Is China The Winner From The War In Ukraine?

By: - February 28, 2024

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Welcome back to the China In Eurasia Briefing, an RFE/RL newsletter tracking China’s resurgent influence from Eastern Europe to Central Asia.

Looking ahead, we’ll be changing up the newsletter later in March and will start sending it out every week. Until then, it would be great to hear more about what you like about the newsletter currently and would want more of moving forward. Send me an e-mail to [email protected] with your thoughts. Don’t be shy! 🙂

I’m RFE/RL correspondent Reid Standish and here’s what I’m following right now.

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Is China The Winner From The War In Ukraine?

The war in Ukraine is still grinding on but has entered something of a stalemate, with minimal movement on the battlefield. But after two years of war, how has China managed to gain from the war in Ukraine?

Finding Perspective: While Chinese leader Xi Jinping may be feeling some anxiety over slow economic growth and a slumping property market at home, there’s plenty of reasons to believe that he’s feeling emboldened abroad.

For starters, China is not at war, it is not geopolitically isolated, and it has been able to gain from the broader fallout from Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion.

The war has been a boon for China’s credentials as a leader of the Global South, positioning itself as a peacemaker in the conflict while accusing the United States of fueling the war through its military support for Ukraine.

Beijing is also feeling confident as it looks at wavering Western support for Ukraine. Billions of dollars’ worth of U.S. military aid for Ukraine remains blocked in Congress and further struggles are likely ahead as war and funding fatigue grow in the run-up to the U.S. presidential election in November.

The seemingly short shelf life of Western support for Ukraine is no doubt being noted in Beijing and factored into any plan of possibility of moving on Taiwan in the future.

The war has also been a test that has largely helped bring China and Russia closer together. While Beijing has at times sought to distance itself from Moscow, it has helped its economy and given political cover where it can.

Russia is also now far more dependent on China today than ever before — a trend set to continue into the future.

Why It Matters: Looking ahead, U.S.-China relations will continue to be Xi’s leading issue. While both Beijing and Washington are looking to keep things calm for the time being, the coming U.S. election also brings unpredictability.

On the one hand, former President Donald Trump launched a trade war and raised tensions, but a Trump victory is also likely to weaken U.S. alliances around the world.

The stalled aid for Ukraine and a potentially more erratic United States are not lost on Taiwan, either. A recent delegation of senior Taiwanese officials to Washington told Politico that they’re “extremely worried” that Ukraine could be abandoned.

In conversations I’ve had with Taiwanese officials over the last year, they’ve often said how important it is that Ukraine prevails and that it would send an important message to the Chinese Communist Party on Taiwan.

The Ukraine war’s geopolitical winds could certainly change later on in 2024, but for now it looks like they’re at China’s back.

Three More Stories From Eurasia

1. Welcome To The New Central Asia

Perhaps nowhere have the ripple effects from Russia’s invasion been felt stronger than in Central Asia, where Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan have found themselves navigating a very different-looking world since February 24, 2022.

The Details: To better understand how the war in Ukraine has altered Central Asia, I asked five leading experts and journalists to explain how they think the region has changed and where it may be going in the future.

While the answers varied — and I highly suggest reading the full article — the general consensus has been that the Central Asian states are more autonomous than ever when it comes to their foreign policy and they’ve leaned increasingly hard on China over the last two years.

2. The EU’s New Sanctions

The European Union announced a fresh package of sanctions over the war in Ukraine on February 23, including three Chinese companies and one based in Hong Kong.

What You Need To Know: RFE/RL had the scoop that a new batch of Chinese companies had made the list.

Up until now, Brussels had placed sanctions on three Chinese firms in past packages and has been in discussions with Beijing over China’s growing role in supplying Russian companies with nonlethal but militarily useful equipment.

But with Russian imports of dual-use goods through firms based in Central Asia and China skyrocketing since the start of the war, the West has felt compelled to take action.

The four firms included were: Guangzhou Ausay Technology Co Limited, Shenzhen Biguang Trading Co. Limited, Yilufa Electronics Limited, and the Hong Kong-based RG Solutions Limited.

The sanctions package targeted Russia’s defense industry and slapped asset freezes and travel bans on 106 individuals and 88 organizations, including firms from Russia, India, Sri Lanka, Serbia, Kazakhstan, Thailand, and Turkey.

3. Serbian Villagers And A Chinese Mine

Villagers in eastern Serbia protesting environmental degradation and the dangerous use of explosives have forced the Chinese mining giant Zijin to suspend production at a nearby mine, setting the stage for a deeper struggle over its future, my colleague Branko Pesic reports.

What It Means: A growing number of protesters from Krivelj, a village of some 700 people a few kilometers from Bor, a city that is home to a massive complex where copper and other minerals are mined and processed by China’s Zijin Mining Group, have launched a blockade against the mine.

The mostly elderly villagers have blocked the main road and stopped trucks and other vehicles from accessing the mine, leading to Zijin suspending production.

Locals have long complained about pollution, contaminated drinking water, and other environmental damage from the sprawling operations, which were taken over by the Chinese mining giant in 2018. Since then, the company has revived mining in the area and sought to open new sites with a $3.8 billion investment announced in September to expand its copper mines.

Villagers told Branko that their struggle was far from over and they will continue to block the main road, setting the stage for a prolonged fight over the future of their village and Zijin’s expanding mining operations in eastern Serbia.

Across The Supercontinent

A Hikvision Hack: Ukrainian intelligence officials say that Russia hacked two ordinary outdoor CCTV cameras in Kyiv to help guide a missile attack that took place in January.

Schemes, the investigative unit of RFE/RL’s Ukrainian Service, discovered that the cameras were made by China’s Hikvision, which raises new questions over lingering concerns about their security and vulnerabilities.

A Boon In Budapest: China offered to support longtime strategic partner Hungary on public security issues.

Visa-Free: Georgian Prime Minister Irakli Kobakhidze said on February 26 that Georgian citizens can now visit China without visas for a period of up to 30 days, RFE/RL’s Georgian Service reports.

The move comes after Georgia allowed visa-free entry for Chinese citizens in January.

A Taiwan Connection: About 20 percent of nitrocellulose — a compound used in gunpowder — imported into Russia has been sourced from Taiwan, according to an investigation done by the think tank Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) in cooperation with Ukraine’s Center for Defense Strategies.

Looking For Work?: Afg-Chin Oil and Gas Limited, the joint Afghan-Chinese company looking to drill in Afghanistan, is looking for an external auditor.

One Thing To Watch

An enormous data leak from a Chinese cybersecurity firm has offered a rare glimpse into the inner workings of Beijing-linked hackers.

The company, I-Soon, has yet to confirm the leak is genuine, but analysts say the leak is a treasure trove of intel into the day-to-day operations of China’s hacking program. There are long lists of targets, from British government departments to Thai ministries. I-Soon staff also boasted in leaked chats that they secured access to telecom service providers in Pakistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Mongolia, Thailand, and Malaysia, among others.

That’s all from me for now. Don’t forget to send me any questions, comments, or tips that you might have.

Until next time,

Reid Standish

If you enjoyed this briefing and don’t want to miss the next edition, subscribe here. It will be sent to your inbox every other Wednesday.

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