US and China. Source: Mohamed Hassan / PxHere / Public Domain

The constant posturing could push the world to the brink of a war that will consume itself, writes Terina Hine

The whole of Europe, the United States and now China have become increasingly embroiled in the war in Ukraine during the last year. The danger of the conflict spiralling out of control and drifting into a world war is becoming ever more apparent.

China has shifted towards an increasingly pro-Russian position. NATO has become ever more belligerent.

The west’s reliance on Chinese investment alongside its fear of China’s economic dominance resulted in a complex and often contradictory relationship with Beijing. Rishi Sunak said last week he would do ‘whatever it takes’ to defend the UK from Chinese spying; this week government officials are flying to China in an attempt to save Chinese-owned British Steel. The British state relies heavily on Chinese surveillance technology, yet British jets are on standby to shoot down Chinese surveillance balloons in UK airspace.

Longstanding issues over trade, the Pacific, cyberspace and opposing world views have seen relations between the West and China deteriorate. These growing tensions have now resulted in China’s shift to a more pro-Russian stance over Ukraine. By deepening ties with Russia China finds itself with a junior partner to counter its main rival, the US.

For most of the last year, China was at pains to maintain its neutrality over Ukraine. Although continuing to trade with Russia, the Chinese leadership refused to either condemn or support the invasion. But as the year progressed Russia and China became closer and China and America more distant.

The increasingly fractious relationship between the two superpowers culminated in the US shooting down the Chinese spy balloon and the cancellation of US Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s diplomatic trip to Beijing.

So no surprise when fast on the heels of President Biden’s visit to Ukraine and Poland, China’s top diplomat, Wang Yi met President Vladimir Putin in Moscow. The meeting is believed to be a precursor to a head-of-state meeting between President Putin and Chinese leader Xi Jinping, possibly as soon as April.

While in Moscow Wang Yi raised ‘deep concerns’ about the Ukraine conflict and urged ‘relevant countries to immediately stop adding fuel to the fire, stop shifting blame to China, and stop hyping up the discourse of Ukraine today, Taiwan tomorrow.’

In a swipe clearly directed at the United States, he confirmed that both Russia and China ‘resolutely oppose any unilateral or bullying behaviour, and unswervingly safeguard their respective sovereignty, security and development interests’ and went on to suggest China could adopt the role of international peace broker. The US in turn accused China of supplying Russia with arms.

According to the US, far from brokering peace, China is on the brink of providing ‘lethal’ support to Russia. This view is echoed by other members of the NATO alliance in a dramatic heating up of anti-China rhetoric: Jens Stoltenberg, NATO Secretary General, said he was ‘increasingly concerned that China may be planning to provide lethal support for Russia’s war’. And in a thinly veiled threat, EU officials said China would be crossing a red line if it were to send arms to Russia.

The Chinese refute they are considering supplying weapons, pointing out the undeniable irony that it is the US-led alliance which has for months supplied ‘lethal’ weapons, and has encouraged Ukraine to continue to ‘fight till the last Ukrainian … adding fuel to the fire, handing out knives and instigating hostility.’

China may also be concerned that the war is providing a testing ground for new military tech, seen as vital by the military hawks in any upcoming war in the Pacific.

A recent article in the New York Times reported that western militaries, especially the US, have been using Ukraine as a laboratory for ‘state-of-the-art weapons and information systems, and new ways to use them, that Western political officials and military commanders predict could shape warfare for generations to come.’

Ukraine and its allies tested remote-controlled boats in the Back Sea last summer, culminating in an attack against the Russian fleet off Sevastopol in October. It is thought the use of such boats could become particularly important for military manoeuvres in the South China Sea. These tests are viewed as vital preparation for any future confrontation with China.

British Defence Secretary, Ben Wallace, said earlier this week that the UK will be ‘in a new hot or cold war within seven years.’ For Wallace, this is a reason to increase the defence budget, for the rest of us, it is a reason to demand peace in Ukraine before it is too late. A year on from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the world has become more dangerous, more unstable and more insecure.

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