What might China face in an end to the war in Ukraine?

Foreign Affairs

Chinese foreign policy expert Yun Sun and former national intelligence officer Paul Heer discuss the possible scenarios that China might face in the eventual aftermath of the Russo-Ukrainian War.

Illustration for SupChina by Derek Zheng

Below is a complete transcript of the Sinica Podcast with Yun Sun and Paul Heer.

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, newly designed China 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 website at supchina.com. 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.

As much as I’d love to talk about topics other than the Russo-Ukrainian War on this program, it’s increasingly obvious to me that the war is just utterly consequential. It’s going to shape the geopolitical landscape for years and decades to come. No country will be unaffected. Most countries will be significantly impacted, and China will be probably more affected than almost any other country besides Russia and Ukraine itself.

So what does the global strategic environment look like to Beijing right now and what could it look like from Beijing’s perspective in a post-war scenario? These strike me as some of the most important questions that we need to address as we ponder how Beijing is going to craft its foreign policy in the coming months. So with that in mind, what I hope to do today, along with my two brilliant guests, is to identify what the big unresolved questions are right now, as Beijing sees things — the factors over which Beijing has limited control or influence, but that will have a gigantic impact on the geopolitical and geoeconomic game board, as Beijing sees it.

If things go one way, Beijing will confront a revitalized NATO that has really closed ranks and that now wields, and is more willing to deploy, very potent economic weapons: Pax Americana with a new lease on life. Or things could turn out very differently: China, say, as the uncontested hegemon in its regional neighborhood, while the U.S. and its NATO allies continue to fight proxy wars with a very disruptive, revanchist Russia. Will we see a very different world order emerge when that is bipolar or multipolar? Will the Global South back China in some new nonaligned movement?

Whatever the case, alea iacta est, as they say, and how things shake out will not only have a huge impact on the macro topography of the geopolitical landscape, but also on the fate of global economic integration on globalization. I’ve lost count now of the number of takes that I’ve heard that declare this the final nail in the coffin of the era of globalization. I don’t know whether that is at this point a foregone conclusion.

But anyway, to address these and other big questions, I am delighted to welcome Yun Sun, who is the director of the China Program and the co-director of the East Asia Program at the Stimson Center in Washington, D.C. She’s published some outstanding pieces since the outbreak of the war, both through Stimson on its website and on the excellent War on the Rocks website, including one Stimson piece of particular relevance to today’s topic titled “Ukraine: China’s Desired Endgame,” because that’s exactly what we’ll be talking about, China’s desired endgame. We will link to that and other pieces in the show notes. Yun, welcome to Sinica.

Yun Sun: Thank you for having me, Kaiser. Really a pleasure.

Kaiser: It’s the first time we’ve had you on. It’s amazing. I can’t believe that we haven’t had you on before, because you’re such a name in this area. But thanks, I’m so glad you could make the time.

Also joining on Sinica again is Paul Heer. Listeners doubtless recall the excellent episode that he did on Taiwan some months back. Paul is a distinguished fellow at the Center for the National Interest, dealing with Chinese and East Asian issues, primarily. He served as national intelligence officer for East Asia from 2007 to 2015. Prior to that, he was a senior analyst at the CIA’s Directorate of Intelligence in its China issue group. He is the author of Mr. X and the Pacific: George F. Kennan and American Policy in East Asia, which Cornell University Press put out in 2018, and that I just picked up and I’m really excited to read it. It finally arrived. Paul writes frequently on China’s foreign relations in the national interest. He joins us from his home town in Chicago. Paul, welcome back to Sinica.

Paul Heer: Thank you very much. It’s great to be back.

Kaiser: Before we get started. Let me note that we are recording on the afternoon of March 23, just four weeks since the February 24 invasion. Things change so fast that I think people really need to know when we are having this conversation just so that they don’t think that we’re too behind.

Let’s jump right in and start with some of these major uncertainties that China sees right now. So one I have to think is the actual outcome of the war. How long the war drags on, whether it’s going to spill over beyond Ukraine, perhaps into Moldova, or God forbid, into an actual NATO member state. Whether Putin will achieve his war aims, and if so, under what terms, what a settlement might look like, and so forth.

So Paul, let me start with you. I’d actually love for both of you to weigh in on this stuff. What is our best sense right now of the consensus, if any, among Chinese policy elites over the progress of the war, over the status of the war right now?

Paul: Well, frankly, I don’t think their consensus, if there is one, is any more clear than it is here. The Chinese probably know less than we do about what’s going on on the ground. And it’s pretty inconclusive from where we stand, I think. The Chinese, they clearly want it to end as soon as possible. I think they’re deeply concerned about the potential for escalation and prolongation of this, because their control over… Well, both their control over what’s going to happen and their interests are both going to erode as this goes on. So I think they’re in the same guessing game that we are. And there’s really, it’s up in the air. There’s a lot of variables that need to be resolved about, particularly from their perspective, where Putin and Russia, what kind of players they will be as partners for Beijing when this is all over? And that depends on how it ends and when.

Kaiser: Yeah. Yeah, very much. Yun, do you have the same sense that they know less about what’s happening on the ground than we do even?

Yun: I think the Chinese know one thing for sure, so that Russia is underperforming. That they expected Russia to achieve what they call a “swift and decisive military victory on the battlefield” in a relatively quick manner, but that has not happened. So I think, for the Chinese, the main takeaway is that the Russian military is not doing as well as probably Putin himself expected. And the ramification now is there are factors that leads to potential escalation, that if Russia indeed decides to use a major escalation to show his deterrence and to show his desire to end this war and to have a peace deal or peace negotiation, I’ve heard Chinese analysts say as recent as yesterday morning that, well, the use of a tactical nuclear weapon is not unthinkable, especially if we’re considering that Russia is basically bleeding out, that in the Chinese term, Russia is bleeding out. And if Russia wants to stop this bleeding, it might resort to choose some dramatic measures for it to happen. And that’s a major danger.

Kaiser: Yeah. I wonder whether that would change China’s calculus though, the moral calculus of this, if China were to see Russia use weapons that are beyond the pale, if not completely within the realm of the unthinkable — tactical nuclear weapons, biological weapons, chemical weapons. I wonder whether the moral calculus would change.

Paul: Well, I’m not sure whether they’re approaching it on a moral basis. Their interests are driving this, so I mean, obviously there would be an inescapable ethical dimension there that they don’t want to have to confront. And I think that’s the one area, perhaps, I was in another conversation with some folks earlier today, if there’s one area where Xi might put discernible pressure on Putin, it would be there. Beijing does not want Moscow to cross the WMD threshold here.

Kaiser: Yeah, that’s what I’m thinking. I think that we might be able to read clues into that already, when they decided to allow Chinese media to start covering civilian casualties and things like that. I think that might have been a subtle signal that there are things that Beijing considered to be on the pale. And not because, as you say, of any direct concern with the morality or the ethics of it, but because they understand that that kind of moral program generates real world consequences for China.

