China tries to ‘square a circle’ in Ukraine

Foreign Affairs

Evan Feigenbaum, vice president for studies at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, joins the Sinica Podcast to discuss China’s difficult positioning over Russia’s war on Ukraine.

Illustration for SupChina by Derek Zheng

Below is a complete transcript of the Sinica Podcast with Evan Feigenbaum.

Kaiser Kuo: Welcome to the Sinica Podcast, a weekly discussion of current affairs in China produced in partnership with SupChina. Subscribe to SupChina’s daily ACCESS newsletter to keep on top of all the latest news from China, from hundreds of different news sources, or check out all the original writing on our websites at We’ve got reported stories, essays, and editorials, great explainers and trackers, regular columns, and, of course, a growing library of podcasts. We cover everything from China’s fraught foreign relations to its ingenious entrepreneurs, from the ongoing repression of Uyghurs and other Muslim peoples in China’s Xinjiang region to the tectonic shifts underway as China rolls out what we call the Red New Deal. It’s a feast of business, political, and cultural news about a nation that is reshaping the world. We cover China with neither fear nor favor.

I’m Kaiser Kuo, coming to you from Chapel Hill, North Carolina.

There’s no topic that’s been more hotly discussed among students of Chinese affairs in the last couple of weeks than Beijing’s response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine that began on February 24. As you’re a listener to this show, it’s a good bet you’ve watched as Beijing tried to maintain an increasingly uncomfortable, perhaps even untenable position since the full scale invasion started.

You may have been among those parsing the wording of every sentence in the February 4 joint statement that came out of the Xi-Putin meeting in Beijing before the Olympics began, as well as the language of Foreign Minister Wáng Yì’s 王毅 speech to the Munich Security Conference, and really that of every presser or readout that the Foreign Ministry has offered. If you’re like me, maybe you noted China’s abstention in a relevant UN Security Council, but also its support for Russia in a UN Human Rights Council just a few days later. Perhaps you’re watching Beijing’s notorious censors to see whose voices they’ve sought to silence and those that they sought to elevate. Maybe you’ve looked for discrepancies between statements coming out of different Party organs and for suspicious lacunae, too. Those dogs that should have barked, but perhaps significantly did not.

What’s clear, I think to all of us, is that the stakes are very high and how Beijing reacts in the coming days and weeks will matter a great deal to the shape of the world for, I think, many years and decades to come. We are in an unmistakably pivotal moment. This is all happening, as I hardly need remind any of our listeners, in a politically consequential year for Xí Jìnpíng 习近平. He has, of course, embarked on a very ambitious domestic agenda. He expects to be given another term, as General Secretary of the Chinese Communist Party, come fall. China’s relationship with the aggressor, Russia with Ukraine, of course, and also with the United States and with the EU will all be profoundly shaped by the decisions undertaken by Xi and his inner circle in the very near future.

Things are changing, not just daily, but hourly. I can assure listeners that I will be doing multiple shows in the coming weeks about this topic and specific facets of it. But first I wanted to bring someone on who always has great big-picture sensibilities that are informed by many years in government, someone whose writings and whose perspectives I usually find to be right on the money. During the first weeks of the Russian war on Ukraine, he’s been a great source of insight into how we might be thinking about China’s position and what we might be missing.

Evan Feigenbaum is the vice president for studies at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, where he oversees research in Washington, Beijing, and New Delhi on a dynamic region encompassing both East Asia and South Asia. He served as deputy assistant secretary of state for South and Central Asian affairs under Condoleezza Rice during the second Bush 43 administration and as vice chairman of the Paulson Institute before joining Carnegie. Evan, welcome back to Sinica, man.

Evan Feigenbaum:

Thanks for having me. It feels like dark days compared with when we last did this podcast.

Kaiser: God, that’s not saying good things. It was pretty dark back then too. Well anyway. Yeah, you are absolutely right. Speaking of that, on the 24th, the very day of the invasion, you wrote a piece that, I mean, I’m not sure if it was expanded from a Twitter thread that you’d put out earlier or maybe it was the other way around, but I thought it laid out really nicely, at least, at the war’s outset. I want to know if your views have changed at all, but you wrote at the time something which I think is essentially true about Chinese objectives and the contradictions among them. Can you lay out your ideas?

Evan: Sure. Well, I think at the outset of the crisis, China was in an unusually uncomfortable position because China is, after all, not a one-dimensional power. It has multifaceted interests, not just in its region, but around the world now. It has both diplomatic and security interest, but also economic and commercial interests. From my vantage point at the outset of the crisis, China had the unenviable task of trying to reconcile three interests in particular that are fundamentally irreconcilable.

The first is a strategic partnership with Russia and let’s face it, it’s an unsentimental partnership. There’s no love in it. It’s not an alliance. It’s what I would call an entente: a strategic and tactical accommodation directed in part at third parties and powers. The first interest was this strategic partnership with Russia. The second, obviously, involved China’s longstanding foreign policy principles of sovereignty, non-interference in internal affairs, territorial integrity, and then third, the desire not to be collateral damage in American and European sanctions.

Those are three interests that China was trying at the outset of the crisis to reconcile but from my vantage point, that are fundamentally irreconcilable. The more China leans toward Moscow, the more it paints a target on its back for Washington and Brussels on the sanctions. Obviously, facts on the ground in Ukraine flatly contradict anything that the Chinese government would like to say about respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity.

That was where China began the crisis, but what I expected and I think this has largely been born out is that China, because those things are irreconcilable, would either jettison one or another of them and have to choose, or on a day-to-day basis under the glare of international scrutiny would tack rather uncomfortably and obviously back and forth between one or the other, sometimes using what I would describe as rather slide diplomatic word games, to try to square a circle that’s frankly not squarable.

We’re a week plus into this. My take on it is that they have essentially decided to jettison the principles, to lean hard toward Moscow, and to try to straddle on the sanctions. We can come back to the sanctions, but I think from my vantage point that a lean toward Russian positions is not just notable and it’s significant and you can’t just look at that as a snapshot in time. You can really see that in much starker relief, if you look at it in historical perspective.

Kaiser: What do you see as the primary evidence for this lean toward Russia in the time since February 24th? What would you present as exhibits A, B, and C?

Evan: Yeah, I think, first of all, my take on this has informed in part by personal experience with it. I was in the government in 2008 when Russia invaded Georgia and detached Abkhazia and South Ossetia. I had been the Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Central Asia. Dealing with countries that had formerly been part of the Soviet Union and are quite ambivalent about Russian power, but they have to live there and they have to deal with it in all its facets every day.

I was in a different job then. I was actually working on South Asia, but I still talk to everybody in the region, foreign minister, senior people in governments. What was interesting about the Georgia invasion was that the Russians worked very hard to try to enlist support from China in the first instance, but also from some of these other Russian strategic partners for their positions and for their actions. There was a Shanghai Cooperation Organization summit in Dushanbe, Tajikistan in 2008 and then Russian president Dmitry Medvedev went down to Dushanbe and tried to essentially enlist the group’s support and he got nowhere.

