Hu Wei is not a “nobody” in the Chinese political context. He is the vice president of the Public Policy Center of the Chinese State Council Office. But he is still chairman of two important Chinese institutions, the Shanghai Public Policy Research Association and the Academic Commission of the Chandar Institute. He is also a professor and scholar of international strategic issues.
Consequently, he is a protagonist of some weight in the Chinese political landscape.
His reflection about the war in Ukraine was short lived in Chinese media. As soon as his study was published, it immediately disappeared from China’s communication and political reality.
So what did Hu say that bothered the top leaders of China so much? Basically, he advocated that China needed to distance itself quickly from Russia, “avoid playing both sides, abdicate neutrality and chose the dominant position of the world.”
Hu understands that China, by continuing to be half-hearted about the situation in which it finds itself, will be seriously harmed in the future.
Hu’s words, therefore, are very wise. In truth, Russia does not have good prospects ahead of it. It is isolated from the world, and Vladimir Putin will be regarded in the future not as a respected leader taking part in the concert of nations with a role to play, but rather as a war criminal. Someone ignoble who doesn’t hesitate to destroy cities, attack innocent civilians, slaughter children and old people in blind bombings.
Russia’s stance, according to Hu’s understanding, is an “irreversible error.” As we have written here, even if Putin wins the war, in the future he will have to confront rebellions inside Ukraine and will be left with a destroyed country — and isolated in the international context!
In his reflection, Hu followed the line of logic that the largest Chinese ethnicity, the Han ethnicity, is historically pacifistic, attached to their land, not warlike, not expansionist and proud of preserving their territory. No wonder, then, that following the example of almost the entire world, the Chinese population should not look favorably upon the destruction of a country, accompanied by a violence and death unimaginable in the 21st century.
Hu predicts in this way that Russia may come to lose its position as a great world power, becoming weaker and more incapable of confronting the West.
One of the immediate consequences of this war was the rebirth of Western democracies. The world saw once again what was on the other side — was reminded again of the value of liberty, expressed in the will of the Ukrainian people. It found out what disinformation was, censorship, the repression of those Russians who don’t agree with the war. Discovered just how far an autocratic, despotic regime can go.
Hu saw this and much more. He perceived that the United States renewed its influence in the world; that NATO was strengthened, that the countries who were neutral, such as Switzerland, Sweden and Finland, want to be put under the protection of Western arms. He also saw that it is very possible that Asian countries such as Japan or Vietnam will draw closer to the United States, altering the context of Asian-Pacific forces and leaving China more alone in that zone of the world.
By staying close to Russia, China might be dragged down by its isolation. Today there is a strengthening of Western values and institutions. Washington resurged in world leadership. The European Union, in an exercise of unity, will turn their backs on Putin. When one day Putin falls or is internationally irrelevant, the United States will no longer have two powers to confront, but just one — China.
Another of the consequences of the war in Ukraine could be the end of globalization, as we currently know it. China cannot forget that the European Union, the United States and the United Kingdom are its three primary economic partners. Commercial trade, including exports and imports, today comprise, respectively, a value of 586 billion euros with the European Union, 555 billion euros with the United States and 474 billion euros with the United Kingdom. Chaos within this enormous market would have serious consequences for its protagonists in particular, and for the world in general. All this has the signature of one man — Putin.
What would China lose, therefore, by not clarifying its position? It could jeopardize its future pretensions for primacy in world leadership. Risk compromising the trajectory of economic growth it has known up until today. And it may become more isolated in the world.
Therefore, it would good if Hu’s voice arrived at the top of the Chinese political conclave and that Xi Jinping, rather than censoring him, listened to his wise words.