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China | The Warmongering Peacemaker
Albert Goldson Albert Goldson
For Immediate Release:
Dateline: New York, NY
Sunday, June 25, 2023


 China’s aggressive attempt in becoming a global mediator of conflicts and peacemaker has nothing to do with a pacificist desire, rather real politik in achieving multiple tactical and strategic political and economic objectives concurrently. 

China’s basic objectives are to protect its interests and enhance their prestige as a key member of the global community: 


  • Autocratic Leadership: Regulate the conflict in Ukraine through the “carrot & stick” approach to insure that Russia has a politically face-saving, soft-landing. 

  • Peacemaker: Establish itself as a present-day and necessary future major interlocutor and peacemaker on the world stage. 

  • Senior Partner: Protect its global commercial markets and establish itself as an equal and indispensable collaborator in diplomatic relations with the US and EU while making Russia a “junior partner” in its dealings with the west. 


Autocratic Leadership 


For decades, contrary to the hyped public relations dog & pony shows, Russia and China, have been and continue to be, military and political rivals with respect to their anti-western posture. 


China’s economic ascendency as the world’s # 2 economic powerhouse particularly in manufacturing and exports differs starkly to Russia’s stagnant, heavily reliant energy extraction and export growth for hard currency. In fact, Russia’s GDP remains about that of Spain made worse by their disastrous resource draining quagmire in Ukraine. For this reason, these trends have placed China firmly in the global economic and political autocratic leadership driver’s seat. 


Present-day China is cleverly pretending to play the role of equal partner to Russia as a politically face-saving gesture to Putin’s Russia when in fact China holds most of the economic and political cards. 


Grabbing the Russian Bear by the Scruff 


Firstly, for its own security, China needs to prevent a sudden collapse of the Putin regime and his inner circle that would create a highly unstable and unpredictable political void in the Kremlin. Unlike the late 1980s and early 1990s when China was helpless to prevent the Soviet Union’s implosion, China has the opportunity to grab the proverbial Russian bear by the scruff and contain it on its own terms. 


Secondly, China can neither count on the cooperation of hardcore Russian nationalists or a more amenable pro-China leadership. Although Putin may be physically removed, I concur with many international experts that “Putinism– the Russian leadership policymaking mindset - will continue in Russia for years before it fades just as with Stalin and Khrushchev. 


Thirdly, under the clever guise of being Putin’s ally, China can engineer a “soft landing” – a face-saving end to hostilities in Ukraine while Putin remains in power. China must play both sides: one quite publicly with Putin as a politically anti-western autocracy and economically with the west to protect their commercial markets. For this reason, achieving political stability in Russia is paramount. 


The Precarious Balancing Act 


How can China achieve the aforementioned soft landing? One of the ways to achieve this is that China can provide Russia with enough essential military or dual-use equipment such as small arms and drones. China excels at manufacturing small arms at scale that can be supplied indirectly through the usual private and governmental third parties and provide China legal plausible deniability. 


Economically China desires robust business with the US & Europe at the same time political brotherhood with economically inferior Russia – using it as a foil – cleverly playing both sides and leveraging its economic heft accordingly. 


Secret Collaboration with the West 


Russia’s expenditures for military equipment and ammunition can continue almost indefinitely through their oil sales. In fact, according to many official sources, it is estimated that Russia is spending only 2% of their GDP on the war effort. 


However, Russia’s problem is a shortage of war equipment despite many factories operating 24/7 which explains why their arms exports have dropped dramatically as they use equipment normally destined for export sales to the war in Ukraine. 


I believe that through unofficial backdoor channels with the west, both sides can agree to actively manage the quantity and quality of arms and ammunition in order to regulate and eventually de-escalate the conflict. The objective would be to force Ukraine and Russia to a truce and the negotiating table. The adage: control the arms, control the conflict. 