It was, from my vantage point, a failure and actually a spectacular failure and he ended up with some egg on his face. The Chinese in a sense really didn’t just reject it. They almost organized the opposition to it. I think some of what we described earlier as their principles were front and center in that calculation plus the world looked a little bit different in 2008. The U.S.-China relationship was different in 2008. China had a different leadership in 2008. China’s global positioning was different in 2008. You fast forward to 2014 and Crimea, the lean toward Russia becomes a little more pronounced, but there’s still some hedging that goes on.

If you contrast 2008 through 2014 to statements and actions today, rather than just snapshotting this as a moment in time, I think the shift in Chinese position is much more pronounced against that backdrop. Then, quite apart from the temporal element, you just have the cartwheels that Chinese spokespeople are turning particularly in the Foreign Ministry, but more generally to try to, as I said, reconcile things that are not reconcilable and to square unsquarable circles.

Foreign Minister Wáng Yì 王毅 put out a five-point position that is officially China’s position on the Ukraine crisis. The first point of which is about sovereignty, territorial integrity and so on, and Ukraine is included in that formulation but since that five-point statement, Chinese spokespeople have calibrated and modulated their emphasis depending on who is the speaker, who is being spoken to, and what the context is but there’s one thing that has never been really modulate or calibrated it and recalibrated, and that is the lean toward what China adopting Moscow’s preferred language refers to as Russia’s “legitimate security interests.”

The fact that doesn’t vanish, suggests to me that frankly, Beijing has decided to carry a lot of freight for Russia. If you rewind the clock to 2008, really would’ve been unthinkable at that point in time. I think it’s strategically significant. It’s a deliberate choice. I think we need to reckon with the consequence of it. There’s an old Marx brother’s movie where Chico Marx says something like, “Who are you going to believe, me or your own eyes?” I think we can see with our own eyes that the Chinese, while uncomfortable, are making choices and these choices will have some strategic resonance. We should talk about the implications of it.

Kaiser: I still see more discomfort than sort of finality right now. Well, you can say that, yeah from 2008 to 2014 and from 2014 to the present, there’s been movement, it’s also significant that since 2014, China has not recognized the claim on Crimea. They’ve simply not recognized that. Doesn’t that factor it?

Evan: Yeah, but Kaiser that’s a low bar to set. I mean, Kazakhstan and other former Soviet countries haven’t recognized it either. I mean, nobody’s recognized that. That’s not, there’s no price to be paid with Moscow for that non-recognition. I think, your point about nothing is final, I never said this was final. I mean, I work in international relations, nothing is final and nothing is permanent, but I think you have to pull the thread on trend lines and trajectories. I think that trajectory is pretty clear in Chinese foreign policy. It’s certainly not what it was if you rewind the clock a decade and a half.

Kaiser: I guess, possibly where we disagree is the extent to which the facts on the ground since February 24th have changed and may have changed Chinese calculations. I mean, the prioritization of objectives may have shifted a little bit as Russia is increasingly diplomatically isolated, the force of punitive sanctions. I mean, this has so conspicuously increased. I mean, this was just like over the weekend of 26th and 27th of February. It feels like the whole narrative shifted, European resolve seemed to just stiffen as Ukrainian resistance stiffened and the sanctions obviously have a whole lot more teeth. The U.S. and its allies have really closed ranks. International opprobrium against Russia has grown. The war looks like it’s going to drag on much longer than certainly Xi or Putin expected. It’s going to become way more brutal. I feel like I’m seeing, maybe if the war had gone as Putin had expected it, it would swiftly end in a couple days, didn’t expect that would be the case, but I can’t help but think that this has dissuaded them from, I mean, this has kept them on the fence for sure.

Evan: Well, I would not describe the Chinese position as on the fence.

Kaiser: Right.

Evan: We disagree. I think if you wanted to push back at me, you’d make the argument in several. The first is you could argue that China’s votes in the United Nations abstention in a Security Council vote and abstention in a general assembly vote suggest that they’re hedging but frankly, there was no real price to be paid with Moscow for China for those abstentions. There might have been a price to be paid if they had voted for them.

I am not sure that the Russians ever expected a Chinese vote that would be aligned with the Russian vote. There’s no particular price to be paid with the abstention. By the way, changes were made to those resolutions in order to accommodate the Chinese. For one thing, their resolution was not adopted under Chapter Seven.

Kaiser: Explain that, break that out. What does that mean?

Evan: Chapter Seven resolutions in the UN Security Council implicate threats to peace and security. They’re often used in ways that suggest the possibility of sanctions. They often lead to multilateral sanctions and sometimes they can be interpreted as the UN Security Council authorizing a countervailing use of force.

Now, if you rewind the clock to the period after September 11, 2001, both China and Russia actually were aligned with the American position. There was a lot of international opprobrium about what had happened. I think, I don’t remember if it was resolution 1368 or 1373, but one of those actually I believe was a Chapter Seven resolution.

Anyway, the point was the Chinese were never going to support a Chapter Seven resolution in the Council, but I don’t read any great strategic meaning or realignment away from the general trajectory of a lean toward Russia from that abstention.

Kaiser: Sure. Evan, let me ask you, what do you mean when you say “pay a price with Russia?” I mean, is there a meaningful price? What would be the worst if Beijing were to incur Russian wrath? I mean, what’s the penalty to pay?

Evan: There is no penalties. That’s just precisely the point, so for that –

Kaiser: No, no, no. I mean, if they did cross a line, the UN abstention certainly isn’t that, but what do you mean when you say pay a price?

Evan: I don’t mean anything. There’s no price for China to be made with Moscow.

Kaiser: No. No. What I mean is if China did move beyond a notional line that Moscow…

Evan: Oh, I see.

Kaiser: What do you mean when you say China could pay a price? What’s the worst that Russia could do?

Evan: There’s nothing Russia can really do. The point I’m trying to make to you, Kaiser, is given the fact that there was no particular price to be paid with Moscow, there was no reason why the Chinese couldn’t have voted for a resolution, but neither you nor I nor anybody else believes that they ever would have nor would it have been their interest to do so. What that tells me is that one can read too much into United Nations votes and impute to them some larger strategic meaning that I think is missing.

Kaiser: Okay.

Evan: What I was going to say to you though, I know, I mean, we’re getting very technical around UN votes, sorry.

Kaiser: I’m actually talking specifically about UN votes here. What I’m asking you is you made reference to the fact that Beijing would pay no price with Moscow. What’s a situation in which Beijing would pay a price with Moscow? And what would that price be? If for example, they came down firmly on the side of the United States, they joined in the chorus of opprobrium against Moscow. They joined in the sanctions regime. If they joined fully, what penalty, what does it cost Xi to break faith with the February 4th agreement?

Evan: Well, I think we need to separate the diplomatic piece from the sanctions piece and let’s just take the sanctions piece first because I think it’s the more interesting one. If China were all in, as some people put it for Moscow, then it would just essentially flip its middle finger at the sanctions regime and dare the United States to punish it. That’s not going to happen. In fact, I expect Chinese firms and entities to be mostly sanctions compliant. And because I expect them to be mostly sanctions compliant, saying that China is somehow hedging its bets on Russia by complying with sanctions is not a persuasive argument. Offering as evidence of a hedge, something that China was going to do anyway, I don’t think is particularly persuasive.

