Saturday, April 16, 2022

冰冻三尺非一日之寒 ("One day's cold cannot freeze water three feet deep"): China's Calculated Ambiguity on the Russo-Ukrainian War---Thoughts on 宗 平, 劝和促谈、政治解决才是正确道路 [Zong Ping, Encouraging peace and promoting talks; political settlement is the right way]


Pix Credit HERE

In the minds, and in the narrative constructions, of the Western press and their handlers, China has been very much on the margins of the Russo Ukrainian War.  Part of that is of course likely historical. It might well be thought to reflect racialist and ethno-centric conceits of 19th century European empire that have long become artifacts of history (except, it appears, within the cultural  default mind sets of the leadership glitterati of the West).  For the Park Avenue, Beltway, and elite University cliques (and their analogues in Europe), despite periodic and somewhat robotic meowings to the contrary in official pronouncements, China remains the Middle and Hidden Kingdom--self-centered and peripheral to affairs closer to the Western imperial center.  And yet China remains very much in the picture, the analogue of the United States and its leading group respecting the Russo-Ukrainian War, but of course, from the other side. Russia could not undertake its sub-apex imperial ambitions within its role as a secondary global player without both the entangled financing from Europe, and the support and perhaps counseling of the new (if perhaps impermanent) imperial superior (who for purposes of face saving would be understood in the old Roman  notion of first friend). For this reason it is critically important to try to understand at least the public position of Chinese leaders, as a means of understanding the Chinese calculus in advancing their own geopolitical aspirations. It is not merely that China has taken sides; that is plain enough by the facts--it is the way in which it has sought to manage its discursive role, and in the process attempt to project itself as the key element in the resolution of the crisis, that is of significant interest.

A hint of that position was picked up by Reuters in its usually reliable reporting on the issue.  During the course of the General Assembly debate on the suspension of Russian participation in the UN Human Rights Council, the Chinese representative was quoted as suggesting:

"Such a hasty move at the General Assembly, which forces countries to choose sides, will aggravate the division among member states, intensify the confrontation between the parties concerned - it is like adding fuel to the fire," China's U.N. Ambassador Zhang Jun said before the vote." (United Nations suspends Russia from human rights body over Ukraine).

This is the notion that was elaborated in a curiously placed article that appeared in the most recent issue of the Qiu shi [《求是》 (Seeking Truth)] the leading official theoretical journal of the Chinese Communist Party: 宗 平, 劝和促谈、政治解决才是正确道路 [Zong Ping, Persuading peace and promoting talks and political settlement are the right way]. 

The article appears in full below in the original Chinese as well as in a crude English translation.  My brief reflections follow:

1. The essay starts with a quite revealing view of the way that the Russo-Ukrainian conflict was been contextualized in the minds of Chinese leadership cores--that what one is dealing with here is a violent struggle among second tier states, or between a second tier state and its rivals about the control of territorial dependencies that ought to be allowed to play out with the guidance of leading groups, eventually and from the sidelines. Interestingly, that mind set to some extent reflects a similar one among the people who serve as the leadership core and their "influencer bubbles" in the United States, at least initially until focus groups revealed the persuasive power of Ukrainian insertions into popular social media platforms. In both cases the historical context of the territory (and perhaps the character of the peoples now at war) seem to play a large role in the framing.  

2. It is, in the end, a crisis that must be managed. In the cause of management, the Chinese are doing their part.  That is the object of the second paragraph of the essay--to evidence the way that China is trying to guide their dependent state. "On the second day of the Russia-Ukraine conflict, when President Xi Jinping had a phone call with Russian President Vladimir Putin, he proposed to support Russia and Ukraine to resolve the issue through negotiation." [俄乌冲突发生第二天,习近平主席同俄罗斯总统普京通电话时,就提出支持俄方同乌方通过谈判解决问题。]. 

