The United States threatens China with consequences for supporting Russia. Beijing will have to face a difficult choice — China will no longer be able to stay in the shadow.
On January 31, the UN Security Council will host a US-requested meeting to discuss Russia's "aggressive behavior" in the conflict with Ukraine.
Until recently, China's stance on the issue has been neutral, although politically Xi Jinping even called for great joint action to protect security interests. This happened on December 15 during a video call with Vladimir Putin.
In practice, China abstains from voting on key UN resolutions on Crimea. Beijing refuses to recognize Crimea as Russian territory too. Similarly, China verbally rejects US and European sanctions against Russia. At the same time, however, the Chinese administration supported Chinese companies, including major state-owned banks, to comply with those restrictions.
Today it will be difficult for Beijing to maintain this neutrality. China's behaviour in relation to the situation around Ukraine will determine Russia's behaviour in relation to the situation around Taiwan, which is far from being easy too. In fact, the state of affairs around the situation with Taiwan is in many ways similar to that around Ukraine. The United States accuses China of its intention to invade and conquer Taiwan.
This week, perhaps for the first time not belatedly, Chine supported Russia in its concerns. Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi called US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken and urged the United States to respond appropriately to Russia's security concerns.
"Russia's reasonable security concerns should be taken seriously and resolved," Wang Yi said, adding a nation's security should not come at a cost of the security of others, whereas regional security could not be guaranteed by strengthening or even expanding military alliances.
It is worthy of note that the Kremlin trusts Beijing. Thus, against the backdrop of reports from the Ministry of Defense about the transfer of troops from the Far East to western and southern regions for exercises (including Belarus), Russia has exposed its borders with China, which, as it appears, Russia does not see as a serious problem.
The United States responded to Wang Yi's warning. Deputy Secretary of State Victoria Nuland, called on China to use its influence with Moscow to persuade Russia to diplomacy. An escalation in Ukraine, if it starts, is not going to be anything positive for China, she added.
The US is thus putting pressure on China, trying to force Beijing to make a choice. China is likely to be drawn into the crisis due to potential Western sanctions against Russia, which, unlike in 2014, will put much more pressure on Beijing to take sides.
China's political weight is tremendous, and many geopolitical aspects will depend on its position.
Experts have different opinions on the decisions that Beijing can make. Hu Xijin, former editor-in-chief of China's Global Times, tweeted that Russia would not be left alone in resisting US and NATO pressure. China will definitely offer Russia support, although he did not specify which support it could be exactly.
Kirill Kotkov, a Russian expert on China, believes that Moscow should not rely on Beijing too much. A military-political alliance with China will be "an unequal marriage," and China, in principle, is not capable of negotiating, the sinologist told Pravda.Ru.
For his part, Professor Andrei Ostrovsky, the head of the Center for Economic and Social Research of China, noted for Pravda.Ru that China would support Russia over the Ukrainian crisis, because Chinese officials understand the US policy of "tug-of-war".
"The United States of America at one point asked Russia to influence China on Taiwan and Hong Kong issues. This, in fact, is a regular tug of war. Either they ask China to influence Russia, or vice versa,” the expert said.
In addition, Andrei Ostrovsky is sure that China will not have to make a strategic choice if the Russian Federation is disconnected from the SWIFT system, since such disconnection is not going to happen.
"SWIFT is a private organization headquartered in Belgium. Two or three years ago I took part in a seminars held by the Central Bank in Moscow. A SWIFT representative then said very clearly that for them the decisions of the United States or the European Union are not legitimate, because SWIFT is an organization that makes its own decisions on all issues," Andrey Ostrovsky said.
Noteworthy, China and Russia have largely switched to the ruble and yuan in settlements with each other.
In turn, sinologist Nikolai Vavilov believes that Russian president's visit to Beijing on February 4 could be of historic significance.
"Russia and China need a more prompt solution to the problems of people's movement (the borders are closed due to the pandemic). The two countries whose relationship is more than just a union, they cannot be held hostage to the decisions made in the United States," the expert wrote in his Telegram channel.
The Federation Council may gather for the meeting on October 4 to consider new laws on the accession of new territories to Russia after the referenda