Ukraine: US urged to use ‘vigorous diplomacy’ to push China to stop Russia’s war

  • American scholars and former policymakers also call for Washington to make clear there will be ‘swift and costly penalties’ for efforts to undermine or evade sanctions
  • They say that by reaching out to Beijing, the US could ‘lay the groundwork for more effective pressure against China if Xi more openly supports Putin’

The United States and its allies should use “vigorous diplomacy” to press China to help stop Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, a group of American scholars and former policymakers said.

They also called for Washington to make clear that Beijing will face “swift and costly penalties” if it undermines or evades sanctions against Moscow, according to a statement by 10 members of the Task Force on US-China Policy released on Friday.

“This approach will keep pushing China to consider its own national interests, the costs it is prepared to bear, and how flexibly its leaders can adjust course to reduce the political consequences, economic burdens and social ignominy of having Russia as its primary partner just as China seeks to take its place as a responsible great power on the world stage,” the statement said.

Convened by the Asia Society and the University of California San Diego, the informal and largely bipartisan task force includes former US trade representative Charlene Barshefsky, former US ambassador to China Winston Lord, Susan Shirk, a former deputy assistant secretary of state, as well as sinologists Orville Schell and David Shambaugh.

It comes as China is under mounting pressure to mediate for a ceasefire between close ally Russia and Ukraine. Beijing has not condemned Russia’s invasion, while saying it respects Ukraine’s sovereignty and recognising the “legitimate security concerns” of Moscow.

China has also refused to join the sweeping US-led sanctions against Russia and there are concerns Beijing could try to help Moscow evade them.

White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan is due to meet China’s top diplomat, Yang Jiechi, in Rome on Monday to discuss the crisis in Ukraine. Sullivan told CNN on Sunday that “we are communicating directly, privately to Beijing that there will absolutely be consequences for large-scale sanctions-evasion efforts”.

In their statement, the US task force said many in Washington were concerned that Beijing was already in “a broad anti-American alignment with Moscow”, and that most of them believed that Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russian leader Vladimir Putin shared “deeply held grievances against the West and liberal democracies”.

The group also said Xi was no longer following Deng Xiaoping’s “hide your strength and bide your time” strategy of restraint – replacing it with his new strategy of “assertive authoritarianism on the world stage, including explicit opposition to Nato and other US-led alliances”.

But they said China’s “strategic ambiguity” suggested there was still a chance for the US to influence Xi’s calculus. They said Beijing and most Chinese companies appeared to be complying with Western financial and trade sanctions because of the potential cost of violating them.

“Even as Beijing rhetorically opposes international sanctions, American diplomats should continue their communications to encourage China’s compliance, and make it clear that any efforts to undermine or evade them will be met with swift and costly penalties,” the statement said.

Beijing appears to have been caught off guard by Putin’s invasion of Ukraine last month, though it remains unclear if – or how much – it knew about the plan. It came just weeks after Xi and Putin signed a statement in Beijing declaring their nations’ partnership had “no limits”. Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi last week described Russia as the country’s “most important strategic partner”.

The task force also warned that Washington should avoid creating an equivalence between Beijing and Moscow, saying it could divide the US from not only China but also its allies and partners, which were “critically important” in any future competition with China.

They said that by reaching out to Beijing, the US could “lay the groundwork for more effective pressure against China if Xi more openly supports Putin”.

“American allies and partners will be more likely to support such pressure – despite their own commercial ties with China – if the US can credibly show that it offered Beijing a reasonable approach that China rejected in favour of a more confrontational and destabilising stance,” the statement said. “Our principled efforts at diplomacy today can only enhance our moral authority tomorrow.”

Author: Laura Zhou, SCMP

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