Russia is sleepwalking into becoming a client state for China as the invasion of Ukraine prolongs. As Russia faces increasing international sanctions, China is playing an increasingly larger role in providing the financing that Russia needs to fund its war.
China is exploiting the circumstances by buying cheap oil and gas from Russia while seeking ways to covertly fund Russia’s war on Ukraine to exhaust the US and its allies, and more importantly to pave the way to invade Taiwan.
The Russian invasion of Ukraine is going to become a proxy war for China, in which Russia is the client state and China is the principal actor. Such proxy alignment is being formed based on various factors.
One of the most imminent factors is that Russia and China define the US and its allies as sources of existential threat. Moscow justifies its “special operation” in Ukraine by blaming NATO’s eastward expansion to Russia’s doorstep. China condemns the AUKUS arrangement — a security pact among Australia, the US and the UK — as posing nuclear proliferation risks by providing nuclear powered submarines to Australia.
To solidify such proxy alignment, China is enhancing its stakes in the Russian economy, particularly in the energy and commodity sectors. China is casting its eyes on “Russian energy and commodities companies, such as gas giant Gazprom PJSC and aluminum producer United Co Rusal International PJSC,” Bloomberg News said on Tuesday last week.
That article said that the Chinese government is “in talks with its state-owned firms, including China National Petroleum Corp, China Petrochemical Corp, Aluminum Corp of China and China Minmetals Corp, on any opportunities for potential investments in Russian companies or assets.”
The article also mentioned that “talks between Chinese and Russian energy companies have started to take place.”
War needs money. The longer the war on Ukraine takes, the more Moscow desperately needs foreign capital. As thousands of global sanctions against Russia have already kicked in and the war continues, what alternative would Russia have other than holding big fire sales of their assets to China?
China is enhancing its stakes in the Russian economy to serve Beijing’s purposes rather than to bail out Moscow. Securing energy and resources from Russia provides China with more cards to draw from in the event its trade dispute with Australia — its primary source of energy and resources — further heats up.
More crucially, by acquiring Russian energy and commodities companies, China is seizing a once in a lifetime opportunity to make Moscow’s economic dependence on Beijing irreversible. With such a strategic move, China could cement a principal-agent relationship between China and Russia.
To enhance its stakes in the Russian economy, China is indirectly sponsoring Russia’s war in Ukraine. It is seeking to gain strategic political advantages by leveraging its position as Russia’s ostensible ally.
China’s plots might work because the West inevitably needs China to restrain Russian President Vladimir Putin. The world believes that Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) is the only person who could influence Putin. For example, Australian Minister for Defence Peter Dutton has on at least three occasions appealed to Xi on television “to pick up the phone” and tell Putin to halt the invasion.
Early last month, Xi and Putin released a document called the Joint Statement of the Russian Federation and the People’s Republic of China on the International Relations Entering a New Era and the Global Sustainable Development. Rather than simply frame a new partnership, the countries agreed to establish a new world order, ending the US unipolar global order. The war in Ukraine is a step toward this goal, which upsets the US’ near-hegemonic status in Europe.
With the war prolonging, Putin’s moves in Ukraine are cementing a principal-agent relationship between China and Russia. When the world ponders Putin’s endgame in Ukraine, Russia is going to be deployed as a client state for China.
China is cooking up a proxy war through Russia to the West. Regardless of the result of the war in Ukraine, Russia is fighting on behalf of China and poses a test to the US unipolar world order. Being reduced to a client state, Russia is paying the price for Putin’s ambition in Ukraine and emboldening Xi to plot an invasion of Taiwan.
Lionel Te-Chen Chiou is a Sydney-based freelance journalist specializing in cultural affairs. His main research interests are the Chinese Communist Party and its narrative control.
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