CARNEGIE ENDOWMENT FOR INTERNATIONAL PEACE
APLN member Tong Zhao argues that the Ukraine War likely contributed to Chinese leaders’ gradual, if reluctant, acceptance of the Biden administration’s framework for “managing” competition by building guardrails around the US-China relationship. Read the original article here.
The Russian invasion has significantly heightened mutual perceptions of threat between the U.S.-led West and China. Beijing believes that Washington and its allies are using this war to weaken Russia and fears that it could become the next target of a similar Western pressure campaign to disrupt China’s rise. Beijing’s sympathetic attitude toward Moscow has also made it Moscow’s accomplice in the eyes of Western countries, dashing hopes of avoiding a new Cold War between the world’s two largest economies.
The West’s successful demonstration of unity and collective power dealt a blow to China’s previous optimism that “the East is rising, the West is declining” and helped bring home to the Chinese leadership the reality that it must prepare for a longer-term and more unpredictable systemic competition with the United States than it once expected. The war likely contributed to Chinese leaders’ gradual, if reluctant, acceptance of the framework from the Biden administration for “managing” competition by building guardrails around the bilateral relationship. As a result, a hot conflict, including over the Taiwan Strait, is less likely in the near term. The good news is that this means more time to kick the can down the road and for the relevant parties to work out their differences.
The Russian invasion provides an opportunity to observe how an external crisis, albeit self-inflicted, can further reverse domestic liberalization and increase the authoritarianism of an autocratic state, making it an even greater threat to international peace. This should serve as a reminder of the importance of prudent strategic planning to minimize the risk of unnecessary or premature military conflict with China. More research is needed to understand what long-term measures might be useful to mitigate the dangerous information and perception gap at the societal level between China and more liberal states. Peace cannot be maintained without addressing the underlying political problems that are as serious, if not more so, among the major powers in the Asia-Pacific region today as they are in Eastern Europe.