How Crimea Plays in Beijing
“We are paying very close attention to the situation in Ukraine. We hope all parties can calmly maintain restraint to prevent the situation from further escalating and worsening. Political resolution and dialogue is the only way out.”
This, via Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Li Baodong, is Beijing’s quite measured, official interpretation of what’s happening in Ukraine, tailored for global consumption.
But here, in a People’s Daily editorial, is what the leadership is really thinking. And the focus is clearly on the dangers of regime change, the “West’s inability to understand the lessons of history”, and “the final battlefield of the Cold War.”
Yet again the West misinterpreted China’s abstention from the UN Security Council vote on a US-backed resolution condemning the Crimea referendum. The spin was that Russia – which vetoed the resolution – was “isolated”. It’s not. And the way Beijing plays geopolitics shows it’s not.
Oh, Samantha …
The herd of elephants in the (Ukraine) room, in terms of global opinion, is how the authentic “international community” – from the G-20 to the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) – who has had enough of the Exceptionalist Hypocrisy Show, has fully understood, and even applauded, that at least one country on the planet has the balls to clearly say “F**k the US”. Russia under President Vladimir Putin may harbor quite a few distortions, just like any other nation. But this is not a dinner party; this is realpolitik. To face down the US Leviathan, nothing short of a bad ass such as Putin will suffice.
NATO – or shorthand for the Pentagon dominating European wimps – keeps issuing threats and spewing out “consequences”. What are they going to do – launch a barrage of ICBMs equipped with nuclear warheads against Moscow?
Furthermore, the UN Security Council itself is a joke, with US ambassador Samantha “Nothing Compares to You” Power – one of the mothers of R2P (“responsibility to protect”) – carping on ”Russian aggression”, “Russian provocations” and comparing the Crimean referendum to a theft. Oh yes; bombing Iraq, bombing Libya and getting to the brink of bombing Syria were just innocent humanitarian gestures. Samantha The Humanitarian arguably gives a better performance invoking Sinead O’Connor in her shower.
Russian ambassador Vitaly Churkin was polite enough to say, “these insults addressed to our country” are “unacceptable”. It’s what he added that carried the real juice; “If the delegation of the United States of America expects our cooperation in the Security Council on other issues, then Power must understand this quite clearly.”
Samantha The Humanitarian, as well as the whole bunch of juvenile bystanders in the Obama administration, won’t understand it. Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov gave them a little help; Russia didn’t want to use the Iranian nuclear talks to “raise the stakes”, but if the US and the EU continue with their sanctions and threats, that’s what’s going to happen.
So the plot thickens – as in a closer and closer strategic partnership between Tehran and Moscow.
Secessionists of the world, unite?
Now imagine all this as seen from Beijing. No one knows what exactly goes on in the corridors of the Zhongnanhai, but it’s fair to argue there’s only an apparent contradiction between China’s key principle of non-interference in the internal affairs of sovereign states, and Russia’s intervention in Crimea.
Beijing has identified very clearly the sequence of affairs; long-running Western interference in Ukraine via NGOs and the State Department; regime change perpetrated with the help of fascists and neo-nazis; a pre-emptive Russian counterattack which can be read as a by-the-book Samantha The Humanitarian R2P operation (protecting Russians and Russian speakers from a second coup planned in Crimea, and thwarted by Russian intelligence.)
On top of it Beijing well knows how Crimea has been essentially Russian since 1783; how Crimea – as well as a great deal of Ukraine – fall smack into Russian civilization’s sphere of influence; and how Western interference directly threatened Russia’s national security interests (as Putin made it clear.) Now imagine a similar scenario in Tibet or Xinjiang. Long-running Western interference via NGOs and the CIA; a take over by Tibetans in Lhasa or Uighurs in Kashgar of the local administration. Beijing could easily use Samantha’s R2P in the name of protecting Han Chinese.
Yet Beijing (silently) agreeing to the Russian response to the coup in Kiev by getting Crimea back via a referendum and without a shot fired does not mean that “splittists” Tibet or Taiwan would be allowed to engage in the same route. Even as Tibet, more than Taiwan, would be able to build a strong historical case for seceding. Each case bears its own myriad complexities.
The Obama administration – like a blind Minotaur – is now lost in a labyrinth of pivots of its own making. A new Borges – that Buddha in a gray suit – is needed to tell the tale. First there was the pivoting to Asia-Pac – which is encircling of China under another name – as it’s well understood in Beijing.
Then came the pivoting to Persia – “if we are not going to war”, as that Cypher in Search of an Idea, John Kerry, put it. There was, of course, the martial pivoting to Syria, aborted at the last minute thanks to the good offices of Moscow diplomacy. And back to the pivoting to Russia, trampling the much-lauded “reset” and conceived as a payback for Syria.
Those who believe Beijing strategists have not carefully analyzed – and calculated a response – to all the implications of these overlapping pivots do deserve to join Samantha in the shower. Additionally, it’s easy to picture Chinese Think Tankland hardly repressing its glee in analyzing a hyperpower endlessly, helplessly pivoting over itself.
While the Western dogs bark …
Russia and China are strategic partners – at the G-20, at the BRICS club of emerging powers and at the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO). Their number one objective, in these and other forums, is the emergence of a multipolar world; no bullying by the American Empire of Bases, a more balanced international financial system, no more petrodollar eminence, a basket of currencies, essentially a “win-win” approach to global economic development.
A multipolar world also implies, by definition, NATO out of Eurasia – which is from Washington’s point of view the number one reason to interfere in Ukraine. In Eurasian terms, it’s as if – being booted out of Afghanistan by a bunch of peasants with Kalashnikovs – NATO was pivoting back via Ukraine.
While Russia and China are key strategic partners in the energy sphere – Pipelineistan and beyond – they do overlap in their race to do deals across Central Asia. Beijing is building not only one but two New Silk Roads - across Southeast Asia and across Central Asia, involving pipelines, railways and fiber optic networks, and reaching as far as Istanbul, the getaway to Europe. Yet as far as Russia-China competition for markets go, all across Eurasia, it’s more under a “win-win” umbrella than a zero-sum game.
On Ukraine (“the last battlefield in the Cold War”) and specifically Crimea, the (unspoken) official position by Beijing is absolute neutrality (re: the UN vote). Yet the real deal is support to Moscow. But this could never be out in the open, because Beijing is not interested in antagonizing the West, unless heavily provoked (the pivoting becoming hardcore encirclement, for instance). Never forget; since Deng Xiaoping (“keep a low profile”) this is, and will continue to be, about China’s “peaceful rise”. Meanwhile, the Western dogs bark, and the Sino-Russian caravan passes.
Pepe Escobar is the author of Globalistan: How the Globalized World is Dissolving into Liquid War (Nimble Books, 2007) and Red Zone Blues: a snapshot of Baghdad during the surge. His new book, just out, is Obama does Globalistan (Nimble Books, 2009). He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.