The Chinese on the sanctions front have had good look at American sanctions over many years. There have been Iran sanctions. There have been North Korea sanctions. For Chinese entities that have global exposure, there is vastly more to lose by being out of compliance with sanctions than there is by flipping their middle finger at them and somehow throwing Russia some sort of theoretical lifeline.

If you begin to break down what the Russia-China relationship looks like, a lot of the sanctions have targeted bank lending, and the interbank piece of the Russia-China relationship is not especially large. If you’re one of the big four banks in China, if you’re an ICBC, you’re a Bank of China, I cannot imagine a scenario in which those banks would not be sanctions compliant because of what they would have to lose.

The second piece is what I would call policy bank enterprise lending. Particularly, since 2014, a lot of what we’ve seen between China and Russia has involved the two main Chinese policy banks, the China Development Bank and the China Export-Import Bank, lending essentially doing project finance for things like a liquefied natural gas project or other kinds of commodity-anchored projects. Those banks don’t have the same kind of global exposure that, let’s say the big four banks do, but that’s sanctions regime could tighten in time and in any case, there are reputational concerns and effects, but they will look for seams in the sanctions regime, particularly around specific sectors of the Russian economy where lending and support remain possible.

Then, third, you have contracts that are denominated in dollars. There was a Reuters or a Bloomberg piece the other day that said that Russian coal exports to China had been halted. I think that’s probably because the contracts are denominated in US dollars and they’ll be redenominated in renminbi. One of the irony of this is that I hope Russia really likes the renminbi because they’re about to have a lot of it.

I was joking with a friend the other day, first prize is to get your contracts redenominated renminbi so you can make payments and buy things using renminbi. Second prize is even more renminbi. Then, third there’s the tech piece because while China can certainly continue some tech sales to Russia, a lot of those Chinese systems have U.S.-origin components or US origin intellectual property.

Again, in this area, the quantum of sales on every metric — sales, profits, customer base — it’s just much larger in terms of access to global customers than it is for Russian customers. So I expect on this sanctions front that the Chinese will be largely sanctions compliant.

Now, the problem is that people keep talking about sanctions. I think we should stop talking about sanctions and start calling this an embargo because this is beginning to take on the features of an embargo rather than just targeted sanctions. The Chinese will be on board with sanctions in many respect because of what they have to lose. They clearly, for diplomatic, strategic, and philosophical reasons will not be on board with an embargo. They will look for ways to continue an economic relationship with Russia outside the ambit of the sanctions regime or by using creative workarounds.

So that then gets to your question about price. The Russians are the dependent party here. They are the demandeur, as a former boss of mine used to say because they have, the Chinese have more to lose in one respect, but the Russians have few alternative lifelines. But while the Chinese are not all in for Russia in that sense, I at the diplomatic and strategic level, this leadership in China clearly judges that it has very little to gain, frankly, by aligning its foreign policy with the United States at a time when the U.S.-China strategic competition has been front and center in American national security policy, industrial policy, education policy, science and technology policy, and every other policy that you and I can think of for the last five to seven years.

And so working that set of alignments and realignments in a flexible way, I think that’s one reason why they’ve leaned as they have toward the Russians. I wouldn’t say that’s final or they’re all in, but the lean is pretty decisive. And I think, frankly, the backdrop of the U.S.-China relationship probably has quite a bit to do with that.

Kaiser: I asked Jeff Bader who was on this week’s show, on last week’s show, rather, I’ve asked a lot of people, whether they believe that a critical mass of Party elites now believes that, irrespective of who’s in the White House or what party controls Congress, the U.S. is and is going to remain implacably hostile to China and unwilling to accept its emergence as a peer competitor. U.S. is always going to try to stymie China’s rise. I mean, you seem to believe some version of that, we’re already beyond the point where we could dissuade them from that belief and that this idea about an implacable American hostility to China will mean, it will tie its fate to Russia. It seems to be, maybe I’m not getting this quite right, but that seems to be the core assumption in your argument as to why you think the pro-Russian lean politically will continue. How confident are you that we’re at that point already where the Chinese leadership is convinced of this implacable hostility?

Evan: Well, I think some granularity is required. I mean, the who in that matters a lot. I mean, there is a segment of U.S. business that is not implacably hostile to China. People work in financial services don’t seem implacably hostile to China. There’s still capital flowing into China. There are still plenty of people that view China as a critical part of their growth strategies. If you’re talking about those people, the Chinese have continued to pretty assiduously court that group of Americans, and it remains part of China’s commercial and investment picture.

If you’re talking about the American national security elite, I think if I were a planner in Beijing, I probably would assume the possibility of more than one trajectory, but I would conclude from the last five to seven years that something notable had changed in the United States, just as American national security elites — and I’m a card carrying member of the Washington strategic class — have concluded that Chinese policy today doesn’t look identical to Chinese policy 15 years ago.

And by the way, that’s true, even on economic policy. I mean, if Zhū Róngjī 朱镕基 were running the Chinese economy today, would they be making the same choices? I mean, on the foreign policy and national security front, I think and we talked about this the last time I was on the podcast, that American policy has been heavily securitized, that things that used to be mitigating factors or brakes on hostility in the U.S.-China relationship, things like commercial flows of goods, of capital, of people, of technology, of data, those things on the American side are being refracted through a national security prism. Technology, cooperation, co-innovation — is this seen as a public benefit…

Kaiser: Not anymore.

Evan: … by national security elites in the United States? No. It’s seen as enabling the rise of a competitor and the Chinese are nobody’s fools, and I think they can read that trajectory point quite well.

Kaiser: Yeah. There are claims out of the intelligence community that in the February 4th meeting, Xi was informed of the intention to actually invade, that he secured an agreement to wait until after the Olympics. Where do you fall on that? I mean, it seems to me not quite consistent with Beijing’s actions since February 24th. I mean, one thing I could point to is why would, if they expected an invasion, why would they not have had an evacuation plan for the several tens of thousands of Chinese nationals in Ukraine? What’s your sense of what Xi knew and when, and whether that’s important at all?

Evan: Well, first of all, that is absolutely the position that the United States government appears to be putting around in public. If you read some of these leaks that they’ve made to the media.

Kaiser: Yeah. That’s clear, but I’m asking about you though, I’m asking about you.

Evan: Okay. Well, from my vantage point, I mean, it is possible for more than one thing to be true at a time. I have no access to intelligence. I have no idea if any of that is true, but what I can tell you is that in the real world, it is certainly possible that the Chinese knew there was going to be some sort of action in Ukraine, but didn’t believe that it would have the scope, intensity, or brutality that it has today.

