Despite Signs of Stress, Talk of Ending Beijing-Moscow Alliance Is Wishful Thinking
The Communist Chinese leader may quibble with the way his Kremlin partner runs the war, but he can’t afford a Russian loss.
As Americans tire of aiding Ukraine’s war efforts, hopes for breaking up the Beijing-Moscow alliance are on the rise. Yet any idea that Chairman Xi is about to drop his “friendship without limits” with President Putin just to help America get out of Europe is as realistic as the notion that this time Lucy will let Charlie Brown kick the football.
Communist China’s participation in a weekend peace conference at Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, was “productive,” the Department of State’s spokesman, Mattew Miller, said Monday. “We have long said that it would be productive for China to play a role in ending the war in Ukraine if it was willing to play a role that respected Ukraine’s territorial integrity and Ukraine’s sovereignty.”
Washington was encouraged by the fact that Mr. Xi sent envoy Li Hui to Jeddah, where he reiterated Beijing’s 12-point roadmap for Ukraine peace to representatives from 40 countries. National Security Adviser Jacob Sullivan was there and, more importantly, Moscow was absent. That led many to assess that perhaps China and Russia are parting ways on Ukraine.
Yet, while Beijing has from the start expressed its familiar aversion to a violation of territorial integrity, it has steadfastly refused to condemn Russia’s atrocities in waging the Ukraine war. Even while presenting its peace plan and pretending to be neutral, it refused to talk to Kyiv and backed Russia financially, ignoring Western sanctions and allowing Moscow’s war machine to hum.
Mr. Xi may quibble with the way his Kremlin partner runs the war, but he can’t afford a Russian loss. His main concern is a growing global conflict between an American-led group of free countries and his own bloc of revisionists that thrives to weaken and overtake it. In that, Mr. Putin is an important ally.
Meanwhile in America, the presidential election is getting into high gear and with it basic political instincts kick in: ignore foreign dangers and promise prosperity at home. Ukraine war fatigue is growing, as the public tires even of the heroic image of President Zelensky’s T-shirt-clad figure.
In a recent CNN poll, a majority of Americans, 55 percent, said Congress should end funding for Ukraine and 51 percent said America has already done enough. In contrast, a similar poll conducted following the Russian invasion in February 2022 found that a large majority, 62 percent, favored additional American aid to Ukraine.
While President Biden has been steadfast, albeit consistently slow, in arming, training, and diplomatically supporting Kyiv, he has failed to convince the public that it is in America’s interest. No Churchillian “we shall fight on the beaches” speech has been delivered convincingly from the White House.
Mr. Biden’s current leading Republican contender, President Trump, simplistically calls for making “a deal,” telling Fox News, “I would tell Zelensky, no more. I would tell Putin, if you don’t make a deal, we’re going to give him a lot. We’re going to [give Ukraine] more than they ever got if we have to. I will have the deal done in one day. One day.”
Governor DeSantis of Florida says politicians “rush to the microphone and beat their chests about how important it is we keep sending more money to Ukraine.” And yet, he told radio host Hugh Hewitt, “they don’t have that sense of urgency at our own southern border.” Governor Haley and Vice President Pence are more hawkish, and Governor Christie, visiting Mr. Zelensky at Kyiv last week, says Americans are by and large on Ukraine’s side.
Yet, a growing number of Americans agree with entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy that Ukraine is not a top priority. The no. 1 military threat is “the China-Russian alliance,” Mr. Ramaswamy told ABC News. “I think that by fighting further in Russia, by further arming Ukraine, we are driving Russia into China’s hands.”
While Mr. Ramaswamy is a foreign policy novice with a penchant for believing conspiracy theories, he is not that far from ideas raised inside the Biden’s White House. The idea that Mr. Xi can be separated from Mr. Putin may well explain Mr. Miller’s assessment that Beijing can be a “productive” party in ending the war.
One sign that the goal of ending the war, rather than winning it, is rising in Washington is growing reports, based on briefings by unidentified Pentagon officials, who are whispering to favored reporters that the current Ukrainian counteroffensive is advancing much slower than hoped for, and hinting that it’s the time to negotiate an end to the war.
Mr. Xi would like to “help” that effort, but only in a way that would assure a Russian victory and thus strengthen his side of Cold War II. As Ms. Haley, who has honed her foreign policy chops at the United Nations, says, “a win for Russia is a win for China.”