3. But it is here that the delicious ambiguity comes into play.  The second paragraph of the essay is a marvelously complex interplay of ambiguity that seeks to build  a "sense" of reasonableness from the impossible melding of irreconcilable oppositions. Here one hears echoes of Maoist "contradiction" theory but now transformed into a structuring of international contradiction within the territories of contested dependencies. President Xi is quoted as affirming the principle of territorial integrity when he speaks to his American rivals and the American leading group.  But at the same time affirms the superior impermanence of meeting security concerns of all actors.  Contradiction.  The resolution is easy--once one overcomes ambiguity.  The Americans will hear Xi and think Ukrainian territorial integrity and security concerns--but the Russians may understand the reference to their territorial integrity and security concerns (that requires an absorption of large chinks of Ukrainian, now Russified, territory). Even grandees always hear what they want to hear--and thus the constant power of the grift. President Xi is quoted as stressing the need for calm and rational action, while calling for courage in reaching political settlement.  This is undertaken, of course, under cover of ferocious military action by Russia into Ukraine.  The Americans are meant to hear a shared desire for pacific order, while the Russian may hear permission to negotiate from the point of a gun. Ambiguity here serves the Chinese central authorities, but its misdirection may not align with American interests in the protection of its own security and the viability of its own peripheries.

Pix Credit HERE

4. At the same time, the essay suggests a warning to China's Russian dependency in this adventure--conflict may be strategically useful, but too much conflict may ultimately negatively impact Chinese interests, and thus reduce Chinese direct or open support.And yet again ambiguity.  China warns: "he continued escalation of the conflict will only cause more casualties, which is not in the interests of Russia and Ukraine, nor in the interests of Europe, nor in the interests of the world." (冲突延续升级只会造成更大伤亡,不符合俄乌两国利益,不符合欧洲利益,也不符合世界的利益。). Here the warning is directed to all parties--and their handlers.  And yet it appears that China remains aloof. And yet, the very essence of the essay suggests China's deep involvement.  The principles enunciated apply in equal measure to the Chinese and American leadership cores but the narrative suggests distinctive paths on the way to peace--without actually saying so.  Nicely done as a matter of rhetoric--but the rhetoric only veils, it does not negate, the mutual involvement of first tier empire in the resolution of the borders of their dependents' peripheries. The question then is the manner in which the conditions for peaceful settlement--whatever that means--may be enhanced.  That remains veiled--and necessarily so.  But what is implied is that those conditions will not be directed from the periphery (as it appears to be now) but in the best of circumstances by agreement behind closed doors among the great powers.  That, of course, is by now impossible under the general conditions that both sides permitted to reach the current point. If that is the case, then the object of this paragraph is more discursive than practical.  It is meant to be projected through Chinese production chains and influence networks rather than to serve as a practical means of achieving what is suggests.

5. And it is here that one moves from the set up of the first several paragraphs to the core insight of the essay: One day's cold cannot freeze water three feet deep [idiom: 冰冻三尺非一日之寒]. China suggests here that the complications of history and the contemporary situation cannot be unraveled much less resolved in a short period of time.  Delay is necessary to sort things out; to let them steep; to find a natural equilibrium point among the actors. Again there is an echo here from the ideological perspective of Maoist contradiction. But it is also one of strategic advantage to Chinese policy.  Delay favors the more powerful and the more well equipped; delay permits back door resolution and deals; delay permits the reshaping of coalitions of alliances that can then bring their influence to bear.  The vote in the UN on Russian Human Rights Council participation suggested that time is not now on China-Russia's side.  More time, then, may provide a useful space where opportunity might be developed and then seized. That should be taken seriously by the Americans.  It certainly has been understood by the Ukrainians who have been trying to enlighten their befuddled allies for several weeks now.