China invaded Vietnam in 1979. When China invaded Vietnam in 1979, they did not go to Hanoi. They called it “teaching a lesson.” And when the lesson, as they put it, had been taught, they withdrew from Vietnam. It’s entirely possible that the Chinese could have known in theory, but never believed that it would have this scope and intensity, did not believe that Ukrainian cities would be leveled to the ground. Did not believe there would be a medieval siege of Kyiv or even if they did think that the target was all of Ukraine, that this thing was going to be over in 48 to 72 hours because there’s some anecdotal evidence that people in Moscow believe that too.

Kaiser: Yeah.

Evan: So given that more than one thing can be true at a time, I have no idea if that U.S. government story that’s being put around is true, because I don’t have access to the intelligence, but it’s possible that even if the Chinese were aware that the Chinese thought this was going to go down rather differently than it has.

Kaiser: So I’m going to give you my own hypothesis for what I imagine may have happened from Beijing’s perspective. And I’m not wedded to this. I understand that it’s not based on anything, so poke all the holes in it — in fact, I hope you do. I mean, it goes something like this, I think Xi obviously did want to see NATO take seriously in regard as legitimate Russia’s longstanding position that Ukraine joining NATO would constitute an unacceptable security threat to Russia. That’s not in question.

I mean, obviously Xi sees a lot of parallels itself. It shares the whole Russian sort of paranoid belief about color evolutions, that they’re all aimed at eventual regime change in authoritarian countries and especially in Russia and in China but I think Xi already believed that Putin’s hand was really, really stronger that the U.S., had already made clear that it wasn’t going to intervene militarily. I think that Xi thought that all that the EU or Biden or NATO could really do is just wave these ultimately impotent sanctions threats at Putin, and Putin would shrug them off — that ultimately he knew that and that the February 4th thing was all about just making Putin’s hand looks stronger enough by effectively further sapping sanctions of any real bite. I also think there’s a little bit of the kind of “thou doth protest” too much with all the hyperbolic language around “limitless friendship.”

I think the way Xi saw it was that things, if they went the way he expected that basically when Ukraine would be kept out of NATO for say a 10-year period, and then there would be a troop pullback, Xi figured he would’ve incurred very little cost in backing Russia on that. But I think that even if Putin did convey like a genuine intention to invade, as you said, I think Xi probably thought it would be over in no time, but in this case, it seems like they were really caught flat-footed by the whole invasion and how it went down. It would seem to me that he’s pretty unhappy that Putin did it, that he feels kind of betrayed by it. What am I getting wrong here?

Evan: First of all, is it possible that Mr. Putin lied to Mr. Xi?

Kaiser: Yeah. Yeah.

Evan: It is certainly possible. He’s lied to President Macron, not once, not twice, but multiple times. He lies in his public briefings on a daily basis. He concocts rationales for war that to my mind are somewhere between Cloud Cuckoo Land and fantasy land. And so it is possible that he was not on the up-and-up, or fully transparent about Russian intentions or designs with Mr. Xi. It is also possible that was not the case. It’s unknowable.

In any case, I think the two things that stick out for me in the aftermath are that, as I said earlier, the Chinese have not really recalibrated their positions on Russian rationales for the crisis with a dramatic shift that reflects the drama that’s going on the ground.

Kaiser: Yeah, yeah. There, you’re absolutely right. You’re absolutely right there.

Evan: What quantum of humanitarian catastrophe is required for China to calibrate its position on Russian actions differently? It’s unclear to me more than seven or eight days into the war. Now, the NATO piece is interesting because while China has not tended to inject itself into debates about the future of European security, I think on this point, the origin of Russian-Chinese consensus lies much further back in time. The 1990s were a pretty seminal moment and the war in the Balkans had a pretty dramatic impact at the time, on not just Russian thinking, but on Chinese thinking. People have forgotten this.

Kaiser: Yeah, absolutely.

Evan: I wrote an article 22 years ago. I dug it out of the archive in the New York Times in December 2000. Putin wasn’t even one year in office at this point. The title, I didn’t choose the title, but the title the New York Times put on my article was “The United States is Pushing Russia and China Together Again.”

Kaiser: Right.

Evan: The reason they selected that title, because if you read the text of the op-ed, I talked about the way basically the Balkan’s had some shock value on the system in Beijing. We talked about principles of international relations before: sovereignty, territorial integrity, non-interference. There are other principles of international relations, like the role of alliances in international politics where Russia and China do share a perspective that spans the Eurasian landmass from the west to the east and where, if you go back to the 1990s, the Chinese were extremely discomfited.

You will recall that the United States and its allies at that point in time initially went to the Security Council and then having had no success in the Security Council, turned to other structures, not least NATO as vehicles for policy action and collective response. That had a real shock in China, and it was the origin, I think, of some of these debates about post-Cold War alliances on which there’s been much greater consensus between Moscow and Beijing. And let’s not dismiss the importance of that in thinking through why the Chinese, to go back to something you asked me earlier, are positioning themselves as where they are. It’s not just about tacking between Washington and Europe on the one hand and Moscow on the other. China has other interests here, including its interests in East Asia and in the East Asian littoral that are implicated by American posture presence, defense policy, alliance posture. And on those, there is some signaling going on, I think from Beijing to Washington and frankly others in Asia who have fewer interests at stake that are immediately implicated by the Ukraine crisis around China’s rather negative view of American alliances and what they can and cannot do.

And so on that ground too, leaning toward Moscow has had some useful secondary and tertiary strategic effects that I think partly explains the Chinese positioning on this too. It’s not an accident that Huá Chūnyíng 华春莹 described the United States as the culprit in all of this, the culprit. Then, I think Wāng Wénbīn 汪文斌, the other Chinese foreign ministry’s spokesman, repeated that phraseology. It was either him or somebody else.

So given how facts on the ground are evolving, the fact that there’s a double, triple, quadruple down on that point, suggests that there’s more at work here than simply the question of whether to lean toward Russia, hedge your bets and that’s why I do think, to go back to your conversation with Jeff Bader, that we can reach some conclusions about what’s front and center on the minds of Chinese national security decision makers. Clearly, being in alignment with the United States on this has some collateral effect on other Chinese interests. And so the signaling and substantive value of the lean toward Moscow, I think probably overwhelmed anything in Beijing that would’ve been a countervailing argument.

Kaiser: Let’s talk about how the economic component of this might affect the decision. So far, we haven’t really talked about it though and what a factor it would be. China is Russia’s biggest trading partner, but Russia isn’t even a top 10 partner for China. I mean, China’s trade with the EU is like three-and-a-half times and it’s actually comparable to the U.S. figure. They’re both in the sort of 500-plus billion dollar range. Total, it’s like seven times the trade volume that China has with Russia.

All week we’ve been seeing more and more reports of Chinese banks who, as you say, are not willing to deal with Russian commodities and strong indicators that China will be sanctions compliant. As you said, it cost nothing. It was going to be anyway, maybe that doesn’t matter, but it still doesn’t seem to fit quite well with your idea that China’s going to lean in harder toward Russia. I mean, why would it risk that? Why would it put that at risk?

