Wednesday, June 1, 2022

Summer 2022 Issue 72

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China’s Strategic Straddle: Analyzing Beijing’s Diplomatic Response to the Russian Invasion of Ukraine

Evan S. Medeiros
Wednesday, June 1, 2022

This article examines China’s diplomatic responses to the Russian invasion of Ukraine. It argues that the war created an immediate diplomatic “trilemma” for China as it sought to balance three competing interests: alignment with Russia, adherence to core principles of Chinese foreign policy and need for stability with the United States and Europe.  To manage this trilemma, China adopted a policy that I term a “strategic straddle” in which China tries to balance these competing interests at the same time. In practice, this straddle has manifested in strong rhetorical, informational and diplomatic support for Russia while, at the same time, Beijing has been very careful, to date, to avoid providing substantial material support to Russia. Maintaining this balancing act will be difficult as Russian needs grow. In relations with the United States and Europe, China has sought to put a floor under worsening relations but has had limited success doing so. The one area where China has sought strategic advantage is in its ties with the Global South, which is suffering from economic dislocations associated with the war. China has sought to use these deprivations to generate greater solidarity in resisting U.S.-led rules, norms and institutions. China’s ability to maintain this straddle will be challenged the complexities of managing competing ties with these different countries, regions and institutions.

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Strategic Partner or Strategic Player? Russian Asia Experts Assess China’s Ukraine Policy

Elizabeth Wishnick
Wednesday, June 1, 2022

In the U.S. and Europe, China is seen as Russia’s tacit supporter, but what do Russian experts think? This article examines recent writings and interviews with leading Russian China-watchers. My research finds that they see Russia’s invasion of Ukraine as setting limits to Sino-Russian relations, despite recent declarations by Beijing and Moscow stating otherwise. They conclude that China is likely to prioritize its own interests rather than to support Russia overtly. While some Russian observers emphasize the economic and political difficulties China faces, others point to its potential economic gains. Some Russian Asia experts remain confident that Russia will succeed in avoiding over-dependence on Chinese investment, whereas others see China being in a better position to obtain long-sought economic opportunities in Russia.

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The Ukrainian Challenge to China’s Leadership Politics: An Emerging Divergence in Foreign Policy and Its Impact on the 20th Party Congress

Guoguang Wu
Wednesday, June 1, 2022

Despite China’s pro-Russia stance with respect to the invasion of Ukraine, divergent perspectives exist among Chinese policy elites toward the Ukraine war and China’s relations with Putin’s Russia. Such policy divergences have occurred mainly between China strongman Xi Jinping and some foreign-policy ruling elites who are politically connected with the top leaders who ruled China prior to Xi’s rise. As Xi steadily supports Putin with a strong commitment to the informal alliance between China and Russia, the dissenting voices among the policy elites have advocated distancing China from Russia’s military venture in Ukraine. Meanwhile, criticisms of Xi’s stance on the Ukraine war have also appeared in social media. Such criticisms highlight China’s national interest, which is inherently more skeptical of Russia, rather than endorse a close partnership. This essay analyzes Xi’s personal and political interests in maintaining a pro-Putin policy, the potential connection between  the observed policy divergences and the elite power struggle ahead of China’s 20th Party Congress, and Xi’s attempts to turn his policy liability into an asset and thus gain leverage in the forthcoming CCP leadership reorganization.

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China’s Propaganda on the War in Ukraine

Maria Repnikova
Wednesday, June 1, 2022

Although China’s official position on the war has been that of neutrality—not aligning with the West against Russia and not directly supporting Russia’s war in Ukraine—its communications about the war, in particular its propaganda via state media and Foreign Ministry spokespeople have carried a more pro-Russia stance. During the past two months of the Russia-Ukraine war, Chinese official messaging has echoed and reinforced Russia’s position: 1.) by promoting shared narratives about the origins and culprits of the war, namely blaming NATO and the United States; 2.) by drawing disproportionally on Russian sources and footage of the war; and 3.) by under-reporting on Ukraine’s perspectives. This pro-Russia leaning during the Ukraine crisis can be understood as part of a larger propaganda trajectory vis-à-vis Russia and the United States. Domestically, China’s propaganda messaging in large part appears to resonate with public opinion. Internationally, however, Chinese propaganda about the war, especially communications by Foreign Ministry spokespeople, delude China’s neutrality position and antagonize the West, while more integrating China into the Global South.

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Controlling China’s Digital Ecosystem: Observations on Chinese Social Media

Jennifer Pan 
Wednesday, June 1, 2022

Nowhere is the effort to control the flow of digital information more extensive and sustained than it is in China. The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) uses a wide range of tools and strategies to achieve two related, but distinct, goals of digital information control: to shape public knowledge and to “guide” the public in the aftermath of sudden, unexpected events. Controlling social media is especially relevant to the second goal, and the CCP uses strategies of content removal (censorship) and content generation (propaganda) to pursue this aim. Recent studies of the Chinese internet and social media show that the CCP has adapted quickly to new digital communication technologies, though it is in sometimes unexpected ways, and CCP control of Chinese social media is integral to its efforts to shape public beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors.

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CLM Insights Interview with Kenneth W. Allen and Cristina L. Garafola on their recent book:

70 Years of the PLA Air Force

(The China Aerospace Studies Institute, 2021)