Bilateral relations between Ukraine and China have been in the nature of a strategic partnership for more than a decade. However, the full-scale invasion of the Russian Federation into Ukraine and the neutral position of China raised the issue of revising and resetting Ukraine's policy on the "Chinese" track. Considering that China can already be called one of the global players along with the United States, which is likely to play a key role in determining the future world agenda, it is very difficult to ignore the Celestial Empire. At the same time, China remains a difficult direction for Ukraine's foreign policy to perceive, both because of the lack of intellectual and human resources, and because of Ukraine's relative passivity in this direction over the past 30 years.
Ukraine certainly needs a strategy on China, regardless of public sentiment and individual perception of this or that administration. China's neutrality regarding the Russian-Ukrainian war is a confirmation of this need. This, however, does not mean a choice between "friendship" and "enmity" with China. In socio-political discourse, the development of a strategy in one direction or another is often mistakenly perceived as the intention of the state to almost create some kind of alliance with those countries that are mentioned in the strategies. But strategies are needed for a concrete understanding of the external environment, Ukraine's interests in this environment and the formation of goals on the way to achieving its interests. The issue of approaches, principles and practical actions is a separate issue.
The main problems of Chinese-Ukrainian cooperation have always boiled down to the following points :
- lack of active, regular high-level political dialogue;
- insufficient level of professional training of diplomats in this area;
- the absence of a full-fledged strategy for the development of bilateral relations, which would take into account the specifics of both Russian-Chinese relations and US-Chinese relations;
- insufficient level of state positioning in the world system, the lack of a clear functionality of Ukraine, understandable to external players.
China is important to Ukraine for several reasons .
First, it is a state capable of influencing world processes, our largest pre-war trade and economic partner, whose weight in the world system is difficult to ignore.
Secondly, China has close relations with the Russian Federation, and the ability to influence Russian policy (this opportunity is likely to grow in the near future), and this directly affects our strategic interests and national security.
Thirdly, China is the main rival of the United States, and the development of international relations in the near future will depend on the dynamics of relations between these countries, which means that for many states positioning themselves relative to the United States and China will be one of the key markers that determine the place of this country in the conditional "new bipolar world” between Washington and Beijing.
Of course, the "Russian factor" is a priority for us at this stage. Sino-Russian cooperation should excite and interest us, since the well-being and regional positions of the Russian Federation in the context of our war depend on it. Ignoring China because it is mistakenly perceived as a “friend of Russia” only for having ties with Moscow is a weak and passive position that will not give Ukraine anything, and will only marginalize us in the Russia-China-USA triangle, which we cannot allow. The key strategic task of Ukraine for the coming decades will be to contain, counter and isolate Russia as the main threat to us and the region. It will be extremely difficult to implement it without ties with China, and at least for these purposes a strategy in the Chinese direction is needed. And not only in Chinese; this applies to all non-Western countries,
For now, China's position on Ukraine should be taken as neutral. PRC neutrality has several key features. Beijing officially supports the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine. This is motivated by a desire to position China as a responsible player on the international stage and avoid further criticism from other states on sensitive issues such as the oppression of the Uyghur Muslim minority in Xinjiang and the status of Taiwan.
At the same time, the PRC expresses support for the Kremlin, taking into account a number of objective reasons for Beijing: the reorientation of Russian trade to Asia, the supply of cheap Russian resources to China, which partially ensures energy security, ensuring a stable situation on the Russian-Chinese border, keeping the Russian Federation as a “geopolitical asset" by exaggerating friendship with Moscow, which creates a deceptive impression among the Russian leadership that China is ready to be an ally of the Russian Federation. Although it is impossible not to admit that non-interference in the internal affairs and the authoritarian nature of both regimes, which determines the commonality and similarity of views on building a world order and settling key issues on the international agenda, really makes the Russian Federation and China partners. Let this partnership be asymmetric on a colossal scale.
In addition, the Russian-Ukrainian war is considered in Zhongnanhai in the context of the US-Chinese geopolitical confrontation. Within the framework of the new bipolarity, the Russian Federation, of course, acts as a partner of the PRC, as an antagonist to the United States. For this reason, Beijing is interested in preserving the Putin regime, since in the event of its deconstruction, there is a possibility that a liberal political elite will come to power, which will begin the process of rapprochement with European states and the United States. At the same time, China's interest lies in the maximum weakening of the regime, which, isolated by sanctions, would see China as the only ally and the largest trading partner.