Evan: Well, first I question the premise. I’m not sure purchasing commodities is necessarily a risk. I mean, the sanctions haven’t targeted some of that yet. So we’ll see how that evolves but purchasing Russian coal using renminbi is, I think, going to be entirely possible. And I would expect the Chinese to continue to purchase certain commodities from Russia.

I think if you want to parse the economic effects, there’s probably four buckets to look at. The first are the kind of macroeconomic and supply effects. In other words, things that China needs, not just at the abstract level, global macroeconomic stability but for instance things that China bought from Ukraine like barley or corn. Ukraine was a pretty big corn supplier to China and the barley purchases were supposed to go up pretty significantly.

So the first bucket that China’s going to have to navigate is that. It seems pretty clear that Ukraine is going to be wrecked at the end of this no matter the outcome. If you’re a Chinese barley buyer, you’re probably going to have to look for other sources of supply. For some agribusiness commodities, Russia provides one potential alternative, but there are others.

And I would keep an eye on the China-Australia relationship. One reason that China was buying so much from Ukraine was because of it’s self-imposed decision not to purchase these things including barley from Australia. There’s an election in Australia in May. The two sides of that partisan divide are going to try to out-hawk each other in this election campaign in Australia, on China. If there’s a change of government, there’s a labor government, that government will reflect a hawkish consensus, I expect, in Australia, but there will be opera opportunities should the Chinese choose them to try to have a little bit of a modest reset in its relationship with Australia. And I could see lifting some of those self-imposed restrictions on commodity purchase being part of that. Some of those commodities are things that like barley have some knock on effects from the Ukraine crisis.

The second bucket then, of course, implicates what to continue to purchase from Russia. There, as I said, we don’t have to dwell on this. I expect the Chinese to look for seams in the sanctions regimes and for ways to continue to maintain an economic relationship with Russia. I would expect that’ll be heavily commodity-based and there’ll be lots of renminbi changing hands.

Kaiser: Sure.

Evan: The third piece of this is how Chinese entities at the enterprise level have to weigh their choices between access to global markets on the one hand and Russia as a customer or partner on the other. I think it, as you were implying, by almost every metric — revenue, sales, profitability — that’s a no-brainer for most Chinese enterprises. That being the case, I would expect at the enterprise level that they’ll prioritize global market access over Russia. And so these choices about Russia involving supposed lifelines that China might throw, those would have to be strategic decisions by the government because at the enterprise level, there’s no particular incentive to do things with Russia that paint a target on China’s back.

The fourth bucket, which I think in some ways is interesting, involves the sanctions toolkit. This is a whole sanctions toolkit that, for China, which is a country that’s pretty experienced with, looking at U.S. sanctions they’ve not really had a good look at before. I know people in the United States who are in the sanctions business who are just stunned by what they’ve seen unroll over the last week.

Kaiser: Yeah!

Evan: The scope of them, the speed of them, the nature of some of the tools that are being used. I think if we wanted to do a schematic of how the Chinese are going to look at sanctions, one piece of that will be defensive but the other piece of that will be to study the effectiveness of some of these tools and whether and how China might assimilate and adapt them into China’s own toolkit of non-kinetic coercive tools. In the last week, I’ve heard a lot of speculation that connects what’s happening in Ukraine and in Russian decision making.


Oh, I totally know where you’re about to go with this. You’re going to be talking about all those people speculating about Taiwan.

Evan: Yeah, in the last week I’ve heard a lot of speculation. Some of it from my vantage point, pretty wild that tries to draw a straight line from Russian decision making about Ukraine to Chinese decision making about Taiwan. Vladimir Putin invaded Ukraine last week, but China’s been thinking about Taiwan both politically and through the lens of perspective coercion to achieve Chinese objectives long before last week and going back decades.

So first of all, there’s no direct connection from my vantage point because China’s on its own timeline and buried in its own thought process about this. But the point is that China’s toolkit for thinking about how to pressure Taiwan, doesn’t just involve military tools. Americans — I’m American, we’re very simple people. We tend to think in binaries. Everything is war and peace, conflict and non-conflict. I don’t think that’s the way the Chinese have ever thought about their challenge with Taiwan as they see it. They have spent a decade and a half building up a pretty robust toolkit of not military tools, but non-kinetic tools.

Kaiser: Yeah.

Evan: The use of asset seizures and pressure on businesses and on individuals, this is something that I suspect the Chinese are going to take a hard look at and study very closely and take some interest in the effects and effectiveness of, because these are tools that the Chinese might, I would predict, try to assimilate into their own toolkit of non-kinetic coercive tools. We may see the Chinese rollout analogs for that over time.

Kaiser: Fantastic. I think that’s excellent. I think that people should all really think about these four separate pieces of it. You preempted a question that I was going to ask you about Taiwan, but I’m really glad that you went with that because yeah, like you, I’ve heard a lot of takes that are really sort of simplistic and linear like we’re playing some damn board game. I’m glad that you gave us a little more sophisticated take on that.

Evan: Well, it’s similar to — a lot of these geopolitical takes sound like people played too many games of Risk or Stratego as kids. The direct line that people draw from Russian decision making about Ukraine to Chinese decision making about Taiwan is one example but another is the way people posit these bizarre strategic triangles that the United States was somehow going to appeal Russia off from China. The U.S. was going to do so-called “reverse Kissinger” and it’s just preposterous in part because it’s ahistorical.

I’ve been listening to people talk about this for years before Russia invaded Ukraine and the whole relationship between Russia and the West changed. If you think about when Kissinger went to Beijing in 1971 with the secret visit, which set up the February 1972 Nixon visit — in 1969, just two years before that Russia and China nearly went to war on their border. They were implacably hostile to each other. They were even ideologically hostile to each other after the Sino-Soviet split.

Kaiser: That’s right.

Evan: You fast forward to today, Russia and China are not implacably hostile. They didn’t nearly just fight a war. They’re not enemies. If anything, there’s greater ideological solidarity, I don’t want to overdetermine that because this is not in fact an access of authoritarians, but they do have some ideological things that they share in common in terms of views of the world views of the United States, ambivalence about American foreign policy, hostility to American alliances — given that, the idea of a reverse Kissinger is completely historical, just totally bizarre and preposterous.

Now, that that’s just been shown for what it is by Russian action and Ukraine, I think it’s important that one lesson people take away from that is wariness about treating international relations like a game of Risk. Decision making isn’t straight line and capitals have to weigh interest in countervailing forces and interests all the time. And so as silly as it is to draw a deliberate straight line from Ukraine to Taiwan, it’s equally silly to dismiss it outright because I think the Chinese have been thinking hard about Taiwan for decades. That’s how they’ll continue to think about it. It’s in their own way. It’s an issue that’s really sui generis for them.

Kaiser: This strategic triangle idea, I mean, by that logic, which it itself questionable, It would make sense for the United States at this point to at least try to prevent Russia and China from getting too cozy. It would be not only in U.S. interests, but also potentially in Chinese interest to do that to not, I’m not talking about even a rapprochement of any kind, but at least the lowering of temperature. It strikes me that Biden only mentioned China a couple times in his State of the Union. It seems not strategically foolish to try to prevent us from pushing China too far into the Russian camp at this point. Do you think that that would be a strategically sound and more importantly feasible option for us right now? Is there a way we could, through the right combination of carrots and sticks, pull China off the fence in our direction?

