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China: Big Brother Blues


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Mar. 8 2022

One Chinese custom little understood in the West is that China does not have allies; it has trading partners or tributary states. The latter are seen as a family-type relationship where China is the elder brother and tributary states like North Korea and Russia are younger brothers. North Korea accepts and understands this situation because Korea has been subject to it for centuries. South Korea has broken free of this relationship, which is one reason why China is so hostile to South Korea. Russia is a new member of the family, even if Russia does not officially accept that. That’s irrelevant because Russia is increasingly dependent on China economically, diplomatically and militarily. China also has claims on most of the Russian Far East (Pacific coast) and has never renounced these claims. With that in mind, China is not pleased with the behavior of its younger brother. Despite that, family is family.

Officially, China supports Russian efforts to deal with “Ukrainian aggression.” Unofficially, China is critical of the Russian war on Ukraine, if only because of the negative impact on Chinese trade and diplomacy. China was a major customer for Ukrainian military tech and wheat. That trade is disrupted and will take a while to recover, no matter who wins.

here were other problems. China was not happy with the poor performance of Russian troops in Ukraine. China was kept informed about the preparations for the invasion and asked Russia to wait until the Winter Olympics in China were over on February 23rd before invading. The invasion began before dawn on the 24th and was, according to Russia, supposed to be over in fifteen days. After about a week, China concluded that the Russian plan and the Russian military had failed. Russian troops quickly ran into trouble because of the unexpected stiff resistance by Ukrainian troops and armed civilians. China initially remained silent about the invasion and as the Ukrainian resistance increased, along with unprecedented sanctions imposed by Russia’s Western trading partners, China refused to openly support the Russian operation. China was also dismayed at the degree of European military support for the Ukrainians, despite Russian threats of nuclear retaliation. That did not dissuade the Europeans or Americans, just as it had not worked on China during their 1969 border war between Russia and China. In 1969 China had recently tested its first nuclear weapon but did not have a nuclear retaliation capability. Russia approached the Americans about joining in a nuclear attack on China. The Americans refused and criticized the Russian threats to use nukes. When China found out about that, there was a warming in the long-frosty relations with the Americans which soon (1972) led to the U.S. recognizing the Chinese communist government.


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