China, the courtesan of the 21st century?

Today, our eyes are focused from one hour to another on the Russian behaviour and reactions. However, let us not forget the art of Chinese diplomacy, which will not fail to keep a place of choice in the new world order.

UN China/Zhao Yun In Beijing, UN Secretary-General António Guterres meets with Chinese President Xi Jinping.

A founding member of the United Nations, China ratified the United Nations Charter [i]on 28 September 1945. In accordance with Article 23 of the Charter, China is a permanent member of the Security Council[ii].

Between a time of humiliation for the Chinese people and the founding of the new China, they were represented by Taiwan until 1950. Indeed, it was Albania that allowed Taiwan to be replaced by the People’s Republic of China in the UN.

Not limiting itself to being a mere spectator on the international scene, China has placed itself at the heart of global governance.

Today, as the second largest contributor to the UN budget, with a contribution of just under $350 million, with four nationals at the head of a quarter of the UN’s specialised agencies, and a judge at the International Criminal Court, China has finally conformed to the model imposed by American power, and much more effectively than Europe. It has indeed become a key player in the United Nations! 

Positioning itself as a good student, China avoids promises and positions that could close doors, for example by brandishing the principles of humanity, neutrality and impartiality set out in General Assembly [i]resolution 46/182 in order to avoid commenting on the UN’s humanitarian aid to Ukraine. 

Describing itself as “a lion that purrs but does not bite”, China alternates between appeasement and provocation on the international stage.

In the face of the war in Ukraine, China remains balanced on a fine line between Russia and the West. While not strongly condemning the Russian invasion of Ukraine, China “understands President Putin’s motives” while calling for a neutrality treaty to be found as soon as possible, according to the Chinese permanent representative to the UN[ii]. One wonders where the sacrosanct principle of sovereignty and territorial integrity, so dear to China, has gone? 

Cautious in the face of sanctions against Russia, this is not the image of a confident country that Xi Jiping gives. Russia’s biggest oil customer, with 3 million barrels a day, China seems even more dependent on the West, with Chinese exports to Europe amounting to €36 billion in 2021. Exports to Russia represent only 2% of all Chinese exports!

China is therefore keeping its friends, as demonstrated by the vote of the United Nations General Assembly on 2 March 2022 [iii]. It is out of the question to be left alone while its economy and world power are vulnerable to sanctions against the Russian economy! 

So are we facing a China that is courting in order to be on the best side? Keeping all possibilities open? Is it a pro-Russian or pro-Ukraine China? Be careful not to stay too much on the razor’s edge? This could be dangerous in the face of Western anxiety!

[i] The General Assembly is the main policy-making body of the United Nations. Bringing together all Member States, it provides a unique multilateral forum for discussion of the full range of issues covered by the UN Charter. Each of the 193 UN Member States has an equal vote.

[ii] A permanent representative (sometimes called a “UN ambassador”) is the head of a diplomatic mission to the United Nations. Of these, the most high-profile UN permanent representatives are those assigned to headquarters in New York City. However, member states also appoint permanent representatives to the other UN offices in Geneva, Vienna, and Nairobi.

[iii] China abstained from voting, as did 34 other countries, in favour of the immediate and unconditional withdrawal of Russian military forces from Ukraine.

[i] An international convention, the United Nations Charter codifies the main principles of international relations, from the sovereign equality of States to the prohibition of the use of force in these relations.

[ii] The Security Council has primary responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security. It has 15 Members, and each Member has one vote. Under the Charter of the United Nations, all Member States are obligated to comply with Council decisions.

The Security Council takes the lead in determining the existence of a threat to the peace or act of aggression. It calls upon the parties to a dispute to settle it by peaceful means and recommends methods of adjustment or terms of settlement. In some cases, the Security Council can resort to imposing sanctions or even authorize the use of force to maintain or restore international peace and security.

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