‘No Limits’

Just days after using the Munich Security Conference as a forum to deride the White House for what he irritably branded a “hysterical”+ response to the incursion of a Chinese surveillance balloon in US airspace, Wang Yi was in Moscow commiserating with Sergei Lavrov.

China’s relationship with Russia is “solid as rock and will stand the trials of the changing international situation,” Wang said, to what I’m sure was juvenile glee in the Kremlin’s propaganda echo chamber, where too many Western citizens were irretrievably lost some years ago.

In Munich, Antony Blinken warned Wang against providing Moscow with material support for the war, and particularly against the provision of lethal aid. According to various reporting, Chinese entities (state-owned and otherwise) are engaged in a backdoor effort to funnel+ critical technology to Russia. Quite a bit of that ends up on the battlefield, the same reporting suggests.

No one knows for sure where the limits to China’s “no-limits” strategic partnership with Putin are. There are limits somewhere. I’m wholly unconvinced, for example, that Xi is prepared to tether the fate of the Chinese people to Putin’s adventures in Ukraine. But without trafficking in the conspiracies I so despise, I can’t help but shudder at the ongoing depletion of Western munitions in the context of what some Pentagon officials worry is an inevitable conflict with the PLA.

At the least, Xi is aware that the West is running down its military stockpiles. You don’t need to posit a conspiracy to ask whether the ongoing provision of aid to Ukraine might leave the US and its allies ill-equipped in the event Xi crosses the Strait. Insult to injury is that offshoring, largely to China, gutted America’s industrial base. It won’t be easy to put the country on a war footing.

But, to reiterate a point that’s often lost in the fog of wars — hot, cold and in-between — China isn’t ready. Not yet. If Xi has a grand plan, it’s nowhere near realized. Renminbi internationalization in still in its infancy, for example. Nearly every country in China’s geographical sphere of influence is wary of the Party and even more wary of ostracizing the US. And the PLA is untested.

Let’s not forget that Taiwan wouldn’t be a walk over for Xi. Even if you assume no Western support at all, the losses for the PLA in an invasion would be staggering. How would young Chinese react to that? In December, Xi abandoned “COVID zero” in the face of street protests, some of which included loud calls for his ouster. He couldn’t abandon a war that’d already begun in a similar situation. What would he do? Crack down on protesters, surely, but then he’d have a nightmare: A bloody war and bloody streets.

For now, China is keen to present itself as a peacekeeper on all fronts. Beijing is set to release its own proposal for a Russia-Ukraine peace this week. To the extent it’s agreeable to Moscow, it won’t be agreeable to the West, let alone to Volodymyr Zelensky with whom Xi hasn’t spoken since the start of the war.

Xi has spoken to Putin since. Four times that we know of and, I imagine, a number of times that we don’t. According to a prominent Wall Street Journal article declaring a “challenge to the US-led world order,” Xi will visit Moscow soon. “As the timing of the next contacts become clearer, we will inform you,” Dmitry Peskov told reporters Wednesday, when asked about the Journal‘s reporting.

Earlier this week, China’s Qin Gang described Xi as “deeply worried about” the prospect of Ukraine “spiraling out of control.” “Certain countries,” Qin said, should “immediately stop saying ‘Ukraine today, Taiwan tomorrow.'”

If Beijing isn’t enamored with that sort of speculation, Xi might consider simply stating, unequivocally, that although he intends to pursue every other conceivable avenue for reunification, there are no circumstances under which Taiwan will be seized by force. If he cared about markets, such a statement would do wonders to bolster capital flows and reassure terrified foreign investors.

But Xi doesn’t care about markets. Apropos, Bloomberg on Wednesday cited the ubiquitous “people familiar” in reporting that China’s finance ministry, among other state entities, is now “urging” (so, instructing) state-owned firms to drop the Big Four auditing firms. “China is seeking to rein in the influence of the US-linked global audit firms and ensure the nation’s data security, as well as to bolster the local accounting industry,” the linked article said, adding that although “Beijing has been giving the same suggestion to state-backed firms for years, [authorities] recently re-emphasized that companies should use other auditors than the Big Four.”

Most of that is just an extension of the decoupling story, but I’d gently note that if you were funneling sensitive technology to sanctioned entities in Russia, you wouldn’t want the Big Four scrutinizing your books.

Back in Moscow, Wang was scheduled to meet with Putin on Wednesday. During a Tuesday chat with the secretary of the Russian security council, Wang and Nikolai Patrushev said China and Russia are committed to “jointly practicing true multilateralism, promoting democracy in international relations and a multi-polar world.”