The present-day good news is that Putin’s Russian military forces are unlikely to achieve any large significant territorial success in Ukraine with their vastly diminishing and vintage/outdated military materiel, poor military tactics resulting in high casualties and low soldier morale. The risk is that the military leadership in collaboration with sympathetic high-level Russian government officials “engineer” a military collapse in Ukraine to trigger a coup in the Kremlin. 


Low Risk Global Peacemaker 


The war in Ukraine is providing China a superb opportunity to become a global powerbroker to match its economic size by engaging and participating in a major conflict far from its borders. 


With respect to the Ukraine conflict, unlike their western counterparts, China has the major advantage of literally not having any skin in the game such as civilian or military personnel participating in the war zone as well as not having any security guarantee obligations. 


China is practicing a hard form of “checkbook diplomacy” in providing dual-use equipment such as drones compared to Japan’s checkbook diplomacy methods that provided exclusively humanitarian aid. 


“Made in China” Peacemaking 


China’s earlier so-called success in brokering the Saudi-Iran peace agreement was merely an amuse bouche in establishing a thin track record as mediator/peacemaker between two historically implacable Middle Eastern foes. 


There had been considerable groundwork several years beforehand between Iran and Saudi Arabia in China’s absence. China provided the neutral venue (Beijing) for the final signing and superpower Good Housekeeping Seal without the heavy-lifting while producing wonderful propaganda public relations optics. 


Such a brokerage is far easier when the two conflicting parties and the mediator consist of three autocratic guys from mafia states get together in a room and hash stuff out without any consultation from or accountability to their respective citizenry. This was merely an agreement of convenience for all signatory parties. Nonetheless, history is littered with the confetti of broken agreements not long after its signing despite being hailed as a game changer. 


China’s indelible flaw as a global peacemaker is its autocratic political system. How much credibility does such a government bring to a peace agreement? It’s like approving a security system for the henhouse with foxes as the engineers. The Saudi-Iran agreement was a one-off, one trick pony. 


China is the Middle Kingdom and now desires to become a global middle man. As the # 2 world’s economic superpower it indeed has the right to participate in peace initiatives, however its autocratic government tarnishes its otherwise impressive C.V. credentials. 


Senior Partner | Dragon in a Bear Suit 


China has already surpassed Russia as the anti-western leader. Xi’s earlier (and 41st) visit to Putin was probably to inform him of their role-reversal with respect to Russia’s high reliance on China to prop up the war machine while publicly providing the illusion of a partnership. 


It must be duly noted particularly during Xi’s visit to Russia that their cooperation is a “partnership” not an “alliance” whose meanings and intentions are quite distinct. “Partnership” is working together towards mutual goals akin to a memo of understanding while an “alliance” is a formal, binding agreement to achieve the same. 


China represents a diplomatic stabilizer that abhors chaos particularly along or near their border. Their “toolbox” is mostly commercial and fiscal leverage and dual-use equipment for military purposes, just enough so that the Russian army doesn’t collapse. If the Russian army collapses so does Putin’s government that could unleash unpredictable and long-lasting chaos. 


Deflating Russia’s War Machine 


China’s usefulness in supplying Russia just enough weaponry serves to control the pace of the war. Both sides are depleted with respect to ammunition and equipment. The lower supply the less either side can undertake large and sustained operations, let alone hold newly gained territory. This is akin to slowly letting air out of a balloon instead of popping it to reach a point in which forces Ukraine and Russia to agree to a ceasefire. 


As the 2nd largest arms exporter behind the US, China’s small arms are easily transported to Russia through third parties or intermediaries. Small, easy & cheap to manufacture, export, replace and maintain in the field vs. glitzy “trophy weapons like cutting edge aircraft and tanks make great headlines and media fodder yet never win wars which require extensive learning & practice, expensive and highly skilled maintenance. 


The following chart entitled Share of Total Arms Sales of Companies in the SIPRI Top 100 from 2021, By Country is provided by the Stockholm Institute of Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) fact sheet.