The Platform


Since the outbreak of the brutal war in Ukraine, Russia has been facing a series of economic sanctions that have isolated its economy and blocked access to much-needed technologies that are crucial for its guided missiles and tanks. This has forced Russia to look elsewhere for assistance. One such place is China.

China is facing unprecedented pressure from the West not to support its strategic partner. In particular, the United States has been warning China not to provide Russia with material support or help Russia evade sanctions.

Beijing has avoided explicitly supporting Russia, but it is also refusing to outright condemn its invasion of Ukraine.

However, even if China is reluctant to join the sanctions regime imposed on Russia, the pressure imposed by the United States is not a fruitless exercise. Instead, the pressure created by the United States on China has brought some spillover effects that benefit Washington.

Since the outbreak of the pandemic, China has imposed strict zero-COVID policies. China has launched a series of lockdowns that have disrupted supply chains and cast a shadow over its economic growth. Worse still, the Ukraine conflict creates a volatile market environment and brings another blow to investor confidence.

As one of Russia’s most important allies, China inevitably arouses suspicion that it is helping, or will help Russia. If it were to help Russia in any significant way, Beijing could be facing a series of devasting economic sanctions imposed by the United States.

The potential imposition of sanctions would be detrimental to China’s economic environment and its economic relations with the West, thus further hindering China’s already slow export growth and exacerbating the country’s recession. Therefore, the warnings or threats given by the Biden administration could help discourage investors and foreign companies from switching to the Chinese market, thus weakening China’s economic strength.

Moreover, the majority of the international community have manifested their disapproval of Russian aggression in Ukraine in the UN General Assembly. With the increasing pressure from the United States, China’s ambiguous position will look even more awkward under the global outrage in the face of Moscow’s brutal military campaign in Ukraine. This will significantly disrupt China from seeking closer partnerships with other states that oppose Russia’s military activities, thus shattering China’s international credibility and influence. It could become more difficult for China to fulfill its ambition of gaining a greater discursive power on the international scene and replacing the United States as the world leader.

Although China will unlikely fully cut ties with Russia and join the West in its efforts to pressure Russia to back down in Ukraine, China is conversely unlikely to fully jump into bed with Russia and supply it with military technologies like drones that could help it win in Ukraine. Meanwhile, this ambiguous position is providing a golden opportunity for the United States to damage China’s economic environment and reputation. China’s adherence to an ambiguous position could therefore incur a huge cost.

Ho Ting (Bosco) Hung is a Research Assistant at the Department of Government of the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE). He is also a presenter of the Oxford Hong Kong Forum 2022 and his presentation topic is ‘We are Writing the World History – Hong Kong as the Geopolitical Forefront of Sino-U.S. politics’. Recently, he has written for the Chicago Journal of Foreign Policy and Modern Diplomacy. He is mainly interested in Sino-U.S. relations, Chinese politics, foreign policy analysis, gender, political economy, and human rights.