China – Russia relations and impact of the Russian war

While Russia dreams of being a Soviet-style superpower, oblivious to the blood and suffering of totalitarian past, China already is a superpower, competing with the US for the world leadership. Complicated relations between Beijing and Washington are behind many decisions made in the former, regarding the Chinese position on Russo-Ukrainian war as well. People’s Republic of China appears to have taken a neutral position, although this neutrality leans towards Moscow – which Russian regime considers another sign of deep friendship between both states.

Nevertheless, this friendship is highly overestimated: despite strong economic ties and certain coinciding interests in a stand-off with the West, China, first and foremost, cares about its own interests. It is more pragmatic than Russia, where imperialist ambitions and political will of the hawkish elites dominate completely over politics and over common sense. China has, therefore, refrained from the open support of Russian invasion and providing Russia with military assistance, which Moscow has, according to the sources in intelligence, asked for. It could have constituted a heavy blow for Vladimir Putin, who enjoyed a seemingly warm relationship with the Chinese President Xi Jinping.

Two autocratic leaders talk to each other and Xi would be a much more valuable ally for Putin than Belarusian dictator Lukashenko, whose loyalty to Moscow is driven by dire necessity and who cannot be considered a reliable ally, despite turning Belarus into a co-aggressor state in Russian war. Mutual openness (to a degree) of Russian and Chinese leaders towards each other is what makes some of the experts believe that Beijing can be among the valuable mediators in bringing Russia to negotiation table – although negotiations with Moscow have proven to be largely ineffective so far.

Still, China’s position is rather ambiguous – rejecting active open support, China often reinforces Russian disinformation on Ukraine and the war. It mostly uses the term “special operation”, however, the longer it goes on, the less patience there is and things on Chinese media start appearing less favorable for Russia. Chinese state-controlled media pays increasing amount of attention to the humanitarian and food crises generated by the war, emphasizes the suffering of civilians and, as its diplomats, calls for “diplomatic solution” – a traditional diplomatic formula that cannot be implemented in the case of Russian neocolonial war, but is not a manifestation of support Moscow would hope for. However, when Russian rhetoric on its aggression takes an anti-Western form, which happens more often than not, China is eager to amplify it. Its own media actively shared disinformation about “CIA biolabs in Ukraine” and keep blaming the West, first of all NATO and the US, for “provoking” Russia – talking points that originated in Moscow.

The ambiguity of Chinese position is partially explained by the importance of Russian-Ukrainian war for Beijing and the fact that its outcome is likely to influence Chinese foreign policy in the most direct way, despite the geographical distance. Chinese leadership, media and military observe the development of Russian aggression and the world’s response very, very closely, calculating the possibility of military action against Taiwan. While regional context and differences have to be taken into consideration, two situations have striking similarities, with a bigger state considering a smaller one its rightful territory and being ready to take military action for “taking back what’s ours”. China repeatedly claims that Taiwan is its “inner problem”, yet there is obvious understanding in Bejing that the world sees and will see it differently. The outcome of Russo-Ukrainian war, therefore, will have global implications felt in Asia as well. Should Ukraine lose, it will open a door for a string of territorial autocratic ambitions, Taiwan being the first target in a row.

Ukraine In Flames #98 explores these – and other – issues in detail and pays extra attention to the “Chinese factor” of Russian war that we often forget about.


  • Marcin Jerzewski, Head of the Taipei Office at the European Values Center for Security Policy
  • Petro Shevchenko, analyst, adjunct lecturer at the Jilin University.
  • Nataliya Butyrska, Asia-focused expert on international relations
  • Yurii Poita, Head of the Asian section at the New Geopolitics Research Network.

UKRAINE IN FLAMES project is created by Ukraine Crisis Media CenterUkrainian Catholic University’s analitical center and NGO “Euroatlantic Course”.  We are aiming at searching a loud support for Ukraine in the war started by Russia on the 24th of February 2022.

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