It was a ridiculous statement, and it was also naive on Russia’s part. Neither Xi’s China nor Putin’s Russia is a democracy. China isn’t even nominally democratic. And just as Party moderates learned in October that Xi is serious about one-man rule, Russia and every other strategic ally of Beijing’s will eventually learn that Xi doesn’t seek “true multilateralism” or a “multi-polar” world. Rather, he seeks Chinese hegemony — with “no limits,” so to speak.

Earlier this week, in a laughably overwrought, if occasionally accurate, screed, Xinhua decried everything from US military overreach to Hollywood movies in insisting Americans “conduct serious soul-searching” in order to come to terms with what the US “has done” on the way to “letting go of arrogance” and abandoning “hegemonic, domineering and bullying practices.”

200 years from now, assuming the planet survives that long, American media outlets may find themselves penning similar laments and appeals after two centuries of the same sort of Chinese global dominance Xi insists he isn’t pursuing.


Speak your mind

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

17 thoughts on “‘No Limits’

  1. China has its problems- the middle income trap and terrible demographics just for a start. Xi knows this too. Just as we have seen the Russian military weakness exposed, China while a challenge is not omnipotent either.

  2. After having lived in china for many years , I can assure you invading TW does not weaken Xi’s position in China. In fact I think its more likely that a less popular Xi would try to drum up the patriotism of war on TW to regain his popularity amongst his people.

    1. After having lived in the United States for my entire life, a period during which the country has pretty much always been engaged in some manner of armed conflict somewhere in the world, I can assure you that once the young men and women start coming back to the country in body bags, public opinion has a way of turning against the powers that be. The “rally around the flag” phenomenon fades away once the flags are wrapped around coffins.

      1. I’d argue that there’s a difference between the wars the US has fought in your life span (assuming you weren’t alive for WW2) and a war China might fight to ‘regain its sovereign territory’.

        1. I mean, you’re aware of the potential consequences for anyone who protests an issue that Putin deems important to national pride and security, correct? Put another way: Go over to Russia, pick an issue that’s important to Putin, protest about it in the streets, and then write me from jail and let me know how it went.

          1. Your question / comment is like citing Putin’s margin of victory in an “election” as proof that three quarters of the Russian electorate would have things no other way. These aren’t free countries. They’re dictatorships. The question posed here is whether the sheer scope of the calamity that would unfold if the PLA tried to seize Taiwan would trigger domestic unrest in China. The unspoken point is that Xi has a lot to lose. The calculus is more complex. China is rising. Putin has very little to lose. Russia is a frozen, decrepit gas station. If people protest, you just jail them, because what difference does it make? Nobody expects any better of you. Xi has to walk a finer line. He’s 15 years (at the most) away from realizing a lot of his goals. You don’t want to squander that on an ill-timed war or on a domestic crackdown that might foment some kind of “movement” or groundswell.

  3. If Xi is driven by fears about a “likely” US response to a PRC invasion of Taiwan, he is mistaken. Taiwan is no Ukraine. It’s recognized as part of China, and it always has been.

    China’s leaders err in tethering themselves to Putin. But they don’t have a lot of choices of goons with a global profile. If the world is so fortunate that Putin’s gambit succumbs in Ukraine, Putin’s likely to experience some consequences, which may include being “retired,” cast aside, disappeared (by his own people), and/or tried for war crimes. Sure, I’m speculating. But he has not made his country a cozy bed in which to rest. History suggests he will have some very serious consequences. Think Hitler and Mussolini.

    As things stand now in Taiwan, the burden falls on the shoulders of the Taiwanese, who have a choice of staying in Taiwan and enduring the certainty of eventual PRC governance, with all of its authoritarian ways, or moving their people and businesses to more accommodating countries.

    Taiwan has my sympathies. They do not have many choices. But their circumstances will eventually force them to consider certain actions. The mainland Chinese government has belligerent, authoritarian ways that they will eventually impose more forcefully on Taiwan. The Taiwanese people are noble and capable. But they haven’t been fighters for freedom since Chiang Kai Shek. And even then, they had to flee to Formosa. Frankly, they would not be wise to fight the Peoples Republic of China, of which they unfortunately are a part. They have to eventually face the reality of their circumstances.