Anyway, one question I have. I mean, maybe I’m chasing by my own suspicions that our coverage of this has been a little too rosy and filtered through our own wishful thinking. I saw yesterday, there was an op-ed by Eliot Cohen, who basically said, “We need to face the fact that actually Ukraine is winning. That by any measure, Ukraine is winning this war.” And I thought, “Oh gosh, we cannot…” I don’t mean… That seems just terribly sanguine and maybe not very realistic… I mean, we’re only four weeks in. And sure, maybe by some measures, yeah, certainly Russia can be underperforming and still “winning” at the same time. So I wonder whether Beijing might also be a little too optimistic right now. I wonder whether its basic confidence in an eventual Russian victory has been significantly eroded.

Yun: I think it depends on how we define victory and what does it look like at this point?

Kaiser: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.

Yun: Yeah. Russia could win this battle and still lose the war. By the end of this war, Russia is going to come out as international pariah.

Kaiser: Absolutely.

Yun: With very few partners, with a diminished economy, and with also diminished international economic relations or cooperation. So there’s no way that Russia is going to come out of this war as a winner, that even if it might be able to carve Ukraine into half and claim Donbas as Russian territory at the end of the day, but it’s still not a winning scenario for Russia. But the question for China is that, well, is that a good news or bad news?

Kaiser: Right. So from China’s perspective, is it good news or is it bad news?

Yun: I think the most… Well, the better informed, the Chinese policy wonks are going to say, “This is bad news,” because Russia as an international pariah is basically North Korea with a much bigger nuclear arsenal. And that’s not the most reassuring or stabilizing combination. And if you look at Russia’s modus operandi, Russia has been using the strategy of chaos to punch above its weight, to basically create leverage where it doesn’t have leverage. And if this chaos, well, this strategy of chaos is going to be multiplied, because Russia now has even less instruments in its toolbox to achieve its policy agendas, then Russia is going to be much more destabilizing compared to before, and by that token, China is going to be dragged down and to face what it has faced in the Ukraine crisis, in terms of the difficult choices, how to reconcile irreconcilable positions in China’s foreign policy, China’s going to have much more to come.

Kaiser: Yeah. Yeah, that reminds me of something I was talking about with Susan Thornton. The conventional wisdom has always been that somehow China was the senior partner and Russia the junior partner in this entente, in this partnership. And I’ve always hesitated to say that that could be the case. It always seems to me that Russia, because of its really kind of willingness to be so disruptive to leverage chaos, to sow chaos, it does end up kind of punching above its weight. And perforce, leading China around by the nose. I mean, China has to react to Russian initiatives rather than actually call the shots and lead the strategic direction. Does that strike you as the case?

Paul: No, I mean there are different variations on the senior and junior partnership relationship, I suppose. I think Russia has been in terms of material influence, but I think you’re right. I think that’s part of Beijing’s dilemma. It’s being forced to make choices that it doesn’t want to make, because I think Beijing does see Moscow as a junior partner, but although it never enunciates that, certainly not directly to the Russians, but I think it’s just part of the dilemma that they face. I mean, back to Yun’s point, I think on balance, I agree that it’s not good for China for Russia to be the loser here. I think the irreconcilable preference, I think, in Beijing is that there be no losers. I think the ideal outcome for the Chinese in their calculus, I think would be the restoration of a neutral sovereign Ukraine, but on terms that are acceptable to Putin.

And in fact, that might well have been acceptable to him and might still be acceptable. But the problem is, I mean, I think Yun is right. Russia doesn’t come out of this as anything other than a pariah with the potential caveat being, it depends on whether Putin himself survives this. And I think the Chinese have to be ambivalent about that. I mean, they’ve invested a lot in him, but they’ve invested even more in the relationship. So I think there is a possible way that Beijing could pull this out. I mean, even if there is regime change in Russia, I think the Chinese will be somewhat optimistic that a successor regime would still be aligned with them in pursuit of the principles that Putin and Xi outlined in the joint statement on the 4th of February.

Kaiser: That’s kind of what I was getting at when I was asking Maria Repnikova what her sense is of the Russian oppositions attitude toward China. And I was surprised to learn that they’re not rabidly anti-Chinese at all. I mean, the worst she could say was that Navalny had compared his time in a Russian jail to a Chinese labor camp. And that was funny that he didn’t go with a domestic comparison to the gulags. But yeah, anyway.

Yun, what do you think? Is China the junior partner here actually? Are we, this conventional wisdom wrong on this?

Yun: Well, in IR, we have this phenomena called the tail wagging the dog. So between a senior partner and the junior partner, is usually the junior partner wagging the senior partner. So this is not something that’s unusual and is certainly not unprecedented. In fact, when the war first broke out, I was talking to a Chinese military person about the war and what China knew or what China didn’t know. And he cited a very interesting historical fact or historical example here, basically alluding to the fact that Russia is taking revenge. And the example that he raised was back in 1958, Khrushchev paid a visit to China and the visit went relatively well. The Chinese at that time was already considering shelling Quemoy and Matsu, but China did not inform Khrushchev of its plan.

Instead, after Khrushchev took off from China, went back to Moscow, the Chinese immediately started this shelling campaign against Quemoy and Matsu, creating the image that a consensus was reached between Chairman Mao and Khrushchev, basically China receiving the green light from Khrushchev to go ahead. And then Khrushchev was put in an impossible position, because he couldn’t deny. Otherwise, he would come out as being played by China. But it said that this event, this China playing Khrushchev created a lot of hostility with a lot of unfavorable feeling with Khrushchev about China. And this time, we’re basically seeing the same thing, that I don’t believe Putin told Xí Jìnpíng 习近平 his plan to invade Ukraine…

Kaiser: Right, after February 4.

Yun: At the beginning of February, I don’t think Putin even has made up his mind that he was going to launch a full-scale invasion in Ukraine, but it inevitably puts China in an impossible position, because it happened after Putin visited China. Even if there was no consultation, the outside the world will perceive that there is consultation. But again, coming back to the junior partner and senior partner, I would say is actually quite common for the junior partner to play the senior partner in these cases.

Kaiser: That’s a fantastic insight. And hopefully the historical analogy holds. Two years after 1958, we had the full Sino-Soviet Split by 1960, so maybe there’s hope for that.

Paul, how capable is China of having any real impact on the course of this war? I’m not talking about mediation though, I do want to talk about that possibility later, but realistically, is there anything China could supply Russia with or deprive Russia of, or anything that China could offer to Ukraine, or withhold from Ukraine that might materially alter the course of the war?

Paul: Well, I mean, there’s been a lot of speculation of Chinese providing economic support or help in evading the sanctions. And certainly all the controversy that was generated last week by the reports that the Chinese had been asked by the Russians for military aid. And I think both of those could make some difference. I don’t know how to measure the material weight that it would… How much of a difference it would make, but clearly the Chinese have economic leverage and military power that they could lend to the Russians. But I think, and I’d be curious what Yun thinks about that, I think they’re being very cautious about doing that. The Chinese don’t want to invite certainly secondary sanctions and they don’t want to be a party to the actual conflict, because as Yun said, I think they were caught off guard by the nature and intensity of it.