6. It is only with that in mind that the start of the next paragraph makes sense:  "President Xi Jinping pointed out: 'The Ukrainian crisis must be properly handled, but it must not be rushed to the doctor, attacking one point or the rest, not tying the whole world to this issue, let alone making the people of all countries pay a heavy price for it.'" (习近平主席指出:“乌克兰危机要妥善处置,但不能病急乱投医,不能攻其一点、不及其余,不能把全世界都捆绑到这个问题上,更不能让各国老百姓为此付出沉重代价。). Again ambiguity--proper handling means quite different things to the liberal democratic West  than it may mean to the Russians, much less to the Chinese leadership core. That ought not to be unexpected. And thus the power of a unifying discourse that hides deep division but sounds really nice! But here at least Chinese interests become clearer--the bungling of the management of the interaction of second order dependencies in Europe is causing pain at the imperial centers.  China (nor the United State) ought to be far more sensitive to their own responsibility to protect the structures and proper operation of post-global globalization. That is their duty as front line states, as is their fundamental obligation to ensure peace and stability. At the same time, the great game, as now reconstituted, appears to involve a game of risk bearing "chicken"--tied to which of the great centers will be the first to stake their own resources and leadership on risking resolution (at their expense). Inadvertently, the essay here posits the impossibility of the situation--absent joint resolute action by the US and China.  And that is not about to happen. . .yet. It is here that one can understand in this narrow context the references to the weaponization, politicization and instrumentation of the global economy.  This is an old refrain from the Chinese central leadership--typically deployed against the international movement to embed human rights and sustainability principles into the operation of global production.  But here it serves a more pointed ends. 

7. The essay ends with a reiteration of the Chinese position expressed in the UN vote to suspend Russian participation in the Human Rights Council:  states on the periphery and dependent states ought not to be asked to choose sides.  That requires a careful parsing of the last paragraph's call: "Faced with complex situations and different opinions, all countries have the right to decide their own foreign policies independently. Relevant countries should not adopt a simplistic approach of friendship or enemy, black and white, and should not force any country to choose sides." (中国将继续坚持劝和促谈、政治解决的正确道路,站在历史正确的一边,为乌克兰问题和平解决发挥建设性作用。) Ambiguity provides a more lucrative (win-win) context in which the two imperial cores of leadership may profitably operate; the most successful division of the world is one that is opaque and that does not cause inferior states to lose face (unless necessary to rectify lèse majesté). It's import is unmistakable when read through the precisely true but absolutely misdirecting statement that came before: "Among the more than 190 member states of the United Nations, more than 140 countries have not participated in the sanctions against Russia, which fully shows that the vast majority of countries in the world treat sanctions with a prudent and responsible attitude." (联合国190多个成员国当中,有140多个国家未参与对俄制裁,充分表明世界上绝大多数国家都以审慎和负责任态度对待制裁问题。). That statement is precisely accurate.  But it fails to reveal that states that have not adopted sanctions may be required, in the face of their relationships with states that have, comply to some extent with those sanctions regimes. That leaves us where we started: Ukraine is indeed deeply embedded in larger conflicts.  All states are now having to choose sides--even if that choice can, out of a sense of delicacy, be undertaken discretely.  And at some point the adults in the room will have to decide who and how is going to arrange for the resolution of this conflict in ways that will ensure, at least for a little while, the return to regimes of peace and (outward) stability. In one respect, though, the essay and Chinese opinion may be correct--that action may well have to wait until the American leadership core is once again up to bearing the responsibilities of its role.
8. At its core, perhaps, the essay suggests a way of understanding the old expression--Seek Truth From Facts (实事求是)--in a much more strategic way.  One must extract truth from facts.  But one might aid in the construction of facts from which truth may ultimately emerge.  Time, in this case, the Chinese leadership  believes, may be on Russia's side.  And if it is not, then that bridge can be crossed later; there is a lot of history of last minute switching of aid and support of a side that may mitigate the damage caused by an initial poor choice.  By seeking the rhetorical middle ground, the risk of choosing badly may be minimized. That, though, is unlikely in this case, despite the Chinese position so elegantly developed in this essay.   In either case, it is necessary to stay on the side until that is sorted.  Well, not quite on the side, but sideways. The great risk  here is that first tier powers no longer have the luxury of staying on the side.  The sidelines by definition become the center of the playing field for the construction both of facts and of the truth to be imposed therefrom. And by making its choice form the side, it will be much harder to move back to the middle.


来源:《求是》2022/08 作者:宗 平 2022-04-16 09:00:00


宗 平







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