It is naive to believe that China did not know that Putin was ready to invade Ukraine when both leaders Xi and Putin signed the treaty of “unlimited friendship”.
At that time the expected invasion of Ukraine was the principal discussion in any serious Geopolitical and Geoeconomics discussion in the West.
When Putin informed Xi of his intentions to attack Ukraine, Xi had no reason to restrain him.
It was not China that was s ticking its neck out, it was the “useful idiot” Vladimir.
However, as this affair turned out it would be usefully exploited by China.
First and foremost, it would avert in part the US hostile focus on China, particularly during a difficult period for this Country, following Xi’s winning his re-election which wrecked the Chinese Economy as a result of his attack on the Chinese Hitech Economic oligarchs and his stern anti-Covid measures and their negative social impact.
The Chinese Economy today is as shaky as Western ones, if not more.
Second, it would allow China to observe in vitro, the results and World reactions of an invasion in another Country, before they apply it, in vivo in their case in Taiwan.
China is a great arsenal for Putin.
Putin salivates thinking of the millions of ammunition rounds, UAVs, and other first-class material that China has in abundance, now that his own Army is scraping the bottom of the barrel and depends on Iran and North Korea for expensive military supplies. Those are not enough, because the Russian Army, believers in artillery since Napoleon, fires 20,000 rounds per day in Ukraine.
For the moment the Chinese arsenal stays closed. China only sells microchips and spares to Russia and even those are not enough and are not top quality because China has problems with the microchips supply.
Arming Russia against Ukraine is great leverage for China to become a principal player and the ultimate arbiter in this War.
China is not going to decide early. It may give a few hundred thousand ammo to Russia just to whet the Russian appetite and excite/scare the US but has no interest in fully siding with Putin.
The above action is very different from China entering the War. The international cost to China with its hence increasing isolation is a heavy burden for China to bear now.
Yet there is one reason for Xi to get involved: It is against China’s interest for Putin to lose completely.
A weakened Russia is acceptable to the Chinese because this will allow them to expand in Central Asia and subjugate Russia to China.
A defeated Russia has zero value as an ally, the destabilization in the Kremlin that will certainly follow will derail the Russo-Chinese Strategic partnership and will also throw cold water to any plans of invading Taiwan militarily.
If there is one thing China abhors, because they are long-term planners, is instability and uncertainty.
Fully arming the Russians with Chinese weaponry may tip the scales and ensure that Russia wins if the War is not further escalated, which is likely.
That will mean that China is engaging directly with the West through a hot War, initially by proxy, the extent of which is unknown.
That will mean a fully confrontational Cold(?) war with the West, instability, zero diplomacies, and cripplingly limited trade.
This potential new Cold War will have China, a weak Russia, North Korea, Iran, Syria, and maybe Turkey on one side and the US, NATO including Finland and Sweden, Japan, Australia, South Korea, and maybe Vietnam on the other.
China has much more to gain by threatening that it will arm Russia and more to lose if it does so. Whatever happens, the confrontation between China and the US will increase. The question is to what degree.
The power game in Ukraine is now more complex since there are three major powers involved, all nuclear.
The US, China, and Russia. Any dealing will be done between them.
Europe, long focused on Economy and Trade, is not a major paragon.
European Countries near Russia side with the West except for Hungary and Turkey.
Germany, France, and Italy would opt for a negotiated solution even at the expense of Ukraine.
For the moment both Russia and Ukraine are looking for Victory in the field.
The complexity of the Problems is such that, for the present, the fog of War is impenetrable.
Hopefully, something less bloody will start emerging toward the end of 2023.
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