So I think Beijing’s going to withhold the kinds of material support or economic support they could give. In terms of influence, diplomatic influence, clearly there is — because of the relationship, the personal relationship and the political relationship between Beijing and Moscow — you would expect that Xi would have some kind of… Well, I was going to say moral suasion, but I’ve already negated the moral part of it. But I think even that can be easily exaggerated. In fact, it occurred to me just the last week or so that in some ways it’s comparable to the level of influence and leverage that Beijing has over Pyongyang.

It’s more dangerous to attempt to use it. It’s there, but it probably doesn’t constitute as much as third parties would like it to be. So again, I think there’s influence there, but the incentives for Xi Jinping to use it, I think, are somewhat constrained.

Kaiser: Yeah. I actually put that same sentiment into a tweet just the other day. I said, “Look, why would we expect that Beijing would be able to rein in Putin if they haven’t been able to rein in Pyongyang?” And North Korea is completely dependent on China, it’s not even like Russia in that sense. But yeah, I totally get you. And Paul, you anticipated Yun’s piece, if you haven’t read it already, she says the exact same thing that there’s no reason to expect material support. Chinese weapons would be easy to identify in the battlefield, right?

Yun: Yeah, I think it would be easy to identify also in terms of the munition, we have to assume that the Chinese munition can actually be used on Russian weapons, that there is that level of interoperability between the Russian weapons system and the Chinese weapons system for the Chinese munition to be actually applied. And then there’s issue of deniability. We know China’s behavior pattern that whenever there is a deniability, that there’s plausible cause for China to say, “We didn’t do this.” They probably would attempt to provide things, but in this case, everything is so easily identifiable. So I doubt that China will put itself in that position.

However, having said that, I would say that military assistance is different from material support, or it does not cover the full scale of the material support. China could still provide things like winter coats or winter tents. We know that on the front line, it’s still relatively cold, and that China has in the past provided such logistical supply to Russia, at least in the war of Chechnya. So I don’t rule out those possibility.

And then there’s also the question of what constitute material support, that if China provides, for example, economic assistance to Russia, that basically are committed after the invasion happened, then yes, that would constitute material support. But if China continuously implements the economic cooperation deals signed with Russia before February 24, would that constitute material support? I think that’s really a big question, because we know that they signed 15 economic cooperation agreement on February 4. So if China is just treating these as normal international trade and say that, “Well, we’re not violating anything because when we signed this, the Ukraine invasion didn’t even happen.” I think support will be on the court of the Biden administration to decide, is that material support?

Kaiser: And then they would have to, of course, as you point out in your piece, they have to decide, “Well, what about India? And what about the EU and all the deals that they signed before and that they’re apparently continuing to honor?” So would they then be made sanctions targets? So I think this, we can call this another one of the big uncertainties. How much support can Beijing give to Moscow before they actually end up paying a significant price? I mean…

Paul: Well, I would add that they’re certainly delivering rhetorical support.

Kaiser: Sure. That’s…

Paul: I mean, they echoed a lot of Russian talking points about the U.S. being partially responsible for this, if not wholly responsible for this. And a lot of their media campaigns, or they’re borrowing Russian disinformation about the U.S. bio labs in Ukraine and such. So I mean, Maria Repnikova had talked to you about that, I think in part too, I mean the…

Kaiser: But Yun has this… I mean, she does this really elegantly. She says that there’s basically three types of support that they give. One of them is at the propaganda and rhetoric level, another is at the diplomatic level, and a third in the concrete action level. Can you unpack that a little bit? This is a great place to introduce this. I wanted to bring it up later, but let’s talk about that, that kind of heuristic that you’ve put out. It’s great.

Yun: Yeah. I think for China, they made… Okay, so the two weeks after the war started, the Chinese were in dismay. They were confused and they were uncertain, they don’t know what kind of position they had been put into. And it was embarrassing, it was humiliating, it was just, I would say, two weeks of chaos in terms of the Chinese internal debate that we observed. But I think after that first two weeks, the Chinese are gradually coming to their senses, that by the end of the day, this is not Chinese territory and China is not a party to the conflict. By the end of the day, this might be diplomatically embarrassing to explain, but our material interests are not going to be damaged that significantly by this war. So I think that’s where the Chinese decided to, “Well, let’s look at our strategy and see what we can do to justify our different positions and put all the genies in one bottle.

And that’s where they divided their actions or reactions into three category. In terms of propaganda, we’re seeing a very pro-Russia rhetoric. That any antiwar, anti-Russia rhetoric is completely removed from the Chinese internet and Chinese cyberspace almost immediately. And I think that shows the government moral support of Russia that they’re not willing to come out and call Russia out.

But then in the second category, in terms of diplomacy, the Chinese position becomes a little bit more nuanced, that is actually trying to project an image of neutrality. And of course, we in the west don’t see that as neutral, because if you are neutral, you will have to acknowledge the fact that Russia did invade Ukraine. And that’s just plain as that. And the Chinese are refusing to say it, but on the other hand, the Chinese position is, “We’re not opposing Russia, but we’re also not abandoning Ukraine.” So between these two impossible positions, I think the Chinese diplomats are trying to charter a balancing course.

And then last but not least, in the third category, which is concrete actions. I see that China has literally provided very little, close to nothing, to Russia in terms of this war. And the Chinese do have a talking point that, “We have provided $2 million worth of humanitarian assistance to Ukraine,” which is really small if you compare the scale of the international aid, but at least the Chinese could say that, “Well, look, we have materially supported Ukraine in this war and we have not materially supported Russia in this war.” So I think those are the three positions that Chinese are trying to project.

Kaiser: Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. So, I think we are all in large agreement that China has picked a side and that that side is China. I’ve made that joke before. And your piece ends up with exactly the same thing, Yun. Nothing China will do, will actually run counter to Chinese interest as the party leadership understands those interests to be. I think we also broadly agree that, as different analysts have pointed out, this isn’t really about Russia at all. I mean, they may share a worldview with Russia and that worldview is dominated by how they think about the United States, of course its role. Common strategic goals are also all about the United States. At an emotional level, this is also the case. This is all about America, whether we’re talking about ordinary United States, whether we’re talking about policy elites, whether we’re talking about top decision makers, this is all about the United States.

But to get back to these uncertainties that we were trying to enumerate, for Americans at least, there are big uncertainties over the upcoming midterm elections. That look, that’s just in November, and at the same time, that the 20th Party Congress is going to be taking place. And in just two short years, we’re going to have a presidential election. Paul, I ask you, are these also uncertainties in the minds of Chinese policy makers or have they already concluded that America will be as hostile to China in January 2025, as it is today, irrespective of electoral outcomes?

Paul: I think probably the latter.

Kaiser: Ah, yeah. That’s depressing.