Evan: I think it’s not particularly in the American interest to have a relentlessly confrontational relationship with China in every domain, diplomatic, military, economic, financial, cultural, and so on. But the problem is that U.S.-China relations have deteriorated pretty significantly over the last five to seven years. Both Washington and Beijing, as I’ve said to you today and as I said to you the last time we did this, have securitized their view of commercial interchange and of other aspects to the relationship.

So on paper, it makes sense for the United States to find ways to mitigate the worst effects of this crisis on U.S.-China relations. But we live in the real world, not on paper. As I said, my read on the situation is that the Chinese have not gone all-in from Moscow because of what I said about sanctions compliance, but have definitely leaned to one side in the context of this crisis to quote Chairman Mao Zedong. And what’s more, that’s happened in part because of shared Russian and Chinese ambivalence about American foreign policy.

Kaiser: Right.

Evan: When I’ve heard people argue for trying to split the two, the argument is usually premised on the idea that Russia and China have some deep ambivalence about one another. Indeed, they do, culturally, historically, even strategically. But my view for a while, having watched them, for example, in Central Asia, where they’re supposed to be competitive, but frankly in the real world are not, is that their ambivalence about American foreign policy individually and jointly trumps whatever ambivalence they may have about one another.

And so we can’t unwish the realities of where U.S.-China relations are today. I don’t think there’s some easy pivot where the United States flies off to Beijing, offers China a bunch of carrots, threatens sticks, and China says, “Hey Presto, okay. We’ll align Chinese foreign policy with the United States” either in the context of this crisis or more generally.

Now, is the game worth the candle given what the Russians are doing in Ukraine to try to persuade, cajole, pressure, maybe even coerced China to introduce greater calibration to their positions, and maybe even try to use some so-called influence on Russia? I say, so-called because I’m not sure if Vladimir Putin would listen to anybody at this point. These views he has about Ukraine seem deeply baked, but there’s no downside. There’s a potential upside. I see nothing particularly wrong with U.S.-China engagement around this, but I think the chances of success are really low and we need to be realistic about that.

Kaiser: Do you think that Beijing has an accurate sense of its ability to affect the outcomes here, the role that it has to play in this crisis?

Evan: Well, I don’t really accept the idea that China’s trying to play a role in this crisis. There’s been a lot of loose talk the last several days about mediation and so on. That would be a role for China that they have rarely taken on historically. I mean, the Cambodia situation, they were more forward-leaning than I think they are, but it implicated their interests much more directly. They had deep ties to some of the players there.

Somebody asked me the other day, how would the Chinese like this to end? My response was that I think the Chinese would just like this to end. If they could, they would rewind the clock back to the status quo ante but they can’t. They’re going to have to make the best for Chinese interest out of a lousy situation no matter what the outcome is.

And they will, and it will be ugly, and it won’t be straightforward, but my expectation is that they will find it easier to navigate the aftermath of this than most other players, because their relationship with Russia is quite a bit different than where the American and European relationships are heading. And from the American and particularly the European standpoint, this is a cataclysm that has changed a lot. And keep an eye on Germany because they are the bellwether of a lot of what’s changing in Europe in real time.

Kaiser: Absolutely. So I want to go back a little bit and talk about China and Russia and the differences between them. I mean, you had sort of glancingly talked about how there’s this sort of, every time somebody talks about the unlikelihood of this forming a serious, something beyond an entente, they point to these things, and you point to the example of Central Asia as an area where these supposed contradictions would manifest, but they really haven’t.

There is a big difference in the way that they’ve behaved on the world stage since the end of the Cold War, maybe not in Central Asia, but especially since Putin took power at the turn of the millennium. Russia has been a spoiler state. It’s been a disrupter. Xi and especially Xi’s predecessors have been way more invested in the international order. I mean, China hasn’t really sought to upend things so much as to win within the game that it joined. I mean, it’s cheated at times, it’s played fast and loose with the rules to be sure, but it’s not been like overturning the game board. I mean, this is only one of the ways in which I think the two differ. Can you talk about areas of divergence between Russia and China?

Evan: Look, one of the byproducts of this crisis will be to entrench a narrative, particularly in Washington that Russia and China are essentially the same. People already are talking about Russia and China interchangeably. A lot of that is framed ideologically. It’s an axis of authoritarians, people say. It’s a world of democracies versus dictatorships, but at the granular level, I mean, there’s nothing really similar about the Chinese system and the Russian system.

They are authoritarians. They are dictatorships, but they are not dictatorships of the same kind and they are not authoritarian systems of the same kind. There is nothing about Russia’s kleptocracy and highly kleptocratic form of government that bears an innate resemblance to the Chinese system, which involves 86 plus million members of the Chinese Communist Party that Xí Jìnpíng 习近平 would like to be a highly disciplined, self-regulating cadre within a one party state of a very bureaucratized Chinese system. There’s nothing about those two political systems that looks one and the same to me.

Kaiser: Right.

Evan: So that argument is being made mostly for ideological effect and in ways that say more about the narrative in the United States than about the domestic politics of either Russia or China. So I think when people make that argument, if you wanted to take it more seriously, it’s really about whether regime type predicts something about foreign policy, not about similarity at the domestic level. I do think there’s something to that. I mean, this whole conversation has been about alignments and associations between Russian foreign policy and Chinese foreign policy.

And part of why I don’t discount that is because in the places and on the issues where people have postulated there would be a Russia-China crack up, or where their interests were supposedly not aligned, we don’t see that much fractiousness. Central Asia is the best example. I mean, it’s the one that people usually cite first when they want to talk about Russia and China somehow being competitive, but that competition really hasn’t materialized.

The reason for that as we just saw in Kazakhstan, frankly, a couple of months ago, is that there’s nothing China’s doing in the region that is really inimical to Russian interests. Russia can’t offer investment or project finance lending on this scale that China can, and that stuff is stabilizing for Central Asian economies from Russia’s standpoint. There’s really nothing Russia is doing that is inconsistent with Chinese interests. I mean, what are Chinese interests in Central Asia? At the end of the day, there are four. They want functioning governments, they want a secure border, they want to beat up Uyghurs to be blunt about it and have them rendered to Chinese custody upon request. And they want physical protection for Chinese people and Chinese assets in the region. So a Russian intervention that shores up a government, or from China’s perspective fosters greater political stability, that is in no way inimical to Chinese interests, just as Chinese investment in the region is not inimical to Russian interest.

Kaiser: That’s right.

Evan: So unless you take a multi-generational view where China becomes the broker of domestic political arrangements in Central Asian capitals, there’s nothing that suggests a crack up or a divergence of interest. China has not played that role. In fact, Russia’s role in the domestic politics of Central Asian countries has been entrenched in recent years. When people need blessing, they run off to Moscow and it will be even more entrenched after what’s just happened in Ukraine where Central Asian governments are going to run pretty scared under the circumstances.

