21:04 18.03.2023


China: the ten thousand li path to a bipolar world begins with the first steps, or what can Ukraine expect from Xi Jinping’s visit to Moscow?

10 min read
China: the ten thousand li path to a bipolar world begins with the first steps, or what can Ukraine expect from Xi Jinping’s visit to Moscow?

Ihor Zhdanov, Information Defence project of the “Open Policy” Foundation


Recently, China has significantly increased its foreign policy activity, trying to play the role of a mediator between Ukraine and Russia and publicizing its so-called “peace plan”.

Chinese President Xi Jinping will visit Moscow on March 20-22. What can we, Ukrainians, expect from this visit, and what is the reason for such a visit?

We will talk about these and other questions in this article.

China’s strategic goal: a bipolar world in the coming decade

There is an old expression - a Chinese dragon sleeps for a long time, but wakes up quickly. After long decades of being occupied as a semi-colony, civil war, social experiments such as the Cultural Revolution and the "Great Leap Forward" at the end of the last century, China confidently embarked on the path of rapid economic development.

Economic growth forced the Chinese elite to think not only about the present, but also about China’s future on the world geopolitical chessboard.

The goal that would define such a worthy position for the Chinese country did not mature quickly and gradually. But in the mid-2010s of the 21st century, it was formulated, realized and accepted as a guide to action by the Chinese ruling class.

And this goal was super-ambitious: the creation of a bipolar - Sino-American world in the coming decades.

The Sino-American world: “for” arguments

For the formation of the Chinese-American world, there are, as it were, all the  components in place.

The population of China is approximately 1.4 billion people. The Chinese economy is the second largest in the world, and the country's GDP in 2022 will reach 18 trillion dollars (for comparison, US GDP is 26 trillion dollars).

At a recent meeting of the National People's Congress, Chinese President Xi Jinping was re-elected to this position for an unprecedented third term. It was at this forum that he completed the process of establishing a single political power and consolidating the Chinese elite around his person. China today is more united than ever.

The People's Liberation Army of China is the largest one in terms of population in the world (2 million people). In 2020, the military budget of the PRC amounted to 193 billion dollars, which is the second indicator in the world after the United States. China has strategic nuclear weapons.

Finally, the PRC is a permanent member of the UN Security Council with veto power.

It seemed that all these prerequisites should almost automatically lead to the formation of a bipolar world with a noticeable Chinese flavor. However, this process has only just begun and is happening rather slowly, almost in front of us.

What prevents the transformation of China into the world’s second superpower?

The reasons are simple: the USA, Taiwan, Russia and, surprisingly, Ukraine.

The USA and China: competition, not Cold War confrontation

It would seem that China is an unequivocal enemy to the United States.

In the US National Defense Strategy, which was published in October 2022, China's growing military and economic power is recognized as the main threat to national security, its “most serious and systemic challenge”. The head of the US State Department, Antony Blinken, called China the only country capable of changing the existing world order.

Moreover, at the last meeting of the National People's Congress, the US world control was opposed and the need to create a new multipolar world was stated.

At the same time, according to Blinken, Washington is ready to expand work with Beijing, since the US and China “will have to deal with each other.”

What determines United States’ position?

The answer is simple: money.

In 2022, the volume of foreign trade turnover of the United States with the People's Republic of China reached 690 billion dollars. Despite mutual restrictions, which from time to time turn into trade wars, it is constantly increasing.

It is precisely the developed economic relationships that restrain the purely political and military confrontation between the two giants. It is more profitable for us to trade than to fight.

It seemed that the time had come to agree on new rules of the game in the American-Chinese world, which US President Joe Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping carefully tried to do last year during the G-20 meeting in Bali.

But despite the magical power of dollars and yuan, which stimulates the achievement of agreements, there are other things that, on the contrary, provoke an increase in tension between the two countries.

One of these is Taiwan.

Without Taiwan, China cannot flourish

In 1949, as a result of the civil war, Chiang Kai-shek's government was defeated and emigrated to Taiwan, where the continued existence of the Republic of China was declared. Until the 1970s, Taiwan was a  permanent member of the UN Security Council.

The communist People's Republic of China was founded on the mainland, and the United States promised to defend Taiwan, even by military means if necessary (not a ritual phrase from the Budapest Memorandum).

Today, the United States and the People's Republic of China continue to plan various scenarios of military confrontation in the battle for Taiwan. At the same time, the United States is not going to change its intentions regarding direct participation in the armed defence of Taiwan against aggression in the future.