    The same is true for Taiwan businesses, TSMC being the most visible. The arrogance and belligerence of the Peoples Republic of China in regard to chips for example, will not be good for TSMC’s business, nor for the well-being of the world. But TSMC has a great leadership posture in the semiconductor world. They will always be in Taipei, and they will see the transition to mainland governance. But development of TSMC’s best chips is already evolving offshore. They have a factory in the state of Washington. They have one in Japan. They’re finishing a new factory in Arizona. They’re also building a factory in Germany in 2024.

    Fun fact: Texas instruments has been in China for years, and they’ll probably remain there, no matter what happens in China, where they have an overabundance of educated, less costly, and capable workers, unlike their home country and state namesake.

    1. The problem is that no matter how well you think you know the antagonist, you can’t be sure about what’s going on in someone else’s head. So, while it’s easy to say, “Well, we’ve given them a lot, and at this point it’s clear that even if he wins, the cost to Putin was so great that surely he won’t try it again, so we can leave Ukraine on their own now,” there’s no way to assess, with anything approaching certainty, that he won’t invade Poland next. I.e., if we let him achieve any sort of victory in Ukraine.

      And then what do you do? Because if he goes beyond Ukraine, you have to go to war with Russia. There’s no choice. And in that scenario, you’re probably at war with Iran too in fairly short order and maybe China shortly after that.

      I don’t think that’s full appreciated by many Americans who argue for drawing a line when it comes to aid to Ukraine. Sure, the odds probably favor him stopping, but what if he doesn’t? What would history say about a decision to stop aiding Ukraine if that decision ended up leading to an invasion of Poland? History would say it was a blunder of historic proportions, that might trigger the beginning of the end.

    2. “There is a lot of money being spent on Ukraine, with no end in sight.”

      To which I say, “Great!” The war in Ukraine is a historic opportunity to accomplish something America isn’t in a position to do on its own–no one else is. Russia grows increasingly monstrous by the year. It’s terrible not only to its people, who lose rights and are further predated upon by oligarchs every year, but also it’s terrible for the whole world which has to continuously contend with Russian interference, troll farms, and state-sponsored cybercrime gangs.

      Now all of a sudden Russia has volunteered to bash its brains out against the cinderblock wall of Ukrainian bravery determination. And all we have to do is pay to help hold the wall up. This is the greatest return on military spending in my lifetime. We already spend ~$850 billion a year on our military, and for the most part, it’s just a glorified jobs program mated with some corporate welfare and a rather novel R&D operation. Now though we get to use that money to enable a formerly neutral country to aid Russia in its enthusiastic attempts at gunpowder-assisted suicide. I’ll vote to write that check for as much as needed and for as long as Ukrainian warriors are prepared to cash it.

      1. Absolutely agree: Putin interfered in Syria and Venezuela, has mercenaries in Africa, and assassins in England. (Not going to mention elections since apologists may climb out from under a bridge)
        His idiocy of grinding up his military and what little of his country he had left (remember all the wealth and brain drain that voted with their feet against conscription and a 3rd rate economy?) means the US can print dollars (that we make up from thin air) and directly reduce the influence of a murdering madman by helping people support their homes (from murder, torture, rape, looting, etc).

        How much have digital subscriptions (Netflix, Apple, etc.) increased due to inflation? because I’d like to add a Ukraine ??subscription!

  4. If they haven’t already, the US and the EU better start gearing up their munitions factories. Autocracies are good at ruining economies. Under these circumstances their goto solution is to acquire more territory as Putin and Xi are demonstrating. It never ends well for anyone when the dictators control most of the guns. This is a cycle that Sapiens appear unable to break.

    As for China, their social/economic/ and environmental problems are many. They are using spit and chewing gum too often as they have nothing else. Unfortunately these conditions are ripe for starting wars of aggression. In the 21st century, citizen uprisings usually end in extreme citizen bloodshed with the king still in the castle. I wouldn’t count on a replay of the demise of the USSR.

  5. There’s a lot of wisdom in the adage “hope for the best, prepare for the worst”.
    Regardless of the societal and political fractions in our “modern” culture, I hope that we are able to prepare ourselves, mentally and physically, for what I fear is an inevitable global deterioration.
    It’s hard to be a “glass half full” person, but I’m trying.

  6. As far as I am concerned the World is already at war; with battlefield combat limited to Ukraine.
    The deciding factor may ultimately be how the festering social media driven information civil wars that pervade the Free side ultimately are resolved.

    For now I continue to donate to …
    Razor for Ukraine
    Nova Ukraine
    World Central Kitchen
    USA for UNCHR
    USA for Unicef
    Amnesty International

    …I welcome additional suggestions to provide support…

NEWSROOM crewneck & prints