Kaiser: Yeah, that’s right.

Evan: Where their interest diverge is, frankly, over how disruptive they are in relative terms, as your question implied, to the international system. You know my view on this, I think China is a revisionist power, but it is a highly strategic and selective revisionist. My view of China’s international strategy, particularly toward international institutions, even under Xí Jìnpíng 习近平, has been that we really should use a market’s metaphor. It’s more like what I call portfolio diversification than it is wholesale revisionism that’s designed to turn the table upside down.

Yes, they’ve set up an Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank that’s supposed to be a punitive competitor to the Asian development bank, but they’re also the number three shareholder in the Asian Development Bank. They’ve contributed to multiple rounds of IDA replenishment. They want greater shares and a bigger chair at some of these institutions. So it’s a hedge and it’s a diversification strategy.

The Russian approach to international relations, and I’m not a Russia expert, but I’ve seen them up close and personal, particularly in some of their neighboring countries, I would describe as much more of a wholesale revisionist and frankly, invading your neighbor while declaring at the presidential level that they have no right to be a sovereign country, is a kind of revisionism that we really have not seen from Beijing yet. That’s very different than making irredentist claims on territory.

Kaiser: It doesn’t get more disruptive than that. Yeah. We talked a little bit about this “democracy versus authoritarianism framing” that is entrenched right now in Washington and I think is spreading. China doesn’t like it. China wants to avoid that framing. That’s what’s coded into this sort of “Cold War mentality” thinking. They would like to see it become less ideological, but don’t they realize to some extent that in any visible lean toward Russia, they only reinforced that narrative that they object to. I listened to Ezra Klein interviewing Fareed Zakaria this morning. I’ll talk more about that really fantastic interview in recommendations but one thing that they brought up was this essay, you might remember it, was by Thomas Wright, it was in Brookings from 2018, September, 2018. It was about the inevitable return of great power competition and his argument was basically because liberal democracy, he says, is inherently expansionist. He basically says that, they’re not wrong. Russia and China are not wrong to regard it as an existential threat. I mean, liberal democratic ideology, Wright argues, is universalist. It’s absolute. It’s a proselytizing religion. We’re destined to support pro-democratic forces, especially, at precisely the moments when they become most threatening to the autocrats. Of course, we also have this immense discourse power through our media. You’ve tended not to frame things in terms of great conflicts of ideology and you see China and Russia converging for geopolitical reasons. So can you explain the dynamic that you see as being in play here and why we should avoid thinking about it ideologically?

Evan: Well, I’m a bit of a dinosaur. I’m just an old-fashioned balance of power kind of guy and I always have been. The irony is I take a pretty competitive view of the U.S. relationship with China. And so ironically, I get to the same place prescriptively that some of the people who take a more ideological view do, but for a different reason, and often on the basis of a different understanding of the drivers of policy. Now, that’s not to deny that there’s an ideological dimension to Chinese foreign policy or to the U.S.-China competition. There’s certainly been an ideological dimension to Chinese foreign policy in the past. I mean, if you rewind to Mao’s foreign policy in the 1960s, that was…

Kaiser: Absolutely.

Evan: … Chinese foreign policy that supported liberation struggles from North Borneo to Bolivia, and that had a pretty heavy ideological cast to it. I even think the Sino-Soviet split had an ideological piece to it. It wasn’t just about strategic interest and great power politics. The Chinese had a different interpretation of post-Stalinist ideology in Russia and Máo Zédōng 毛泽东 made his views on that fairly clear.

I think just as a tactical matter, I talked earlier about the differences between the realities of the Russian domestic system and the realities of the Chinese political system. They’re both authoritarian, but they’re not authoritarian in the same way. Just from a tactical standpoint, the more the United States talks about them as one and the same, the harder it is to find any seams such as there might be, where American interests would be well served by finding some tactical or frankly strategic alignment with China, or in the pre-Ukraine environment, with other powers around the world that might also be authoritarian.There are more than two authoritarian powers in the world. Some of them are our partners. I mean, I talked at Central Asia before. I mean, I wouldn’t describe any of those — I mean, with the exception of Kyrgyzstan — I’m not sure I’d describe any of those countries as meeting the American threshold of what counts as a democracy. Even Kyrgyzstan has been a pretty raucous one and had a takeover of its government a couple years ago. And yet the United States has worked with Kazakhstan, for example, productively in all sorts of ways that belie some of the differences around the realities of the Kazakhstan political system. Same is true with other countries around the world.

Kaiser: Yeah.

Evan: But we do not have the luxury of a value-free foreign policy. This moment in particular commands our attention because it is a moment, if you look at what’s happening, for moral clarity in a way that I don’t think we’ve been challenged for some time.

Kaiser: I fully agree.

Evan: To answer your very direct question very directly, do I think that the fact that both Russia and China are authoritarian necessarily means that on every issue of international politics or on every issue where their interests are implicated, that they will have an identical position because of reasons that go back to regime type? No. I would think a strategically flexible and tactically supple American foreign policy would be designed to preserve maximum flexibility, particularly with Beijing. Treating them as entirely interchangeable in every aspect doesn’t necessarily serve American interest.

Kaiser: Well put.

Evan: Now, you asked the question, are the Chinese aware that throwing their lot in with Russia in some of the ways that they have, entrenches that narrative in Washington? As I said earlier, they are nobody’s fools so they must know that. In fact, they can see that that is indeed what has been happening in recent days. They’ve obviously decided that’s either baked into American policy or that they can ride that out or that it’s not something at the end of the day that really needs to drive the way they think about their interest, but they must know that. In fact, that is what is happening.

Kaiser: Evan. Fantastic. I just have one last thing. I want to zoom out before I let you go and step back, look at this Russian invasion of Ukraine from a sort of distant historical perspective. I think a lot of us, I’m certainly one of them, have been thinking how this is the endpoint maybe of the post-Cold War era that began with the fall of the Berlin Wall in late ’89.

I mean, coming in as it has before the COVID pandemic is even over, it feels like also maybe the end of the era of globalization as we once understood it and the beginning of something else but what that something else will be is really hard to pin down. In terms of first, the geopolitical landscape, what are some of the scenarios that you are looking at right now?

Evan: Well, it’s hard to stay emotionally detached from all this while you watch what’s happening on your TV screen with cities being rocketed, children being maimed but even if you step away from the pictures, it’s just hard to be unemotional about it given the assumptions that we had, particularly about the piece of Europe. This is, I heard one European diplomat in Washington described this as an utter catastrophe yesterday. Said that the idea of trying to essentially end a sovereign state in the heart of Europe in the year 2022, creates flashbacks to an earlier era that suggest to Europeans that pathologies that people thought were a thing of the past are not in fact a thing of the past.

I think understanding how that reality is going to change the way Americans, the way Europeans, the way everyone thinks about our world is something that it’s too soon to conclude but I do think some of the geopolitical effects are already evident. We’ve spent this whole podcast talking about one of them, which is how deep is the Russia-China alignment, not just in this crisis, but on things that are unrelated to this crisis? How meaningful will that be for thinking about international order?

