*Editor’s note: On March 4, Russia enacted a law that criminalizes public opposition to, or independent news reporting about, the war in Ukraine. The law makes it a crime to call the war a “war” rather than a “special military operation” on social media or in a news article or broadcast. The law is understood to penalize any language that “discredits” Russia’s use of its military in Ukraine, calls for sanctions or protests Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. It punishes anyone found to spread “false information” about the invasion with up to 15 years in prison.
The head of the Russian International Affairs Council, Andrey Kortunov, on the consequences of Nancy Pelosi’s Taiwan visit and the Russian stakes in the unfolding game.
Today, we can confidently say that the recent Taipei visit by the speaker of the United States House of Representatives will go down in the history books on international relations. And, although the entire spectrum of consequences of such a visit remains to be evaluated, there’s no doubt in anyone’s mind that there will be long-term and very significant consequences for U.S.-China relations.
China was especially bothered by the fact that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s trip took place immediately after the recent intensification of high-level contacts between Beijing and Washington, including the meetings of foreign ministers, defense ministers and senior officials responsible for trade and financial relations between the two countries. The U.S. and Chinese leaders even conducted phone calls that gave ground for some cautious optimism. And then – boom! Besides, August is a period of preparation for the 20th National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party planned for the fall. China has always been beyond serious about preparing for its party congresses.
Beijing is unwilling to accept U.S. assertions that the White House was not involved in preparing for Pelosi’s visit and, moreover, allegedly tried to discourage her trip to Taiwan. According to China, if that were the case, then, it would seem that Joe Biden’s administration is simply unable to control American foreign policy and consequently, can’t be considered a responsible global player – either in the eyes of its allies on the global stage or in the eyes of its geopolitical opposition.
If the White House somehow coordinated the House speaker’s visit, it would mean that Biden is not only trying to mislead Xi Jinping, but is pursuing an even harder policy on China than his predecessor, Donald Trump. At least the flamboyant Trump didn’t usually hide his intentions. Besides, we can’t underestimate the amount of pressure on Xi from the conservative groups among the Chinese authorities that have long expressed their doubts about Washington’s honesty and willingness to negotiate.
It appears that going forward, Beijing will be much less motivated to reach any strategic agreements with the Biden administration, as it views the president as a lame duck. Perhaps U.S.-Chinese bilateral relations – political, economic, and military – will become more tactical and situational. China will begin to shift its priorities toward dealing with more reliable and predictable partners, predominantly from countries in the southern hemisphere. Aside from that, the current crisis could become a catalyst for advancing cooperation between Russia and China, particularly with respect to the economy, the military and technology.
We also simply can’t overlook the possibility of further military and strategic escalation between Beijing and Washington around Taiwan and generally in the Asia Pacific region. Large-scale naval exercises, ballistic and cruise missile launch demonstrations, landing operation drills, the blockade of the Taiwan Strait or even Taiwan itself, the seizure of small islands controlled by Taipei and situated between Taiwan and the mainland – that’s only a short list of measures that Beijing would be ready to implement under specific circumstances. Of course, this heavily depends on the response from Washington. American and Chinese leaders are like two poker players who watch each other carefully to see how long it takes for their opponent to raise the stakes.
Many in Russia are watching this game unfold with satisfaction particularly because this crisis, which arose from virtually nothing, demonstrates an apparent lack of professionalism at the highest levels of the U.S. government. It’s unlikely that the U.S. will be able to resolve the situation without significant loss. In any case, the East Asian crisis is drawing the world’s attention away from the Russian special military operation on Ukrainian territory and, as some experts anticipate, could even lessen pressure to sanction Moscow. Finally, others are saying that this crisis will accelerate the transition to a new world order and thwart the Biden administration’s effort to turn the global system back to a unipolar world.
There is logic behind these views, and Moscow, tactically speaking, really does gain something from the increasing stakes in the U.S.-China game of poker. However, strategically speaking, Russia will lose more that it can win from further escalation of the East Asian conflict, just like the rest of the world.
Firstly, the economic repercussions from a military standoff between the U.S. and China will be catastrophic for the global economy. The world, the West as well as the East, will inevitably fall into a deep and lengthy recession. This will directly and painfully impact economic cooperation between Russia and its main partners.
Secondly, the final collapse of the current world order, including the United Nations and fundamental norms of international law without a new model of global governance will push the world into unprecedented chaos and instability, eliminating all existing ways for leading geopolitical opponents, including Russia, to negotiate.
Finally, we can’t overlook a scenario in which escalation between the U.S. and China could enter the nuclear stage. This situation would involve everyone. A nuclear war, even within the East Asian region, will inevitably have consequences on a planetary scale.
Moscow is in no position now to act as an impartial mediator in the Taiwan dispute between Washington and Beijing. If such a possibility were to present itself, it will not happen soon. But at the very least, Russia is not likely to fuel the flames of the growing conflict.