If you are interested in a more detailed analysis of China's position regarding the Russian-Ukrainian war, we suggest that you read the special report of the Ukrainian Institute for the Future , written back in April.
The future strategy of Ukraine for the development of bilateral relations with China should be based on the principles of political realism and based on the strategic interests of the state. And our main interests in the Chinese direction will be as follows:
- Deterrence, Counteraction and Isolation of Russia . Without the participation of China (or at least its neutrality), the strategic containment and isolation of the Russian Federation will be difficult. From the point of view of our state interests, Russia cannot be allowed to acquire new allies and win over the vacillating states of the non-Western world, as happened with Iran. Ukraine should at least try to preempt these attempts, and in the long run build an infrastructure of connections and influence in Asia to counterbalance the Russian Federation;
- Diversification of foreign policy and foreign economic relations to strengthen its position on the world stage . As well as the goals of the previous task, and for a successful restart of the state and economy, Ukraine can no longer afford to ignore entire areas and regions, focusing on only one vector, as it was before. Working with our Western allies, we must not forget that the conditional "non-West" is no less important for our interests, and in certain aspects of cooperation, perhaps even more important. This also applies to China. The PRC has an economic interest in Ukraine, which can be realized taking into account China's observance of the principle of separating politics and economics.
To a large extent, the development of political relations between Ukraine and the PRC depends on the state of interaction between the PRC, the Russian Federation and the United States. On the one hand, Ukraine, as a regional state with the United States as its strategic partner, is not of significant political interest to Beijing. After the end of the war, regardless of the configuration of forces and the internal situation in the Russian Federation, one should probably not expect an intensification of political relations between Kyiv and Beijing. Accordingly, in the political sense, China will not be a priority for Ukraine, and vice versa. At least until it becomes clear what the dynamics of US-Chinese relations will be and what functionality we can knock out for ourselves here. However, the support of a constant dialogue will be needed to develop systemic links,
On the other hand, China claims to be a global state, and despite its confrontation with the West, cooperation between China, European states and the United States will continue. In the medium term, with all the belligerence of Josep Borell and calls for a reduction in ties with the PRC, this reduction will be slow. If relations between China and the West do not go into a sharp escalation, then we can hardly expect a sharp drop in the intensity of cooperation between them in the near future.
But the Russian Federation, as an international exile, will become more politically toxic, so we can expect a decrease in the intensity of interaction between the PRC and the Russian Federation. In this context, it is very important for Ukraine to establish contacts with Beijing and work in this direction in order to speed up the process and not allow Russia to influence China in its fight against us and the West.
In the context of open military aggression by the Russian Federation, which has caused enormous losses to all sectors of the Ukrainian economy and requires significant financial resources to protect its own territorial integrity and post-war reconstruction, China is becoming important as an economic, investment partner and source of modernization. Considering the difficulties created by the sanctions policy against the Russian Federation, the implementation of the Chinese grand project “One Belt, One Road” has become more complicated in the logistical and transport aspect, which creates opportunities for Ukraine to become one of the hubs of the project that will connect Asia and Europe.
Today, Ukraine needs investment support for all sectors of the economy, providing priority funding for large infrastructure facilities that create new jobs and help revive the economy. Therefore, awareness of the importance of maintaining stable relations with the PRC as one of the key global political, financial and economic centers of the world, the world's largest exporter, the world's second economy, a country with the largest gold and foreign exchange reserves in the world and significant investment opportunities, as well as awareness of the need for consistent and progressive development of bilateral relations is important.
At the same time, the nature of Ukrainian-Chinese relations can be left “strategic”, since the PRC considers such a type of bilateral relations as implying non-confrontation and peaceful coexistence, non-alignment with the conflict against a third state, a low level of political cooperation, which has a symbolic, not actual value.
Thus, while maintaining stable trade and economic ties, Ukraine does not undertake to provide political support to those issues that the PRC perceives as sensitive and exclusively internal, for example, the issues of the genocide of the Uyghur minority. At the same time, while maintaining official observance of the policy of one China, Ukraine can develop economic relations with Taiwan.
It is important for Ukraine to show China its own foreign policy concept, which should not depend entirely on the US and the EU, but take into account the existing geopolitical situation, namely the bipolar geopolitical confrontation between China and the US. It is quite possible that the US remains the main political partner and China the main trade and economic partner.
The Russian-Ukrainian war demonstrated the geopolitical identity and integrity of Ukraine, which is important to reflect in the strategy towards China, which previously regarded Ukraine as a regional American satellite.