Paul: I mean, the trend lines in terms of U.S. politics and the bipartisan consensus about the nature of the challenge from China has been pretty apparent, and the Chinese have followed that pretty closely. I think the Chinese, I’m not sure how they’re calculating this with that specificity internally, but I think they have every reason to expect that the posture they’ve adopted in the Ukraine crisis is only going reinforce bipartisan American perceptions of China siding with the autocrats against the U.S. agenda and its refusal to break with Moscow and to continue to echo Moscow’s talking points that are blaming the United States for this. I don’t think it’s a variable that much in Chinese thinking anymore to address your question, because I think that they expect, and in fact, I expect, that this is only going to reinforce the kind of… well, for want of a better term, the anti-China consensus, that is one of the factors of electoral politics here.

Kaiser: Yeah. How depressing. Godammit. Yun, do you agree with that?

Yun: Well, I agree with that. And I think that very much plays into how China approaches this war. I think the outside world, especially including the United States, that has had this expectations that China will have to pick the right side, will have to pick the right side of history, basically. That Russia has committed this crime, this invasion, this aggression, China at least needs to come out with a correct position. I think that’s what the U.S. has expected out of China, but the Chinese question is, “So we help you take care of Russia and where are the next on your list, right?”

Kaiser: Right. What was that? Did you guys saw that tweet from, I can’t remember who it was, from a media official? I can’t remember. It said almost exactly that, “So you want me to help you beat up my friend, so that you’ll be in good shape to beat me up later?”

Yun: Yeah. Something to that effect and I think that really resonates among the Chinese policy wonks, which is that, well, there’s no incentive for China to help or to target Russia other than international justice, as we put it, or other than it is the right thing to do. But for the Chinese, when they look at their most pressing national security challenge, it is due to United States. Before the war, during the war, and after the war. So what that means is helping U.S. on Russia, or let’s not say helping U.S. on Russia, just say that China abandoning Russia is not going to eliminate, or even mitigate, China’s primary national securities threat, which is the U.S.

And arguably it will leave China at a weaker place with less of a partner to come to the United States. So I think that, like Paul said, China is counting on its own national interest, is making its own decisions, and this is a selfish decision and it’s a selfish position.

Paul: Well, and I think there’s three reasons why the Chinese, in my view, are not jettisoning Putin for that reason. I mean, as Yun said, we’ve asked the Chinese to do the right thing and denounced this unprovoked, and horrific, and unjustifiable attack. And the Chinese, I think, to a certain extent, do agree that it was unprovoked and unjustifiable, but they nonetheless agree with some of the drivers that led Putin to that point. From their perspective, we’re asking them to break with their longstanding ally and join a U.S.-led, anti-Russia coalition. And that would compromise everything they’ve invested in that relationship. And in fact, it would compromise their commitment to the principles in the 4th February joint statement, which I think they correctly calculated, even the successor Russian government or any Russian government, it’s going to continue to agree with.

Secondly, you’re asking me to join the U.S., that has declared itself as the strategic competitor and rival to China. I mean, as Yun said, the Chinese don’t see any positive benefit that will accrue to them, certainly in terms of an alleviation of the U.S. characterization of China, as a fundamental strategic challenge to the United States. They don’t see us offering any concessions on Taiwan or any of the other outstanding issues in the relationship.

And the third element is for the Chinese to side with us against Moscow on this issue, would be to absolve or exonerate the United States of what Beijing agrees with Russia, is the U.S. accountability for this crisis in the form of NATO expansion and all of the other things that contributed, in part at least, to the Russian decision. The Chinese are not going to let us off the hook by taking our moral position against what they see is in their strategic interests.

Kaiser: Yeah. Absolutely. So you said in your second point that the United States has yet to offer anything, like a satisfactory inducement. Is there, in your mind, anything that China could dream up that the United States could offer by way of an inducement that would get China to at least sort of take a more truly neutral, rather than pro-Russian neutral, position in this?

Paul: Well, I mean, China has a long wishlist. I mean, Taiwan and the pressure that they confront from the United States on the whole range of bilateral and multilateral issues. But Washington is not interested in doing favors for the Chinese, it’s just juncture, because there are strategic rationales behind the issues we raised with the Chinese. That’s why I think there’s kind of a deadlock there.

Kaiser: Yeah. I mean, in the American estimation, China isn’t going to make a difference in the outcome of this war. And it’s not like the United States needs to make significant concessions. It’s not like, “Okay, Huawei, green light. We’re going to turn back on the semiconductor pipeline and you have all you want,” or, “Okay, we’ll drop the tariffs and then give you a free hand in your neighborhood.” None. Of course, none of that’s going to happen. So again, you actually… Let’s get… One other factor that we brought up was, and this is another of uncertainty, is China’s domestic situation right now. China, of course, we’re going into the 20th Party Congress. There was a very ambitious set of fundamental reforms that China wanted to make, that Xi wanted to make, under the banner of common prosperity. But that included really putting China into an altogether new footing, its political economy into a new footing that would be sort of for a post-carbon world. And none of that looks like it’s going to happen now. He’s had the backtrack considerably. You argue that China won’t abandon Russia, and that part of the reason why it won’t shift its position is because of domestic considerations. What did you mean by that? Is it just that he would look bad by going back on his word after the February 4th Olympic Statement?

Yun: It is that but it’s more than that. So what we look at in terms of the policy debate is that we have seen since the beginning of the invasion, is it has been quite fierce because there are very vocal voice from within the party saying that while our Russia policy is problematic and our relationship with Russia is taking a toll on our national interest, and it’s actually costing us more than what we get out of Russia. So this type of voices is not uncommon. We know that it existed even before the Russian invasion of Ukraine. In fact, the funny thing is if you ask the Chinese Russia specialist, their view of Russia is across the board, extremely negative. They see Russia as this distracted power, manipulative, exploitative, that China has lost four million square kilometers of territories to Russia historically.

So I think this debate really reflects a deeply embedded criticism and suspicion about Russia and skepticism about China’s current alignment choices with basically to align with Russia. So it really puts Xi Jinping at a very difficult spot, because we know that this relationship of course is brought together by the shared common threat perception about the United States, but Xi Jinping’s Russia complex also plays a big role. Basically the leadership factor that he singlehandedly believes that what China and Russia should be aligned together. And Putin is a great leader that he wishes that he’s a peer too. So if China decides to abandon Russia, “abandon,” quote, unquote, and changes its current trajectory on its Russia policy, it will inevitably raise the one question that maybe Xi Jinping was wrong to put China in that place at the first place, that then it will be basically a leaving validation that Xi Jinping made a mistake. That’s why we’re correcting our course.

So correcting, course correction in China, always means some mistake had already been made, and that mistake inevitably will point directly to Xi Jinping’s wisdom and his foreign policy choice. And given the upcoming 20th Party Congress, and we know that Xi Jinping’s desire to ink his third term is not without criticism or opposition from within the party, especially among the elites. So I think even just for that purpose, Xi Jinping is not going to allow for an abandonment of Russia to happen, because otherwise it would be him acknowledging, “Well, I was wrong in the first place.”

Kaiser: Yeah, especially when he’s got to reconsider his zero-COVID policy as well. We’re seeing this big spike, top full lockdowns in enormous conurbations like Shanghai. So we’ve now so far identified some big uncertainties, so the course of the war itself, the impact on China of sanctions or the possibility of that impact. Domestic considerations, both in China and less so vis-a-vis, the United States, because those are no longer uncertainties as we’ve established. So what are the different scenarios that Beijing imagines?

