Can China be trusted? As the Russia-Ukraine war shows, Beijing often says one thing and does another

China’s rise over the last several decades, characterised by its expanding economic and military power, has been miraculous. But there is a paradox associated with that rise: as its power has increased, trust in China has declined.

The war in Ukraine helps to explain this paradox. Less than two months before Russia’s invasion, Chinese President Xi Jinping told Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky that he attached “high importance to developing the Chinese-Ukrainian strategic partnership.” But only weeks later, Xi and his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, declared that their countries’ budding alliance had “no limits.” 

China’s leader Xi Jinping with Russian President Vladimir Putin in July 2018. Photo: Wikicommons.

At that very moment, Russian military forces were massing along Ukraine’s border. Not long thereafter, they crossed it. Putin would have logically interpreted “no limits” to mean no opposition to his oft-declared designs on Ukraine, and thus a green light to invade. 

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