China’s not opposed to order. It just doesn’t particularly care for all elements of the one that the United States has been promoting in the post-Cold War period. They’ve that very clear. Do they try to supplant that order wholesale? Are they a selective revisionist? What does Russia mean to China in that context? What does China mean to Russia in that context? How enduring is this? That’s one set of questions that we don’t completely have the answers on yet.

The second of course is where American focus and commitment will be. There’s been a debate in the United States over the last several years about pivoting to Asia, rebalancing to Asia, focusing on the Indo-Pacific. I’m part of the Indo-Pacific crowd but if my crowd, this crowd, thinks that the United States will not have to make big new security commitments, emotional commitments, psychological commitments, policy commitments in Europe, I think this crowd is delusional given what I just said about European reactions to this and the view that this is an absolute catastrophe.

The idea that there’s some sort of two region policy and that there aren’t tradeoffs choices, and in fact, things that are going to link these two regions together, certainly in European thinking that’s delusional to me. I think those contradictions have probably become a lot sharper for the United States and the American foreign policy class hasn’t quite assimilated that yet.

Third, I think on a lot of the issues that matter to third, fourth, fifth, six players, particularly in the global south where the agenda remains the same, Ukraine or no Ukraine — growth, employment, opportunity, innovation, sustainability, development — on those things, no matter how sharp the U.S.-China confrontation is, no matter how much the United States wants to talk about in access of authoritarians versus a coalition of democracies, those countries will still try to have the name of the game be addition and multiplication, not subtraction and division. Those are the operations that matter.

That being the case, I think we’re heading for a geoeconomics of diversity and potentially a geopolitics of fragmentation, not Cold War like bipolarity into two neat coalitions. Particularly on economic issues that matter, cross border data, access and transfers, infrastructure construction, project finance, trade standards, investment rules. It is not, as president Obama once put it when he talked about the Trans-Pacific partnership, American rules versus Chinese rules. We talked about this last time. He said, “If we don’t write the rules, China’s going to write the rules.” Now, people are saying, “If we don’t write the rules,China and Russia are going to write the rules.” The reality is there are a lot of rules to be written and a lot of standards to be set. There are a lot of players who are going to set them and not just on United Nations votes, but on things like cross border data rules, data access and transfer rules. India is not in the same place as the United States. I just did a volume here at the Carnegie Endowment on the Korean way, with data, on data governance and open data and cross border data, Korea’s not lined up in some coalition of democracies either.

I think we’re heading for a world of fragmentation where geopolitics and geoeconomics may diverge. I think the key is to think with some granularity about that because as I said, for most countries, the mathematical operations that matter are still addition and multiplication, not subtraction in division. A world where ideological drawings are drawn very sharply, that’s a world of sharper choices and of subtraction and division and I still think two thirds of the world is not going to want to play that game.

Kaiser: Evan, thank you so much. I mean, you really anticipated how I was going to ask you about, specifically about, the geoeconomic fallout of this. You’ve answered that beautifully. Thank you so much for taking the time. It’s been just a fantastic conversation. Once again, I’m super glad I asked you to join.

Evan: Thanks for having me. I always listen to the podcast and so it’s great to be on.

Kaiser: We love having you on. Anyway, before we move on to recommendations, let me quickly remind listeners that Sinica podcast is powered by SupChina. If you like the work that we’re doing with this show or other great shows in the network, please remember that the best way to help us out is by subscribing to SupChina Access, our daily email newsletter. It’s a bargain for what you get. Just check it out. All right, let’s move on to recommendations. Evan, what you got for us?

Evan: Well, you and I, Kaiser, have a running joke about cooking and how we’re going to open a restaurant together someday. It ain’t joke at all.

Kaiser: It ain’t no joke, man.

Evan: Except you’re a better Chinese cook than I am. I’m stuck doing Mediterranean cooking, but…

Kaiser: Which is great.

Evan: Cooking is always on my mind. This week, Ukraine is very much on my mind. I’m going to recommend a cookbook. There’s a Ukrainian heritage cookbook. It also happens to be like many cookbooks. It’s a beautiful cookbook called Summer Kitchens by expatriate Ukrainian cook named Olia Hercules. It’s basically, it’s like a culinary tour of the different corners of Ukraine from west to north, to south to east.

At a time when you have some people trying to deny that Ukrainian national identity actually exists, it exists and it not only exists, but there’s remarkable Ukrainian heritage in all sorts of realms, including cuisine. It’s a beautiful cookbook to look at, but it’s also a delicious cookbook to cook the recipes from. The title of the book comes from these kitchens in Ukraine and in some other countries that are adjacent to the main house where people preserve summer fruits and vegetables for the winter and so on. I highly recommend the cookbook. It’s a little taste of Ukraine at a time when Ukraine is in the news.

Kaiser: That’s a fantastic recommendation. I’m going to actually get that because, yeah, yeah, this is a part of the world who’s cuisine I am not super familiar with and will definitely make some things and try them out. I’ve got two from today. I have one I already flicked at, that’s the outstanding conversation on the Ezra Klein show with Fareed Zakaria. I’ve always liked Fareed Zakaria. I’ve never heard him in a setting like this with a really brilliant interviewer, just asking him great questions and giving ample space for him to just introduce context into properly caveat things. It’s better than his routine monologues, really ]well-formed arguments. He’s a very thoughtful guy. I listened to it just before jumping on with you, Evan, and it was a really great inspiration for some of what we’ve talked about.

My other recommendation is the Steven Spielberg, West Side Story remake, which is just unbelievably good and may surpass the original, if that’s possible, because I mean, just, the sets, the choreography, the music, which of course, Bernstein’s music was already perfect, the acting, the standout being Ariana DeBose, who’s from North Carolina, by the way, as Anita but it was great also seeing Rita Moreno, who played Anita in the original. She plays a character named Valentina, who’s new, who replaces Doc, the drug store owner as sort of the priest from Romeo and Juliet. It is now streaming on HBO Max and Disney Plus. Don’t miss it. It’s just, I mean, it made me cry like three times. It’s just nuts. It’s so beautiful. Spielberg is a master. It’s just such a great homage and without screwing it up in the least. He only improved it. I mean, there are some changes and it’s kind of interesting to see what he changed, but great, great, great, great adaptation of it. I’m a sucker for it. I grew, I’ve seen West Side Story probably 50 times in my life. I watched it so many times as a kid.

Anyway, Evan, man, what a pleasure. I can’t wait to have you back on the show. I mean, like I said, I’ll be doing more on Ukraine and as things evolve, we’ll certainly invite you back on for your very, very valuable perspectives.

Evan: Thanks for having me. Take care.

Kaiser: The Sinica podcast is powered by SupChina and is a proud part of the Sinica Network. Our show is produced and edited by me, Kaiser Kuo. We would be delighted if you would drop us an email at or just give us a rating and review on Apple podcasts. This also really helps people discover the show. Meanwhile, follow us on Twitter or on Facebook at @supchinanews and be sure to check out all the shows in the Sinica Network. Thanks for listening. We’ll see you next week. Take care.