I mean, can we spell those out? I mean, maybe one of them is Pax Americana, the extended director’s cut. One of them maybe is the “Law of the Jungle”, where we see this disruptive and revanchist Russia, like I described, going at it in proxy, or even directly, with NATO allies. I don’t know how we should label these different scenarios, but let’s talk through some of the more plausible ones.

Paul, you’ve thought an awful lot — with all your time in government, you have that good strategic mind. And you guys do a lot of this scenario, planning things that… What are some of the scenarios you envision? And maybe we can think about which ones are optimal when it comes to Beijing’s perspective and what can they do to nudge us in that direction?

Paul: Well, I think they certainly include the two that you mentioned. And I’m thinking out, I’m trying to figure out which one of those would be less attractive to the Chinese. Probably the law of the jungle, but a revived Pax Americana doesn’t really play into their interests and their view very much as well. I think that’s one of their biggest fears. They’ve certainly been surprised, as a lot of the rest of the world has, that the success with which Washington has mobilized the coalition, NATO and more broadly against Putin’s action in Ukraine, and the Chinese are kind of annoyed and intimidated by that. I mean, it is one of their worst case scenarios, but my guess is that they’re calculating that that’s probably not sustainable.

And of course, that depends on when and how the crisis is resolved. If it’s resolved in a kind of a draw, which again is their preference, then all the other drivers that they have perceived of the gradual diminution of U.S. power and influence globally, maybe get back on track. And I think that’s probably their preferred kind of midstream scenario. I mean, whether it’s viable or not remains to be seen, but I think that the Chinese would like to see, not only, but partly because of the reaffirmation of their principles, well, the restoration of a sovereign neutral Ukraine, because that would at least bring Chinese principal back into some level of compliance with reality.

But I think they also want to see Russia survive this as still a credible power, and a pole that they can use as a partner in a multipolar world, because I don’t think we can emphasize this enough, they still are firmly committed to the principles of this Sino-Russian joint statement. And I think that that’s the scenario that they would prefer. I’m not sure that they feel that they’re in a position to bring it into being just yet, because the variables are so uncertain, but I think that’s where they would like it to go.

Kaiser: Yeah. Yeah. So Yun, you have written directly about this — what, to Beijing, would represent the optimal outcome. So can you tell the listeners what that looks like to you? What’s the optimal outcome? And then let’s talk a little bit about other scenarios.

Yun: I think for Beijing, a desire to end the game is not situational, but rather relational.

Kaiser: What do you mean by that?

Yun: What I mean is it’s not about whether the war is going to end tomorrow morning or in two weeks, but what role China plays in that scenario, and also what kind of relationship China has with the parties involved? I think gradually the Chinese policy community is converging into one consensus, which is, “Well, this could be an opportunity.” And by not picking a side, China is opening up the doors to a lot of agency, to a lot of power, because the perception is, “Well, if we don’t pick a side, every side will have to come to us for our support and for our cooperation.” And that by itself is power.

And I do see that China is trying to use this opportunity, for example, to more cater to Europe’s demand, for example, for strategic autonomy and the Chinese understand very clearly that this coalition, this unprecedented consensus that has emerged within NATO, is on Russia, but is not yet on China. So China is refusing the narratives and bond those China and Russia together, and basically present China and Russia as Axis of Evil, vis-a-vis the rest of the world. Instead, China is actively reaching out to Europe in order to build their own alignment, their own agency with European countries, which in the Chinese view, they want to see a more independent Europe emerging from this crisis.

Yun: So therefore I think the information such as Germany allocating 2% of its national budget towards national defense, it’s not necessarily bad news for China, because it does suggest that Europe is developing its own internal strengths and its strategic autonomy. I think the Chinese would like to see the United States divided by the end of this war, not internally, but externally between the European theater and the Indo-Pacific theater. That Russia, as long as Russia continues to exist, and we do believe that Russia, being Russia, will continue to exist regardless of who is leading it, Russia will become a bigger strategic threat for NATO and for Europe. It also means that the U.S. will have to allocate more attention and the resources to Europe. So the focus on Indo-Pacific will inevitably be divided. And I think that’s a desirable situation for China as well.

So basically this is to say that I think the Chinese are perceiving this as an opportunity, and perceives there are agencies to be exploited, and relationships to be built or to be strengthened, and also diversions to be exploited.

Kaiser: So let’s call this one, “the West divided, the pivot delayed,” right? Yeah.

Yun: That’s a good way to put it.

Paul: I mean, I think you’re right about the opportunity. I don’t think, for the first couple of weeks they saw it as much of an opportunity. They saw it as a terrible dilemma. And to a certain extent, it still is. But I think Yun is right. They’re now calibrating, they’re increasingly rhetorical, nonetheless, albeit subtle distancing from Moscow, with the language they’ve used to say, “Yes, yes, sovereignty is being violated here. This needs to end as soon as possible.” And their diplomacy with the Europeans is part of an effort to be as helpful as they can.

I would just add that they’re not limiting it to Europe. I just noticed overnight on Twitter, the Chinese Foreign Ministry, diplomats who were just full of all of the initiatives that they’re involved with in Africa, in the Middle East, with Pakistan. And I think that they’ve noted there that the international coalition and the support for sanctions against Russia is not unanimous. There’s some skepticism among the BRICS, among other countries that the Chinese also see as part of this opportunity that Yun was describing, because it’s not just Beijing and Moscow, that kind of subscribe to the 4th February principles. There’s a lot of other folks in the Global South that see our similar concerns about the implications for them of a Pax Americana.

Kaiser: And Paul, you have anticipated exactly where I was going next with this, a third scenario, or maybe a fourth scenario that we could call “Bandung 2,” where Beijing sort of emerges as the defacto leader of a new non-aligned movement. And we see Wáng Yì 王毅 right now traveling in Africa, even as we record. The subtext is that there are a lot of people reading into this not incorrectly. I think that it is. Beijing wants to leverage the fact that a lot of these countries are going to feel the pinch of sanctions on Russia, oil and gas, also grain. Grain not just from Russia, but also from Ukraine. I think I saw statistics somewhere about Egypt’s grain imports combined between Ukraine and Russia are an enormous percent. I mean, it’s well over 50%, if I recall correctly.

There’s also the racial dynamic that many in Global South see at work, and the very different responses to a war in Europe, among Europeans, among white people, compared to equally destructive wars, maybe equally destructive in the Global South that have elicited just none of that kind of sympathy or that kind of a response. There’s these mocking maps that you’ve seen to say, “This is the so-called international community.” And it’s a global map of just Western European countries, Japan, and the United States, North America. Leaves a huge amount that is not part of the global community, but geographically and by population is enormous.

What do you see China trying to do here? I mean, is this part of a strategic opportunity? I think so. It’s pretty clearly one. I haven’t seen that talked about much. The best place I’ve seen it written about is by Cobus van Staden of the China in Africa Project. He’s one of the co-hosts of one of our sister podcasts. He did a great newsletter about this. It was really eye-opening to me. Yun, what do you think of this? Do you think this is something they’re considering?

