Tuesday, March 8, 2022



China's cosmopolitan Foreign Minister Wang Yi

By Philip J Cunningham


Perhaps the most important takeaway from Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi’s March 7 press conference is that some very powerful people in Beijing see the road of China’s bright future as running through Moscow.


Despite a world media eager to detect some daylight between China and Russia in light of the latter’s ruinous war in Ukraine, Wang Yi’s diplomatic update signals a doubling-down, not a hedging of bets, let alone a stepping back.


The die was cast when Putin flew to Beijing on February 4, 2022, to preside with Xi Jinping at the opening of the winter Olympics, but more importantly to issue a joint declaration about a bilateral friendship of “no limits.”


A few days after the winter games ended, Russian bombs began to fall and tanks rolled into Ukraine, igniting the first major European land war since the defeat of Hitler.


Wang Yi is a cosmopolitan. He is fluent in Japanese and English and has lived both in Tokyo and Washington, DC. Suave and smooth though he may be, he has the admittedly difficult job of presenting the views of a somewhat provincial big boss to the world as a great historic figure in keeping with the Maoist-style personality cult currently in force.

In other words, Xi Jinping can do no wrong.

The realm of free speech has narrowed in inverse proportion to Xi’s rise. It’s simply not possible to disagree publicly with the paramount leader anymore, not for China’s press, and certainly not for its foreign ministry. 

Wang Yi told reporters last year that “General Secretary Xi Jinping, with his global vision, strategic commitment and a great sense of responsibility, has broken new ground in diplomatic theory and practice, and drawn the blueprint for China's diplomacy.”

It is thus incumbent on Wang Yi to defend “whatever” the top leader says, even the indefensible, while also making ritual kowtows of deference.

An optimist might argue there are hints of desperation behind the smooth façade of Wang Yi’s controlled bureaucratic prose, but read at face value his words suggest Beijing is living in a toxic bubble of its own making and doesn’t begin to understand why the world is outraged by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

In a March 1, 2022, phone call with his Ukraine counterpart, Dmytro Kuleba, Wang Yi platitudinous offered that “China advocated respect for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of all countries.”


He then cut to the chase, asking for help in evacuating Chinese nationals. As for Russia’s shocking violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty, he never really got around to addressing it.


The fact that the Chinese Embassy of Ukraine took no advance precautions to help its some 6000 stranded citizens other than to tell them to proudly display China’s flag in keeping with a “Wolf Warrior-style” repatriation operation, suggests two things about China’s foreign policy, neither of them good.


Either China’s diplomats were kept in the dark about the invasion, or they expected it to be over so quick that Russian occupation troops would extend preferential treatment to Chinese who waved the red flag. 

Putin is famous for keeping his cards close to his chest; prisoner of war interviews suggest that even Russian soldiers didn’t know what they were doing when they were suddenly deployed into Ukraine. 

The fact that China’s unconditional embrace of Russia right before the attack might have inadvertently aided and abetted Putin’s plans for regional domination is much too touchy to confront directly. 


To date, Wang has only offered bromides to cover up the seemingly unbreakable “bromance” between Xi and Putin.  

“The China-Russia relationship not only benefits their peoples,” he said, “but also helps world peace, stability and development.

Putin’s egregious sins of commission are being protected by China’s sins of omission, diplomatic blather and strategic silences.

While speaking of Covid in months past, Wang Yi employed the language of war.  The onslaught against the virus was described in terms such as “contained”, “battling”, “elimination”, “final victory.”

But when it comes to talking about an actual war, a bloody war killing untold numbers of innocent civilians, a war that China has refused to condemn, the loquacious Wang Yi gets tongue-tied. 

China’s Foreign Minister cannot even acknowledge that an invasion of a sovereign state has taken place.

When asked why China won't call an invasion an invasion, Wang Yi woodenly answered: "As said before we have always acted objectively and impartially and made judgments and assertions independently based on the merits of the matter itself."

Not surprisingly, the war was studiously ignored as a topic of discussion at the National People’s Conference.

The word “invasion” remained proscribed, and is almost entirely absent from state-run media.

And then there’s the "good" news.

"The friendship between the Chinese and Russian peoples is rock-solid. There is a bright prospect for bilateral cooperation," Wang added.

As for bad news, he warns Japan against strengthening its US alliance, but he saves his real vitriol for the US.

“While in the eyes of politicians in Washington, differences are reasons for estrangement, conflicts and discrimination, to Beijing, they are reasons for exchanges, cooperation and respect.”

Americans like to fight, China likes harmony.

“The US has been leaving no stones unturned in its attempts to provoke China and force it into a zero-sum game.” Wang Yi added that the US-led “alliance system was a disaster that disturbs regional peace and stability.”

By not-so-subtle misdirection, it’s all America’s fault.

But perhaps there’s a silver lining to enabling a war caused by an invasion that cannot be spoken of.

If it is true, as Wang Yi states with mock philosophic profundity, that "the wider the disagreement, the greater the need to sit down and have negotiation,” then China can be said to have contributed to peace by making things worse before they get better.