China: China April 2024 Update


April 17, 2024: Chinese leader Xi Jinping recently declared his unlimited friendship with Russia and its leader Vladimir Putin. This came at a time when Russia was at war with Ukraine, a country they invaded in early 2022 and were unable to achieve a quick victory. Now Russia finds itself on the defensive in Ukraine and realizes this would be a lot worse if China had not quietly stepped up to assist the Russian war effort.

China does not give money to allies or business partners. China invests and expects a return on that investment. In the last two years a lot of Chinese cash and economic assistance has gone to Russia, which has enabled Russia to keep its war in Ukraine going. Without the Chinese aid, Russia would have economic problems at home because of Western sanctions imposed in 2014 and 2022. Before that Russia received most of its tech and economic imports from NATO nations. The tech items imported enabled Russia to build ballistic and cruise missiles to use against Ukraine.

Russian oil and gas exports cannot be used to obtain those tech items elsewhere so China has helped them with that. China does not send weapons, just essential components needed to build weapons. China also encouraged North Korea and Iran to send Russia weapons. China is one of the few trading partners North Korea has and Iran exports over a million barrels of oil a day to China despite economic sanctions prohibiting these exports, because the Biden administration waives the sanctions whenever Iran requests. China also helps Iran evade the export restrictions by providing unregistered tankers to move the oil to countries that secretly buy and then resell it to someone else, with payment made in barter or Chinese renminbi. The Chinese currency can be used to purchase items from China or converted to dollars via banks that China controls.

China seems to expect Russia will pay for these services by returning to China Russian territories that Russia had seized in the past. This is another aspect of the growing split between Russia and China. It is Chinese financial support and trade that keeps Russia's wartime economy operational. China encourages dangerous trends in North Korea, Iran, and Russia. This includes North Korean support for the Russia war in Ukraine. Less openly, China supports the religious dictatorship in Iran. China demands much from Russia for these favors, including aspects of Russian military technology China does not already possess.

China is also actively involved in seizing control over portions of the Western Pacific, South China Sea, and the Sea of Japan. China has warships, naval aviation, and a growing number of aircraft carriers, along with their escorts of frigates and destroyers. China currently has more warships than the United States. Worse, all Chinese warships are operating off the coast of China while the U.S. Navy is dispersed worldwide, in the North Atlantic, Mediterranean, Red Sea and Indian Ocean as well as the current crisis off in the South China Sea.

These aggressive operations aid Russia, and China demands Russian help improving Chinese submarines. China has already demanded and received much additional military technology from Russia. China is having more difficulty recovering Russian territories on the Pacific coast that border China. This includes the Russian city and port of Vladivostok. Russia f0rced a weakened China to surrender what eventually became the city and port of Vladivostok. This city also served as a naval base for Russian warships in the Pacific. Russia wants to hold onto Vladivostok because it is the major Russian possession on the Pacific coast. Despite that, if China applies enough pressure Russia might be persuaded to part with Vladivostok and avoid a nuclear war with China.

Currently Russian military forces are weak. The Russian army is largely committed to the war in Ukraine and the Russian fleet is split between northwestern Russia and the Northern Fleet, the Baltic Sea and the Baltic Fleet, the Black Sea and the Black Sea Fleet, the Caspian Sea flotilla, and the Pacific Fleet. The Russian Navy has 179 major warships including corvettes, destroyers, cruisers, an aircraft carrier and 79 submarines. There are also over a hundred smaller auxiliaries including patrol boats, minesweepers, landing ships, transports as well as aircraft for maritime patrol and naval base defense.

China and Russia negotiated an agreement in 2008 that immediately returned to China 18,000 Hectares of uninhabited territory near the Pacific Coast. Chinese maps still show much larger inhabited Russian territories as regions claimed by China. This includes Vladivostok. Russia sees this as a concession too far. If China strongly insists while Russia remains militarily weak and unwilling to wage a nuclear war with China over the issue, the Chinese demands may be met.

Russia also has to keep in mind how forcefully China took back Hong Kong from the British. According to several treaties between China and Britain, Hong Kong was returned to China in 1997. This was after 156 years of British rule that brought security and much prosperity to the territory. British rule spared Hong Kong from all the civil wars and general mayhem taking place in China. During World War II, Hong Kong was occupied by Japanese troops from late 1941 to August 1945. After the war Hong Kong quickly recovered economically. Since Hong Kong returned to Chinese control in 1997, the area has become a special economic zone that, despite some meddling by corrupt Chinese officials, has prospered. China expects that the same pattern would occur if they got Vladivostok back.

So far, the Russians are not as willing to hand over Vladivostok as the British were with Hong Kong. China may provide Russia with an offer they can’t refuse in order to get Vladivostok back. Such a demand risks nuclear war but China believes Russia won’t risk it. Not only does China have a growing number of ballistic missiles in silos aimed at Russia, but larger, more modern, and reliable conventional forces. Even before Russia invaded Ukraine in 2022, this was the case. With the enormous losses Russia has suffered in Ukraine, the disparity between Russian and Chinese conventional forces is even greater. Chinese conventional forces aren’t going to advance on Moscow and St Petersburg. Instead, the Chinese army is capable of taking Russian Pacific Coast territories.

Russia might threaten nuclear war over this, but the Chinese ground forces can quickly overwhelm the depleted, by troops sent to Ukraine, Russian forces on the Pacific coast and then demand peace talks. Russia has already threatened NATO countries with nuclear attack over Ukraine, making similar threats to China means Russia could find itself confronted by the prospect of a two-front war that Russia is incapable of winning.

China is taking advantage of Russian weakness and is apparently going to get away with it.




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