Yun: Yeah, I was actually talking to Eric [Olander] and Cobus this morning, and we were talking about how China is trying to mobilize its diplomacy with OIC [the Organization of Islamic Cooperation] as we speak, to rally support for China’s position on Ukraine, basically projecting China as a mutual third party, trying to place this balancing diplomacy and trying to project an image of international justice. And what is an acceptable way out of this predicament. I think that’s definitely what the Chinese are trying to achieve. However, I would also caution. The world today is not the world of 1950 anymore. That the complex interdependence, meaning that the Global South, yes, they would like to probably chatter their own course, but it is also true that with COVID and with the global economic recession, I think the Global South, their collective, or their individual collective bargaining power has also become more constrained.

I think the impact of that is… Well, if we look at Africa, for example, Africa still largely rely on Western aid and Western humanitarian assistance instead of the Chinese aid, because the Chinese aid has been more in the form of infrastructure loans. So I would say that Western countries still have vast influence over the decision makings in the capitals of the developing countries. And probably as a result of COVID, it has exacerbated rather than alleviated. See, in this sense, I think, yes, the Chinese are trying to charter their independent course and trying to break away from this binary, black or white, with Russia or against Russia kind of narrative. And they probably will have some success, because a lot of countries are also not comfortable with this. Look at Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia is considering RMB as a transaction currency for the oil trade with China. That also says a lot.

Kaiser: It really does.

Paul: I think you’re right about that, but there’s one other caveat though, that takes us back to the centrality of Europe here. I think the Chinese are clearly trying to mobilize the Global South with this image they’re creating for themselves, but given the particular catalyst of this crisis, they can’t do that at the risk of alienating Europe. So they have a multi-layered game to play here.

Kaiser: Indeed.

Paul: They want to keep Europe on their side, or at least not drift too far away from Europe’s preferences, because the EU is that much more important to Beijing.

Yun: Can I just add one point on Europe?

Kaiser: Of course.

Yun: Because I was in Europe earlier, this month. Best first trip after COVID. So I just want to say that, of course, everywhere I was, people wanted to talk about China, and Ukraine, and we’re trying to really assist. And one thing that I realized that Europe is not just one Europe, there are different voices within Europe as well. I think the countries in East Europe that used to be members of the Soviet bloc, they feel much more strongly and much more emotional about what happened to Ukraine. Not that the Western European countries do not care, but I think the calculation or the different factors within the calculus is slightly different, especially coming to China. We’re seeing that, for example, Czech Republic, and countries like Czech and Poland are much more vocal. And also the Baltic states, remember Lithuania and the most recent Taiwan drama. I think these former Soviet bloc nations are much more likely to assert a position that is not anti-China, but really calls China out. But in comparison, Western European countries have a much more complex calculus in terms of their economic interest with China and their political considerations.

So I feel that when we talk about Europe, there are different voices within Europe, when you think about. And most importantly, Europe does not share the American agenda in terms of global supremacy. And that is a fundamental difference between Europe’s policy towards China and the U.S. policy towards China. That in Europe’s view, the problem between U.S. and China is structural. It’s about status quo power, revisionist power, that the power transition, how that’s going to play out.

But Europe doesn’t have a fight. Europe is not competing with China for supremacy. So therefore China represents something different for Europe. And most importantly, a huge market and a great economic potential. So human rights and ideology, of course, still plays a big role in Europe’s value diplomacy, but I wouldn’t call them the overarching factor, what the most important factor in Europe’s consideration about China. Thank you.

Kaiser: What about India? Where does India sit in this? Because we hear an awful lot about people really kind of tearing their hair out over what China’s role is. India has also sort of professed their neutrality. Their largest supplier of arms is of course Russia, but they are also a member of the Quad, have been drawn more and more into security arrangements with the United States, especially since George W. Bush’s nuclear deal with India. What’s going on with India’s calculation, vis-a-vis China.

Paul: I mean, I think the Chinese are taking some comfort in the fact that India has been ambivalent about how to respond publicly to the action in Ukraine as well, because of the long standing Indian relationship with Russia. Now, the Chinese, there are limits on how much satisfaction that gives them, because the Indians, as you say, are members of the QUAD and are distancing themselves, they’re a strategic competitor, and there’s a lot of strategic mistrust there. But I think on balance, the Chinese perspective is to just quietly take whatever satisfaction they can out of the fact that as a representative, from the Chinese perspective, of the Global South, that at least India is not aligning itself with the United States and they’re closer to Washington. And I think that plays into Beijing’s perception that there’s mileage there that can be had.

Kaiser: Yeah, for sure.

Yun: I think the India question is a really interesting one here, because we have seen the vis-a-vis India-China border dispute flaring up in the past couple of years. India joining Quad, India becoming indispensable partner of the United States in the Indo-Pacific strategy, become a sheer security net security provider in the Indian Ocean. But when China looks at India’s neutrality or ambiguity in this Ukraine crisis, I think the Chinese cannot help but feel as this is such a blessing. This is such a heavy pushback to the American agenda that count India as a member in the U.S. camp. And there’s also this very interesting observation that if you look at the triangle among Russia, China, and India, it’s arguable that Russia actually maintains a closer alignment with India rather than with China.

India’s economic potential of course is limited, but in terms of the arms sales, India is able to get from Russia weapons system that Russia is unwilling to provide to the Chinese. So what we’re looking at is that yes, Russia and China are aligning on the global level, but on the regional level, Russia also has a lot of concerns about China’s regional dominance. And Russia aligns its position more closely with India in order to check and counterbalance China’s regional dominance. And that’s why that Russia keeps supplying weapons systems through countries, including India and Vietnam, both are having territorial or maritime disputes with China. And that’s also why we see the Chinese squeaking about every single time, that Russia should not be doing this, but Russia does. It’s a reflection of the misalignment between China and Russia, more than anything else.

Kaiser: What do you think drives this idea, this expectation that we’re seeing more and more that China either would want to, or actually would be capable of, playing the role of mediator in this? You both probably saw this piece in the New York Times, by Steven Lee Myers and Chris Buckley. What do you think this comes from? Because it strikes me as not very plausible, frankly.

Paul: Well, I think it’s driven by the preference that Beijing would distance itself from Moscow long enough to oblige Putin to come to the negotiating table. But I think we talked about the constraints on that happening. And I think that people have blurred the distinction, a lot of commentators have blurred distinction between China being a mediator and China being, as it refers to itself, as “playing whatever helpful role it can.” I think by rhetorically distancing itself and reaffirming its principles and talking about the need for the two sides to come together and negotiate, that’s as far as they’re going to go in terms of mediating. I don’t think the Chinese want to own solution to this problem as much as perhaps we would like them to. And the Europeans will welcome whatever role they can play. But I agree with you, I don’t think that an actual central mediating role for the Chinese is in the cards here.

Kaiser: No. No, indeed. Yun, did you have thoughts on this?

