European Union last year exceeded $800 billion, with the United States – more than $750 billion, and with Russia – did not even reach $150 billion, despite seemingly more convenient logistical conditions.
Experts also see the widely discussed possible transition of Russia to the yuan instead of the dollar as unlikely: after the fall of the ruble, the officials of the People's Bank of China, who set money quotes, doubled the so-called trading range for the Russian currency, thus providing it with only further losses. During the special operation, “the ruble has already lost more than 20% of its value against both the dollar and the euro. By allowing the Russian currency to fall against the yuan as well, Beijing is not doing Moscow any favors,” experts from the CNN Business business portal note in this regard.
However, all these signals mean nothing more than one thing – China, as it historically tends to, is playing its own game, in which conditional support towards Russia (and in fact distancing itself from the conflict in Ukraine) is due to its own interests.
As for the stringent requirements of the United States, Beijing is well aware of the self-sufficiency of the PRC in every sense, and therefore can afford not to follow in the wake of Washington.
As the head of the China Center for Economic and Social Research noted in a conversation with MK Institute for the Far East of the Russian Academy of Sciences Andrey Ostrovsky, we should not expect new theses following the talks between President Biden and Xi.
“In my opinion, everything has already been said during the meeting in Rome between Jake Sullivan and Yang Jiechi. And I do not think that the conversation between Joe Biden and Xi Jinping will bring anything new. The Chinese position is extremely specific: the PRC does not enter into blocs with anyone, has its own point of view on what is happening and does not believe that it is Washington’s job to dictate to Beijing how to behave, our interlocutor emphasized. “The US goal is also quite clear: to force China to abandon the partnership agreements reached in early February by Putin and Xi Jinping, join the anti-Russian sanctions and take the whole side of the Council of Europe.” “Whatever the leaders come with, they will disperse,” the expert concludes.
According to some observers (usually American), China's intransigence will lead to further pressure on it from the United States. However, Washington actually has no tools to implement the “stick” policy towards Beijing, Andrei Ostrovsky noted.
“China is so self-sufficient economically that there are no serious levers of influence on it. If we talk about the possibility of “appeasing” Beijing, then in this case, Washington has very few options. The only option is to de facto give Taiwan to China. However, I do not think that the White House will agree to this. At the same time, the Taiwan issue itself is debatable: the agreements signed between the United States and China from 1979, 1982 and 1989 already imply the recognition by the Americans of Chinese sovereignty over the island,” the expert concluded.