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China Doesn’t Believe in Lavrov’s Theory

China Doesn’t Believe in Lavrov’s Theory

Friday, 1 April, 2022 - 11:00
Mamdouh al-Muhainy
Mamdouh al-Muhainy is the General Manager of Al Arabiya and Al Hadath.

Visibly grinning despite having their masks on, the foreign ministers of China and Russia greeted one another with an elbow bump when they met in Beijing a few days ago. Despite the apparent harmony between the two countries, they neither think the same way nor sing to the same tune.

Lavrov toured several countries seeking support for his country. He has said the time is ripe for transitioning to a multipolar world and ending out of the old order.

Lavrov is pushing a broad, ambitious political theory about the faltering Russian war in Ukraine, portraying the military campaign as the first step on the road to changing the global balance of power. Meanwhile, the Chinese have abandoned grand political theories and speak in more grounded terms. Right now, ending the ongoing war is their priority. Despite all the gestures of support, the two sides are moving in two different directions.

Does China seek to change the world order and shape the world in its image, as global powers tend to do?

That is a mystery no one has been able to solve. However, it is clear they do not want to do so now, nor do they want to do so the Russian way. In fact, it was Moscow, not Washington or London, that thwarted China’s ambitions to lead the world. This war, which China opposes and seeks a swift end to, killed the idea of developing a long-term alliance between Beijing and Moscow aimed at creating a multipolar world that renders the US distant Atlantic power.

Why? There are several reasons. China’s goal is to integrate into the global economy and reconfigure the system from within, not destroy it. That is what it has been doing over the past few decades, during which the Chinese economy has grown at an astronomical rate. In 2021, the country suffered from the devastating ramifications of the pandemic, but the country’s GDP nonetheless rose by 8.1 percent, that is, $18 trillion. Allying with Russia to create a new world order would not come easy, and Beijing would have to give up all the gains it has already accumulated to create a new financial and trading system.

It is difficult to imagine China undermining its interests, which it has been advancing since moving beyond Maoist communist ideology, allying with Russia to form a new political and economic world order aligned with Lavrov’s world view, and curtailing the economic success it owes to its integration in the global economic system.

It is also unlikely that China will abandon its trade with the United States and Europe, exposing its banks and companies to crushing sanctions amid repeated warnings against attempting to break Russia’s isolation. Beijing got the message during the intense 7-hour meeting in which National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan threatened to impose sanctions on Chinese financial institutions supporting the Russian war effort.

Over a month into the war, it is now clear that Russia will not obtain the victory it had expected, adding further pressure on Chinese officials to seek a swift resolution aimed at preserving the image of an important ally. Their global position is more robust with a strong Russia than with a vanquished Russia.

Russian becoming weaker certainly does not advance Chinese interests, and it will strengthen the West and render it more cohesive than ever. It does not make sense for Beijing to alleviate EU countries, with which it has deep and extensive trade, to ally with a power that is seeking to change the world order despite failing to achieve victory and its war faltering.

The other important reason is that Russia plans to turn into a country that operates behind a political and economic curtain, dividing the world along lines similar to those seen during the Cold War and using military force if necessary. This diverges from the Chinese approach of seeking to impose hegemony through long-term economic expansion rather than abrupt wars.

For all these reasons, despite all its supportive gestures, smiles, and words, China is not expected to join the Russian effort to change the face of the world, as Lavrov put it.

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