China biggest absentee from Ukraine peace summit

June 04, 2024 06:00

On June 15-16, at a resort in the Swiss mountains, the nation’s president will chair a summit of 106 nations that aims to end Russia’s catastrophic invasion of Ukraine that has left more than half a million dead and devastated its cities.

A total of 75 heads of state and government will attend, as will U.S. Vice-President Kamala Harris, but the biggest absentee will be the only country with influence and leverage over Vladimir Putin – China.

During his visit to Beijing in May, Putin asked President Xi Jinping not to attend the Swiss event, and he agreed. Dutch defence minister Kajsa Ollongren said China’s participation would have helped. “I regret that China does not use its position that has an intense dialogue with President Putin,” Ollongren said.

Among other issues, the summit will address the security of nuclear facilities, food security and release of prisoners of war and tens of thousands of Ukrainian children kidnapped by Russia and given to Russian families – potentially, they will be brain-washed and sent back to Ukraine to fight on the Russian side. Is this not the final Satanic evil?

Speaking in Singapore last weekend at the IISS Shangri-La Defence Forum, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said that China was “in the hands” of Putin and criticised it for supplying Russia with dual-use items used by its military. “With Chinese support to Russia, the war will last longer,” he said.

In Singapore, China’s Defence Minister Dong Jun said that China had not provided weapons to either party in the war. “We have ‘strict’ export controls on dual-use items and have never done anything to fan the flames,” he said.

Washington says China has provided technology such as engines for drones and cruise missiles and machinery to make ballistic missiles. Videos from the front line show the Russian army using Chinese vehicles to carry soldiers and Chinese golf carts to carry arms and ammunition.

On May 22, the state-affiliated Guangdong Province Trade Promotion Association for Russia, set up in 2023, posted a notice on its WeChat site: “buyers want interference generators, drone detectors, UAV suppressors and communication frequency band jammers.” It was the clearest indication so far of equipment for Russia’s military.

While Russia enjoys a large advantage in production of tanks, artillery, shells and other arms over Ukraine, it has been unable to stop a flood of drones released by the Ukrainians. Last week one struck a radar control centre 1,800 kilometres from the border, the longest distance so far. The Guangdong notice addresses exactly that issue.

But, in Beijing, Xi did not give Putin all he wanted. Most important was his refusal to sign an agreement for Power of Siberia 2 pipeline with a planned annual capacity of 50 billion cubic metres of gas to China. It may be a life-and-death project for the state monopoly Gazprom.

In 2023, it posted a loss of US$6.9 billion, its biggest in more than 25 years, after it lost nearly all of its customers in Europe, formerly its biggest market. Before the war, Moscow calculated that Western Europeans customers would not easily find new sources of gas; it was wrong. Power of Siberia 2 would deliver gas from the fields in western Russia that previously supplied Europe. China is the customer that could absorb such enormous supply.

Beijing has demanded a price close to the heavily subsidised Russian domestic price for gas and offered to buy only a small fraction of the total capacity of the pipeline.

Putin’s third request was for Chinese banks to become more active in Russian, to compensate for the loss of western banks. For China, this is difficult but manageable.

Last week Wally Adeyemo, deputy U.S. Treasury Secretary, said: “Chinese firms can either do business in our economies or they can equip Russia’s war machine with dual-use goods. They cannot do both.”

U.S. sanctions would mean exclusion from the Swift network of 11,000 financial institutions, through which most international trade is conducted. Major Chinese banks which operate globally, including the U.S., Europe and Japan, cannot risk exclusion. The solution for China is to designate a small number of banks to finance trade in components for Russia’s defence industry. For them, exclusion from Swift would be tolerable.

A report by the Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies at Renmin University earlier this year said that smaller Chinese banks could be designated for trade with Russia and new financial institutions set up to help get around Western sanctions.

So far China has successfully walked the tightrope between Putin and the West. More than any other country, it has profited from the war, in booming Russian demand for its goods and “friendship” prices for imports of Russian oil, gas and other raw materials..

But, as the war drags on, Putin will become more desperate for China’s help. According to Ukraine’s Ministry of Defence, Russia lost 38,940 soldiers killed and wounded in May, a monthly record since the war began in February 2022. That translates into an annual toll of 468,000.

The tightrope will become sharper and the fall below even deeper.

A Hong Kong-based writer, teacher and speaker.