The biggest tragedy of Ukraine is that it is always a national hero who swings between Europe and Russia and lacks autonomy and strategic awareness. Their senior officials are politicians like actors, so much so that people simply chose a comedian as president in 2019, which is a really sad and helpless move, writes Valdai Club expert Wang Wen.
The conflict between Russia and Ukraine has caused a cyber war among Chinese netizens. I observed polls on several Chinese websites. About 40% of Chinese people remain neutral, about 30% support Russia and about 20% support Ukraine. These sentiments reflect the social basis for the Chinese government abstaining in the UN General Assembly vote on condemning Russia.
Those Chinese who support Ukraine, and see Russia as an invader, have a strong legal reason. They recognize Ukraine as a sovereign state, and that it is Ukraine’s right to choose whether or not to join NATO; Even if Russia no longer tolerates Ukraine’s “pro-western” proclivities, it has no right to take military action.
However, Chinese supporters of Russia have criticized these simple legal grounds. They ridicule those partial to Ukraine as “pro-Americanists” and dismissive of American military actions against Yugoslavia, Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Syria. In the eyes of Russia’s Chinese supporters, all major countries should enjoy greater security borders. Just as the United States did not tolerate the Soviet Union’s deployment of missiles in Cuba, they assert Russia certainly has the right to teach Ukraine a lesson.
The logic of great power security in international relations is only part of the reason some Chinese support Russia. The strategic partnership developed between China and Russia in the past 20 years serves as the diplomatic basis for them to support Russia. More importantly, China has long been restrained by the US foreign policy, prompting a natural Chinese empathy for Russia’s security concerns and compassion for Russia. They also believe today’s security threat from the United States will also affect China in the future.
Moreover, President Vladimir Putin’s tough-guy image has many fans in China, and represents the essence of China’s social opposition to American hegemony.
In fact, voices against US hegemony are also popular all over the world. There are now almost 40 countries sanctioning Russia, all of which are in Western camps in the US sphere of influence. The vast number of developing countries, including Brazil and India, did not join sanctions on Russia. I believe the prevailing views of developing countries on Russia’s military action likely have the same logic as those in China.
However, the fact that many Chinese people support Russia does not mean China’s foreign policy will turn to Russia in an all-round way. More Chinese people want to remain neutral. The Chinese people are more concerned about how these conflicts will affect the energy pricing trend and economic development, as well as what long-term impact will they have on China’s future. After all, many Chinese didn’t see this conflict coming.
More importantly, most Chinese don’t understand why Russia hasn’t won the final victory in more than half a month? Does Russia have a better choice? What is the strategic goal Russia hopes to achieve?
China opposes US hegemony, but China is unwilling to have a military conflict or cold war with the United States. Instead, it hopes to resolve its differences with the United States by other means and defend China’s core interests from United States interference with a smarter counterattack.
In the view of most Chinese people, neither Russians taking military action nor Ukraine under Zelensky’s leadership falling to the United States and NATO is a perfect solution. As a Chinese scholar who has close contact with President Putin and has talked with several Ukrainian dignitaries, I am particularly willing to try to understand Russia and Ukraine.
I’ve met Putin twice in the past few years. The first time was the G20 leaders’ dinner in 2015. I was invited as a think tank representative. He stood behind me and waited for the handshake and group photo of the Turkish prime minister in turn; the second time was the Valdai Club’s annual meeting held in Sochi where he talked with scholars. Putin is not tall, but he has great momentum. He does not avoid any questions, goes straight to the point, and speaks and does things unambiguously. He’s been a standing global player in the world’s big chess game since the dawn of the 21st century!
For this close neighbor to the north, the Chinese actually know too little and do not study enough. In the past, many of the older generation of scholars spoke Russian; Now, few young scholars can speak Russian, and fewer and fewer Chinese institutions frequently communicate with Russian think tanks.
For four consecutive years, I was invited to attend the Valdai Club annual meeting attended by Putin every year and had a conversation with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. The overall feeling is that Russia has a strong national expansiveness and is more sensitive to the needs of resources, land and security than most ethnic groups. This can explain why countries that have played games with Russia since Peter the Great have been afraid of it for more than 300 years, as well as China’s strategic correctness and importance of consolidating China-Russia relations and maintaining the stability of the northern border in the past 30 years.
I have also encountered many Ukrainian political leaders in various international forums, shook hands with former Ukrainian President Yushchenko and had simple exchanges. I have also seen the beautiful former Prime Minister Tymoshenko at a close distance. Compared with the former dignitaries of other European countries, they have an extraordinary, galvanizing presence with many assistants behind and in front of them. This may reflect the corruption and complexity of Ukrainian politics.
Ukraine is a beautiful country but a sad one in many respects, with the 45th biggest land area and 33rd largest population in the world.
The biggest tragedy of Ukraine is that it is not always a national hero who swings between Europe and Russia and lacks autonomy and strategic awareness. Their senior officials are politicians like actors, so much so that people simply chose a comedian as president in 2019, which is a really sad and helpless move.
With the encouragement of NATO and the United States, Ukraine has continued to provoke Russia on security issues, and finally Putin fought back. Ukraine was obviously cheated by the United States and NATO and became their thugs and war agents. Of course, I have published articles in China and strongly opposed some Chinese netizens talking about Ukraine in a sarcastic tone.
In fact, in my opinion, this is not only a small-scale and systematic military war, nor is it just a three-dimensional overall war led by the United States against Russia in politics, diplomacy, finance, trade, currency and public opinion, but also a war with the participation of the whole society, an information explosion and even full-range live broadcasts. Almost all concerned netizens observed the war with a sense of involvement and exaggeration. This determines that the war will not spread and worsen, as global Internet users have become a new restraining force.
Therefore, the top priority is to keep the United States, the European Union and NATO away from the conflict. Let the views of Russia and Ukraine be made publicly and freely, and let everything return to the United Nations realm of peace and consultation. This is the true feeling of a peace-loving Chinese scholar.