On the other hand, for the Chinese communist elite, the existence of a separate Republic of China in Taiwan is a deep trauma that cannot be cured by therapeutic means. The only correct way to solve it is the accession of Taiwan to the People's Republic of China. Period.

It would seem like a dead end. And not only locally, but also strategically, for China.

After all, according to the Chinese leadership, without the accession of Taiwan to the People's Republic of China, the final establishment of mainland China as a superpower and the full formation of the American-Chinese world is impossible.

And where is Russia?

In 2023, the words ‘Russia claims the role of the second world pole of power, an alternative to the USA’ sound quite strange. However, before the beginning of the large-scale Russian aggression in Ukraine, such ambitions of Russia did not cause ironic smiles even among leading Western analysts.

At that time, China and Russia, trying to establish trade relations, making public declarations of close friendship, simultaneously fiercely competed in the geopolitical arena. Each of the counties tried to become the same notorious second pole of power, a superpower that competes with the United States.

In 2022, the Armed Forces of Ukraine have put everything in its place.

In the near future, the Russian ruling class must solve completely different problems than the realization of its claims to the world's second pole of power. More urgent now is a completely different task - the preservation of the Russian Federation as a single state.

And what is the role of Ukraine here?

Indeed, what does Ukraine have to do with this great Chinese strategic game? In fact, Russia's full-scale aggression against Ukraine created both limitations and opportunities for China.

First. In the initial stages of the invasion, the Chinese elite viewed Russian aggression as an opportunity to carry out a similar military operation against Taiwan.

China closely followed the US reaction to the events in Ukraine. It is clear that the probable successes of Russia on the battlefield, the sluggish and inadequate behaviour of the American superpower, would stimulate the militaristic ambitions of the Chinese.

In such a case, the US should then take measures to extinguish the "military fire" at two opposite ends of the world - in Ukraine and Taiwan. However, this did not happen, instead, the Armed Forces of Ukraine were left to give a worthy rebuff to the Russian aggressor, and the US took a rather  distant though resolute position in support of our country.

The problem of Taiwan as a military one has not yet arisen.

Second. China is extremely uninterested in a protracted war. After all, the US and the EU have adopted large-scale economic sanctions against Russia, which are having a ricochet effect on the Chinese economy, which has only just begun to recover after the COVID lockdown-knockdown.

Yes, you can come up with various schemes to circumvent sanctions, which, by the way, is what China is doing with Russia. However, it is slow, difficult and quite risky. China, for example, is now severely suffering from a shortage of chips, the lion's share of which are produced in Taiwan.

I will once again repeat the well-known expression: it is better to trade than to fight.

Third. China accepts the weakening of Russia, but only up to a certain limit. China does not need an unequivocally weak Russia, which no one can take into account on on the world stage.

China needs a weakened Russia whose territory can be used to exploit Russian natural resources. China needs a weakened Russia, which can no longer compete with China in the formation of a bipolar world, but which can still be an alternative to the US, even if in many respects it is illusory.

Well, at least by the number of nuclear warheads.

The last but not least. The announcement of the so-called “China's 12-point peace plan for Ukraine” is another step by China in which it tries to be on the same level, at least, diplomatically, as the United States.

This is an attempt to really turn into a powerful world player capable of solving crises of a truly planetary scale. This is another step towards the formation of a new pole of power, at least in the imagination of the Chinese themselves.

The harsh negative reaction of the US and EU to China's efforts to reach a new mediation level  has been palpable. The Western partners of our country are clearly not interested in this.

It is within this framework that the visit of the leader of the People's Republic of China, Xi Jinping, to Moscow, should be viewed.

What can Ukraine expect from Xi Jinping's visit to Russia?

Kyiv should not expect anything encouraging from this visit.

Comrade Xi is likely to cautiously back Putin publicly, pushing behind the scenes for an early end to hostilities, and talking up new schemes to circumvent sanctions. After all, the main task of China is for Russia to come out of this war as weakened as possible, but not defeated.

Ukraine, most likely, will have to withstand the powerful pressure of Chinese soft power, when we will be persistently asked to immediately proceed to peace negotiations and stand down the Armed Forces of Ukraine.

It is clear that we are not satisfied with this option. After all, the absolute majority of Ukrainians see the future of our country in a completely different way: the restoration of Ukraine within the internationally recognized borders as of 1991.