Even before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Chinese President Xi Jinping had plenty on his plate: maintaining ambitious growth targets, a deepening rivalry with Washington, climate change, demographic pressure, blowback from a tough COVID-zero strategy, and paving the way for a precedent-defying third term as leader. But the Ukraine war has compounded those problems and set off a cascade of knock-on effects that are shifting Chinese policy at home and abroad.
Finding Perspective: In foreign policy, Beijing has clearly wedded itself to Russia throughout its war and betrayed long-held principles about the inviolability of sovereignty and non belligerence toward other nations by refusing to call Moscow’s unilateral actions an “invasion.”
Across Eurasia, this is playing out in unexpected ways, as I explored here in a recent article.
The Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) -- a regional bloc of China, India, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, Russia, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan -- is Beijing’s umbrella organization for this part of the world and represents a balance of power between Beijing and Moscow, the region’s two hegemons.
The SCO has struggled at times with finding an overriding mission, and fallout from the war risks derailing that further, especially as Beijing must now navigate between backing Russia and embracing many SCO members’ desire for more distance from Moscow.
“Due to its size and geography, China’s role [in Central Asia] will grow [following the war], but the SCO won’t have many success stories to point to,” Temur Umarov, a fellow at the Carnegie Moscow Center, told me. “Beijing is also now seen as a supporter of Russia and as a country that isn't doing much to restrain Moscow when many [SCO members] are seeing it as a potential threat.”
Why It Matters: China’s footprint in Eurasia and the future of the SCO are just one example of repercussions from the war that could hinder wider Chinese goals.
While China grapples with a sustained economic slowdown due to COVID-19 lockdowns, the war has pushed up costs for Chinese businesses and contributed to fading overseas demand for their exports.
This not only raises the possibility of recession inside China but also globally, as the world economy risks becoming deprived of one of its main engines at a time when inflation and war fallout are also set to hit Europe and the United States later this year.
One Thing To Watch
The groundwork continues to get laid for Xi to take up a third term in power as leader of the Communist Party at its 20th congress later this year.
Beijing has already made moves to centralize more power across China’s provinces, and additional moves to avoid any hiccups for Xi are set to come. There’s no fixed date for the congress, but the past few have been held in either October or November, although the decisions for top jobs take place in advance and behind closed doors. One coming venue is a seaside retreat by Communist Party power brokers in Beidaihe that is usually held in July or August, where they lobby for their top picks.
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