Asia and Eurasia
Why So Many Chinese Feel Sympathy With Russia

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.

Economic Statecraft
Ukrainian Crisis. Who Has the Upper Hand?
Ivan Timofeev
The new stage of the Ukrainian crisis will have global consequences. For some, it will bring short and medium-term costs, and very significant ones. For many, however, it will create opportunities to increase their influence over the long term, writes Valdai Club Programme Director Ivan Timofeev.

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?

There are so many questions, not just because the Chinese are concerned about Russia’s security dilemma, but also because they believe the earlier Russia can end the conflict, the better everyone will be.

In China, oil prices are rising and the stock market is volatile. No one wants the conflict to continue. Some people worry that if they support Russia too much, they will also be sanctioned by the United States.

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.

In Europe, Ukraine is the largest country outside Russia. Ukraine’s grain exports once ranked third in the world, and its resource endowment ranked well in the world. But Ukraine can be described as having “the body of a strong man and the fate of a servant girl”.

Historically, Ukraine has always been attached to powerful countries. It was successively occupied by the Golden Horde Khanate, the Grand Duchy of Lithuania and Poland, and merged with czarist Russia in 1654. In modern times, it experienced tragedies such as the great famine in Ukraine and the Chernobyl incident. In 1991, the Soviet Union disintegrated and the thousand-year-old Ukrainian society became independent. However, its national resources are like a piece of cake being repeatedly lapped by oligarchs, and people’s lives have gone from bad to worse. From being regarded as the “European granary” to the “European brothel,” the number of prostitutes has soared, and drug abuse has increased. HIV/AIDS infections are reported to be over 1%.

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.

In the view of many Chinese, due to the long-term dissemination of false information by Western media and the pro-Western nature of Ukrainian media, the Chinese media are more willing to trust Russian media.

In recent years, from Trump’s economic, scientific and educational war against China, to Biden’s ideological offensive against China and his interference in the issues of Xinjiang and Hong Kong, most Chinese have a very negative impression of the US government and media.

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.

Economic Statecraft
Fear or Fearless: On the Current Crisis in Ukraine and the Sanctions Against Russia
Nelson Wong
While the "special military operation" of Russia in Ukraine is still underway, the US and its Western allies have already announced several waves of sanctions against Russia over the last couple of days. Op-ed articles that have appeared in both Russian and Western media are feeding readers around the world with opinions of well-known scholars from Russia, Europe and the US on the background and root-cause of the on-going crisis in Ukraine, let us turn to look at those sanctions against Russia that have also taken the world by surprise.  
Views expressed are of individual Members and Contributors, rather than the Club's, unless explicitly stated otherwise.