Yun: There’s a fundamental difference — like Paul pointed out — there’s a fundamental difference between mediation and facilitation. For everything that China has done in terms of conflict resolution and conflict mediation, they actually just played a facilitation role. Say for example, they convened and hosted six-party talks about the North Korea nuclear issue, and that they also convened and hosted some of the peace dialogues between the former Ghani government of Afghanistan and Afghan Taliban. They also did the same thing in Burma, but in every single case, China does not provide a solution. China only facilitates the two sides to come together and talk, and in some cases like in North Korea case, China even played the role to make sure that North Korea is going to show up in a negotiation.

But coming to the substantive solution, China refrains from making proposals. They refrain from being the guarantor of whatever deal is reached, because they know that being the guarantor actually requires a lot of technical details, like for example, ceasefire monitoring. And I think the Chinese also refrain from asserting positions as for what compromises should be made by the parties to the conflict, because it inevitably will put stress on China’s relationship with that party. So based on what China has done in terms of conflict mediation, I would say that, yeah, they probably will facilitate dialogue. And if the Russians and Ukrainians are willing, I think the Chinese will even be happy to host the dialogue in Beijing. But coming to a currently mediation role, meaning that coming to a substantive issue of what the peace deal should look like, I’m almost 100% sure that China is not going to get involved.

Paul: I think two of the other constraints are, I mean, it’s hard for me to imagine Kyiv and Moscow simultaneously viewing Beijing as a neutral player.

Kaiser: Exactly. Yeah.

Paul: And secondly, the Chinese have… I mean, part of the consensus they’ve reached is that, “We’re not a party. We’re not a European power.” I think it’s hard to imagine the Chinese seeing that it’s appropriate for them to be a mediator of something on the other side of the globe.

Kaiser: Right, right, right.

Yun: Can I just add one thing?

Kaiser: Of course.

Yun: I think here’s something interesting, that China need to be neutral to be objective.

Kaiser: Can you explain that distinction?

Yun: So, because while China is biased to begin with, there’s a strong pro-Russia bias, we know that for sure, but coming to the consequence of the war, I mean, those impact on China is going to be objective. My argument is that China does not have to be neutral in order to have an objective assessment of its national interest and that’s for what China’s position should be. So in this case, I don’t think neutrality is definitely required for China to be a facilitator or mediator as China would like to self-proclaim. But I do say that how Europe perceives it, is going to be key, because if Europe perceives China to be this biased player and in the negotiation is going to favor Russia, then China’s goal, or China’s role, will be significantly limited.

But if on the other hand, Europe thinks about China’s going to play a positive role, making a positive contribution, it may not be as significant as we would like it for it to be, but still in the end, it’s a sheer plus. I think in that case, China can still play a role. And the neutrality is not the deal-breaker here.

Paul: I think that’s a fair point. I mean, I would just specify that I think you’re right about Europe, but I would defer pretty much largely to you Ukraine itself. Ukraine has to be comfortable with Beijing playing a mediating role or it’s not going to work.

Kaiser: Right.

Yun: And I’ll just add to that, so far it is Ukraine that has sought Beijing’s mediation, or sought Beijing’s assistance in ending this war. Russia has not, which is as in the other much more uncertain factor, because if Russia does not ask for China’s mediation, then China’s not going to insert himself into the middle of the conflict.

Kaiser: Andriy Yermak from Zelenskyy’s office had a press conference just the other day, where he said that China should play a more noticeable role in bringing this war to an end and in building up a new global security system. He’s quoted in Newsweek as saying, “As President Zelenskyy has repeatedly said, we expect dialogue between President Zelenskyy and President Xi to take place very soon.” I haven’t heard anything from the Chinese side on this, not at all. But I would be surprised if they would go public with something like that and set up expectations.

I want to just wrap up here with a question to Paul. I want to switch gears and talk about — as I mentioned, I started reading your book. It’s fascinating, I can’t wait to tuck into it. Unfortunately, I have to read another one first for a podcast recording next week, but then you’re next. And it’s about George Kennan and Asia, which isn’t a part of the world that we immediately associate Kennan with. Although, when you think about it in so many of the Cold War conflicts between Russia and the United States were in Asia and so much of it was about Asia.

But let me ask you this. With such a deep understanding of the man who was perhaps the greatest grand strategist of the 20th century, what would Kennan do? What would he say were he alive today in this situation, looking at China in the Russo-Ukrainian war?

Paul: Well, I mean, looking at China or looking at the Ukraine situation at large?

Kaiser: Let’s do both. I mean, let’s start with the macro, the situation at large.

Paul: Well, I mean, as you’ll find out as you work your way through the book, one of the things I faulted Kennan for was that he largely believed for most of his life, that China was strategically inconsequential and that we could afford to ignore it. Only late in his life, did he come to realize that it was something that needed to be reckoned with. And with regard to China, I think he would’ve supported elements of what would’ve been described by the Chinese as containment of China. But I think actually, in this particular case, my guess is, I can try to channel them, but I think Kennan would actually be somewhat in agreement with Beijing about this crisis, because as many people have noted over the past several weeks and even months, Kennan warned against the consequences of NATO expansion.

And I think there’s a huge debate about this and there’s different ways to interpret what he anticipated or what he meant. But my own view was that the antagonizing of Moscow and the fueling of nationalistic and militaristic responses by the Russian government is what he predicted would happen if we extended NATO increasingly to the east. I think Ukraine wasn’t on the table as a member. Well, it was contemplated certainly earlier on, but what he would be doing today is just refr-. Well, he probably would’ve been saying, “I told you so. This was going to happen.” That something needed to have been done. And in fact, I don’t know, we can’t turn back the clock, but I think he would be making the case… In fact, he would be making the case comparable to what the Chinese had been making, is that some attention must be given to, quote, unquote, “Legitimate security interests of the Russians.”

And there’s an intensive debate about this as well, because it’s not as if Ukraine posed an existential threat to Moscow, certainly since it denuclearized 25 years ago. But I think he would be reaffirming the need, if there’s going to be any kind of a stable resolution to this issue, it needs to include, and I’m kind of reverting to my grad school in European diplomacy, diplomatic history days, some attention to a broader security mechanism in Europe that does not exclude, or antagonize, or target Moscow. And that’s what was apparently, I mean, it was on the table after the collapse of the Soviet Union, partly in the form of consideration of even including Russia as a member of NATO, but there was never really any serious consideration of that.

What would Kennan do, he would reiterate the principles that he announced 25 years ago that should be driving a broader approach to a longer term solution to this with a security mechanism in Europe. And I mean, to bring China back into the equation, that was explicitly endorsed by the Chinese in the 4th February joint statement, when Beijing said, “We support or approve,” I can’t remember, but endorse the proposal that Moscow has had on the table for some time, for a restructuring of the European security mechanism. There’s an alternative to NATO expansion up to the Russian border.

Yun: Paul, so what do you think Kennan would say about this Russia-China alignment, and both the ideological, the authoritarianism factor to it, and also the geopolitical alignment that basically present the U.S. with potentially the largest geostrategic threat?

