U.S. officials have said that Russia appealed to China for military and economic support. Biden warned China’s leader, Xi Jinping, that granting that request would incur “consequences,” though the administration has not specified what those consequences might be.
“The administration’s dilemma is that China is the world’s second-largest economy and the origin point of countless global supply chains,” wrote Phelim Kine of Politico. “Unlike Russia, whose relative unimportance to the function of Western economies made it relatively easier to sanction, China is a dominant player in everything from electrical appliances to shipping to solar panels.”
But many doubt China will become a major party in the conflict. There are limits to how much China can help Russia economically, the Times columnist Paul Krugman explained. And by lending Russia military support, China might risk alienating other global powers with which it does business.
In part for that reason, some think China may even intervene to end Russia’s assault. “The longer the war lasts, the more it will reinvigorate the Western alliance around the idea of a values-based confrontation between East and West, bringing the United States and the European Union into even closer alignment while driving military budgets up around the globe,” wrote Wang Huiyao, the founder and president of the Center for China and Globalization, in The Times. “That is not good for China, which would prefer to maintain lucrative economic ties with the West and focus its resources on domestic development.”
For now, China is walking a middle path, at once declining calls to condemn Russia’s attack and pledging to de-escalate the conflict. Xi’s government “has struck a careful balance between its economic and geopolitical objectives, providing enough diplomatic support for Russia to maintain Moscow’s loyalty without extending the kind of aid that would cost its exporters Western customers,” Eric Levitz of New York magazine wrote. “It is hard to see why it would abandon this stance for Vladimir Putin’s sake.”
Putin takes Ukraine — and doesn’t stop
Despite Russia’s initial failures, many commentators believe it is only a matter of time before Putin unleashes the full might of his military on Ukraine’s cities and deposes its government. And what might he do then?
“The optimistic part is he dies soon after,” Masha Gessen, who covers Russia for The New Yorker, told Ezra Klein on a recent episode of his podcast. “Because if he doesn’t, it happens again and again and again,” Gessen said, adding, “Moldova, Ukraine, Georgia, the Baltics, Poland — they’re all on notice.”