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Opinion | It’s time to offer off-lamps to Russia. China can help it.

Casualties are increasing in Ukraine. Bombs continue to decline. Over 2 million refugees have fled the battle.

Vladimir Putin seems to have thought that he could underestimate the fierce resistance from Ukraine and win a swift victory. Two weeks later, Russia intensified its attack on Ukraine and the Western nations triggered. Financial “nuclear options” — banning some Russian banks from the SWIFT payment system, while Putin is wary of the actual nuclear army Is strengthening.

We are now in an escalating spiral. Increasing pressure on Mr Putin could make the situation even more dangerous as Russian leaders feel they are being forced to take increasingly extreme steps. Attacks on private areas.

It may be unpalatable as some Western nations may find the idea, so it’s time to offer Russian leaders off-lamps with the help of China. On Tuesday, Chinese President Xi Jinping held a virtual summit between French President Emmanuel Macron and Prime Minister Olav Schortz, urging Germany’s diplomatic solution.

Given that the United States and its allies see Beijing as a strategic rival, China may hesitate to be involved in this crisis. This is stupid and short-sighted. The imminent risk of conflict goes far beyond competitive considerations. Ukraine itself is China-led dispute resolution.

So far, China has called for dialogue and is saying it Support humanitarian aid However, Beijing’s interest in more active involvement is growing day by day.

China has great economic interest in the swift resolution of the Russian-Ukraine war. China enjoys strong ties between Russia and Ukraine and is the largest single trading partner in both countries, but each has more transactions with the EU block than China. Russia and Ukraine are key components of the belt and road infrastructure program and are also conduits for China’s trade with Europe. Rail transport in China and Europe has experienced a hundred-fold increase since the early 2010s, but ongoing conflicts can disrupt these trade flows.

China is also in a unique position to act as a neutral mediator between Ukraine and Russia backed by the West. Yes, Beijing and Moscow have a strong and growing relationship, especially in the economic arena. Energy — and mutual dissatisfaction with the current state of the US-led world order is increasingly connecting the two countries. The alliance solidified last month when Putin and Nishi met and issued a joint statement emphasizing their profoundness. Reaffirming the relationship and partnership with “no prohibited areas”.

It is not in Beijing’s interest to rely solely on the anti-Western European Union with Moscow. Russia may have a strong army, but its economy is in long-term structural decline and its GDP is not much higher than that of Spain. Speaking of relations with Moscow, it is worth remembering that China’s economic interests with Russia have been diminished by what it shares with the West. In 2021, trade between China and Russia could reach $ 147 billion, up 36% year-on-year. However, it is still less than one-tenth of the total trade between the United States ($ 657 billion) and the European Union ($ 828 billion).

Even if China is not sanctioned, Chinese companies and banks may reduce their involvement with Russia in order to avoid backlash in other, more important markets. As Russia becomes isolated from the world economy, China will not want to stand side by side. Only the financial burden of Russia.

The prospect of expanding economic relations between Moscow and Beijing may threaten the West, but from Putin’s point of view, it will have an impact on China in potential negotiations. He and his country are increasingly facing isolation, so he also loses China, which he cannot afford.

There is also a political reason why China wants to end this dispute in a way that appeals to everyone involved. The longer the war, the more revitalized the Western Union over the idea of ​​value-based conflict between East and West. , Work more closely with the United States and the European Union to raise military budgets around the world. This is not good for China, which prefers to maintain favorable economic relations with the West and concentrate resources on domestic development.

When China faces growing global criticism of human rights abuses, mediating the end of this conflict may help improve its position with the West. Support for Russia’s aggression, and even awareness of support, can undermine that claim. In contrast, playing a constructive role in ending the war can help cast China as a strategic partner rather than just an economic partner.

In terms of ideology, China shares a common position with both Ukraine and Russia. China deeply appreciates the principle of national sovereignty and has long opposed external interference with domestic affairs such as Taiwan. Last month, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Lee called again. He has global respect for territorial integrity, saying “Ukraine is no exception.” Thus, at least Mr Putin’s aggression is directly below one of China’s key values.

China, like Russia, is wary of global democratic western influence. So far, the Chinese media has avoided criticism of Russia and adopted the story of the Moscow war. Anti-West and Anti-NATO will help justify Mr Putin’s actions to a domestic audience.

However, the longer the war, the more likely China is to be in a diminishing returns position in its close ties with Russia, which makes the argument that Beijing plays an active mediation role even more compelling. Become.

What form can mediation take? A serious resolution requires the involvement of the United States and the European Union as the main actors in the European security agreement. Beijing could help mediate an immediate ceasefire as a precursor to negotiations between Russia, Ukraine and the United States. State, European Union, China.

Beijing’s goal is to find a solution that gives Mr Putin sufficient security that can be presented as a victory to the domestic audience while preserving Ukraine’s main sovereignty and NATO’s open door policy. Finding a landing zone for such an agreement is difficult, but not impossible. Some creative diplomacy may solve this, such as the NATO expansion formula, which in practice excludes Ukrainian membership while preserving the principles of sovereignty and NATO.

Ensuring a multilateral solution to the crisis in Ukraine is a difficult and risky task, but no country is better suited to do so than China.

Dr. Wang Huiyao (@huiyaowang) Is the founder and president of the China Globalization Center, a Beijing-based non-governmental think tank, and advises the Chinese government in that position.

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