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From Kiev to Beijing

Hegemonic Tensions


In the Summer of 1989, Deng Xiaoping, the Chairman of the Central Military Commission in China, put forth a powerful speech that illustrated his government’s plan for economic reform. In this speech, Deng addressed how the state, which would emerge as a prominent global authority after the reform period, would fit into the multifaceted web of economic, political and ideological concepts gauged by other hegemonic powers.


The White Paper, a term coined by the US Government to describe Sino-US relations, echoes notable themes by Mao Zedong, Deng Xiaoping and Hu Jintao. Along with other members of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), any intention to pursue economic or military hegemonic-like power has been disdained. Official claims, however, have been contradicted by China’s pronounced involvement in foreign affairs. In the Vietnam and Korean Wars, Sino-US relations faced an evident threat from dual proxy involvement. In the more recent Russo-Ukrainian War, proxy involvement continues to dampen relational progress between the two states.


Nonetheless, the theme of foreign intervention wanders around other contemporary issues that yield the attention of both nations, such as economic alliances in the Southern Hemisphere and Taiwanese sovereignty. As both nations appear heavily involved in foreign conflict, the ongoing Russo-Ukrainian War has heightened Sino-US relations because of proxy involvement by both states. As a result, American intervention in Ukraine has demonstrated a notable stance of defending geopolitical sovereignty, raising concerns about tensions in the South China Sea.


US and China in Proxy Wars


The relationship between the United States and China has been periodically threatened by involvement in proxy wars, which began in the twentieth century. By protesting in conflicts in Vietnam and Korea, the two states have been able to assert hegemony through long and costly negotiations.


The Vietnam War (1955-1975) was a political conflict that was fought between a communist northern authority and an American-led democratic south. On the other hand, the Korean War (1950-1953) was another conflict about the prevalence of communism in East Asian regimes. China, which has demonstrated profound support for an increasing communist stage, and the United States have exhibited involvement through economic sanctions, aid and military support, training and equipment. Proxy support has reinforced each state’s ideological and political

views. China, with support from the Soviet Union, has attempted to prevent this “Westernization,” which encompasses profound elements of democratization.


Since February 2022, Russia's invasion of Ukraine has presented a similar proxy dynamic by both states. Immediately after Putin’s attack, the Biden Administration announced its full support of Ukrainian sovereignty. In contrast, Xi has claimed a neutral stance in foreign discussions but has provided Russia with both military and economic support.


How is China Involved in Ukraine and Russia?


China’s “neutral stance” has faced notable contradictions by the actions of President Xi Jinping and other Chinese authorities. After the start of the War, China joined Russia in condemning the expansion of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), which Xi has explicitly described as “A major cause of conflict” (Xi). This “anti-NATO” rhetoric is a common phenomenon throughout Chinese politics and reinforces the idea that it is not a cooperative organization, but a prominent ideology of the Far East. Li Shangfu, the former Minister of National Defense, has argued that “NATO has [held] countries in [Asia] hostage and [has] [played] up conflict and confrontation.” (Shangfu). Thus, rather than promoting global corporatization, China has critiqued the foundational purpose of the democratic-emphasizing organization as conflict-inflicting.


Furthermore, China has maintained steady economic and military support for its ally. In the Fall of 2023, Putin received large-scale imports of Chinese-made trucks. Russia relies on trucks as they are unable to utilize rail or seaborne transport to resupply military equipment. Other military equipment, such as drones, tank tools and jet components, have assisted in sustaining Russia’s war effort as they cannot purchase this equipment from the West. Additionally, China has provided Russia with economic relief by allowing an alternative currency for transactions, enabling Putin to engage in international transactions.


Nevertheless, in an April 2023 phone call with Ukrainian President Zelenskyy, China reaffirmed a “peacekeeping” role in the conflict. Xi also emphasized his dismay towards nuclear involvement, citing that there is no winner in an arms race. As a result of China’s support towards Russia’s war on Ukraine, calls for a cease-fire have been overlooked, as have a supposedly “neutral stance.”


How is the United States Involved in Ukraine and Russia?


After Putin’s invasion, President Joe Biden and the US Government illustrated a wave of economic and military responses that would allow for Western allies to follow suit. In a 2022 virtual meeting with President Zelenskyy, President Biden declared that “Putin’s unprovoked and unjustified invasion of Ukraine” would result in a breadth of sanctions. These nearly 100 sanctions, imposed by the Biden Administration, target energy production and revenue, metals and the mining sector, defense procurement and those supporting the Russian war effort.


American intervention has ultimately weakened Russia’s stance, notably by providing over $113 billion to Ukraine in military aid. Several aid packages, such as equipment for air defense, ground maneuver and medical assistance, have had a profound effect on Ukraine’s military response. Moreover, American and European authorities have provoked discussions for EU and NATO membership, further threatening Russia’s political power. A weakening Russia is ultimately not desired by China and promotes further anger toward NATO expansion.


The Taiwan Problem


Although the United States and China have demonstrated support for opposing sides in the Russo-Ukrainian conflict, American involvement has procured a defensive stance over geopolitical sovereignty, raising concerns about Chinese intentions. Thus, a prominent role in the European dispute contains important lessons for Taiwan, a state that China hopes to reunify through military action.


Protecting geopolitical interests is a profound part of Western ideology, placing further emphasis on democratic values and numerous formal alliances. The Secretary-General of NATO, Jens Stoltenberg, has notably reiterated this concept. Stoltenberg, who has heavily criticized Russia’s war on Ukraine, proposed in 2022 that, “...what happens in Europe today could happen in Asia tomorrow,” a stark testament to Taiwanese and Chinese relations (Stoltenberg).


Heightened Sino-US Tensions


The intricate power dynamics between the United States and China have been profusely accentuated by the ongoing Russo-Ukrainian conflict, where both nations find themselves entangled in a web of geopolitical interests and proxy engagements. The historical backdrop of proxy wars, from Vietnam to Korea, serves as a reminder of the enduring tensions that arise when superpowers vie for dominance on the global stage.


China’s ostensibly neutral stance in the conflict belies its significant support for Russia, underscoring a strategic alignment with Putin against Western interests. Conversely, a firm American response has not only served as a counter to Russian aggression but demonstrates a profound commitment to defending geopolitical sovereignty.


As the Russo-Ukrainian conflict continues to unfold, its reverberations will undoubtedly continue to shape the trajectory of US-China relations and the broader geopolitical landscape. How these two global powers navigate their competing interests and ideological differences in the face of proxy engagements will define the contours of international relations in the years to come.


Acknowledgment: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the individual author.

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