Paul: Actually, that’s a really good question. I think he would be a critic of the formulation that’s prevailing now that Russia and China are part of an autocratic alliance against democracy. I think he was very skeptical of an ideological formulation of things. I mean, he was your hyper classical realist, so he would be critical of that. But actually, since you mentioned that, you reminded me just a week or so ago, John Gaddis, Kennan’s biographer, republished an article that he had written in the late 1990s in which he had suggested that NATO enlargement might be a catalyst for a closer alignment between Moscow and Beijing. And I think that Kennan would certain have endorsed that idea at the time and would repeat it now.

Kaiser: Evan Feigenbaum wrote the same thing in something he published in the year 2000, I believe. They’re not alone. I mean, I think a lot of people recognize that. I mean, this is after Kosovo and the burgeoning relationship was already pretty clear. The writing was on the wall. A lot of people warned about that.

Well, thank you both. That was just really such a fantastically interesting conversation. And I know I learned a lot. I’m sure our listeners did too. And I really can’t wait to get this show out.

Let’s move on to recommendations. First, a very quick reminder that the Sinica Podcast is powered by SupChina, and if you like the work that we’re doing with the podcast, the very best thing that you can do to support what we’re doing is to subscribe to the newly designed China Access newsletter, our daily newsletter comes out Monday through Friday, and it’s a fantastic roundup of the news from hundreds of different news sources. Everything you need to know about what’s happening in China, written by our crack team under Jeremy Goldkorn.

All right. So do help us out. Let’s move on to recommendations and let’s begin with you, Yun. What do you have for us?

Yun: So I’m really diving into the Chinese policy discourse on Russia. And I found that to be a fascinating field of tremendous insights that are normally not known to the English language audience, because, well, what is the chance of us reading, say a hundred Chinese academic papers on their relationship with Russia, but I found that there’s one particular also, Fang Jinying, who was the vice president of CICIR, China Institute of Contemporary International Relations. So he has a trail of basically three books one series on China-Russia relations basically called, The Great Game In The Eurasia Continent. And I found it to be perhaps the most eloquent and insightful Chinese analysis of China’s relationship with Russia, why is Russia a problem and why China’s interest is fundamentally misaligned from Russia? So it is a really fantastic book that I recommend.

Kaiser: I remember you made reference to Fang’s work in the piece that you wrote for War on the Rocks. I believe it was in that one.

Yun: Yes, I read basically everything he has, at least in the public arena. And especially his analysis of why China and Russia are not aligned as we think it is, because there are limited factors driving these two together, but there are basically infinite factors driving them apart.

Kaiser: Right. Really amazing. Yeah, I’ll try to pick up a copy of that in Chinese. It’ll take me a while to get through, but thanks.

Paul, what do you have for us?

Paul: Well, I’m going to cheat and give you two.

Kaiser: Oh, great. No, we love two.

Paul: Only because I had one in mind, but then just last night I finished a new book, which I think is really seminal. It’s by Mary Sarotte, a historian, and it’s entitled, Not One Inch: America, Russia, and the Making of Post-Cold War Stalemate. And it’s basically a history of the NATO enlargement concept over the course of the 1990s. And it ends with the accession to power of Putin. I just think it’s incredibly important. I mean, maybe just as my bias as a historian, to understand the pre-Putin history of the Ukraine issue in U.S.-Russia relations. And this book is the definitive introduction to that.

The other book I wanted to mention, really I had in mind first, and this will come out of left field for you. It’s a book by another historian friend of mine who teaches at Boston College, Charles Gallagher, and it’s called Nazis of Copley Square. And it’s about an organization you’ve never heard of, the Christian Front. And it’s just a fascinating little book about how a conservative Christian, anticommunist, antisemitic American organization on the eve World War II, became a tool of Nazi propaganda.

Kaiser: Is this Father Coughlin stuff? Kind of?

Paul: Father Coughlin was a player, but there were specific organizations that were inspired by him and even emerged the paramilitary component to it. But the interesting part of the story that Charlie focused on, is how a Nazi spy working out of the German consulate on Beacon Hill in Boston, started manipulating this organization and scoring points for the Nazis. And how this was gradually exposed and shut down. But it’s a really fascinating little book. And I think I only mention it because it really resonates with the consequences today of what nativism and hyper nationalism, hyper patriotism, can generate and how foreign actors manipulate public opinion in the United States. And we’ve seen examples of that.

Kaiser: Yeah, we sure have.

Paul: But this was kind of a pre-social media example of this, which is really, really interesting. The Nazis of Copley Square.

Kaiser: Thank you. That’s an excellent recommendation. I’m going to pick that up. Okay. So my recommendation is actually very on topic, not specifically, I mean, it’s a very China topic recommendation, and that is Kevin Rudd’s new book, The Avoidable War, which is really excellent. I’ve only gotten through the first two chapters and the introduction, but the introduction is really… Those three chapters, the introduction and the first two are fantastic. He frames the issues really, really well. He does a great potted history of the relationship between China and the United States that really doesn’t leave anything out. And he’s very careful to present in a kind of dispassionate way the perspectives of both Beijing and Washington on this. And why they’re so irreconcilable in so many ways, but it’s great, his own deep knowledge of it and his own perspective, just as a person from a third party, who of course, as we know, was both foreign minister and then the prime minister twice of Australia. So it’s a great book. And I really look forward to talking to Kevin about it. The middle chapters, it looks like he talks about his idea of Xi Jinping’s worldview, the sort of 10 concentric rings. I don’t think they were quite 10. I think they were like only eight or nine, but when we talked back, I think it was in 2017 or 2018, when he was clearly already working on this book. And he lays out that idea very, very clearly. So I’m getting through the book, hopefully this weekend and we’ll, if all goes well, talk to him next week for this show. But I highly recommend it. It’s very readable and he’s good. It’s a book with no notes, with no bibliography in it, it’s…

Yun: That’s good.

Kaiser: I think… Yeah. No, I think it’s great. It really makes it just a very, very readable book. I…

Paul: An essay.

Kaiser: Yeah, it’s a prolonged essay. It’s a good, nice long essay. And Kevin, I’ve always really enjoyed speaking with him. He’s fantastic. And so are both of you and thank you so much for taking the time. This was great.

Yun: Thank you.

Paul: Thank you. It’s been great.

Kaiser: Yeah.

Yun: Thank you. It was a great discussion. Great questions and great comments by Paul.

Kaiser: Thank you both.

Paul: No, and especially to be here with Yun.

Kaiser: Yeah.

Paul: I tend to agree with Yun because I’ve always found myself on thin ice when I don’t.

Yun: No way.

Kaiser: I can see that.

Yun: No way.

Kaiser: She is a formidable mind.

Yun: No.

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 sinica@supchina.com and tell us how we’re doing, or just give us a rating and a review on Apple Podcasts as this really does help people discover the show. Meanwhile, follow us on Twitter or on Facebook at @supchinanews and be sure to check out all the shows on the Sinica Network. Thanks for listening. We’ll see you next week. Take care.