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Biden, China, and Ukraine: What could possibly go wrong?

The allegedly tough-on-China Biden administration now wants to invite Xi Jinping to the negotiations over how to end the war driven by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. There are about a million reasons this is a bad idea, not the least of which being that at this point, there’s no sign that the Russian government is willing to negotiate a ceasefire. China is an increasingly close ally to Vladimir Putin, and China’s first proposal to end the conflict would have allowed Russia to keep what it has conquered and required the lifting of all sanctions on Russia. Why are some corners of the Biden administration so eager to allow the Chinese government to shape the post-war landscape?

Who, within the Biden administration, looks at the war in Ukraine — which has effectively turned into a proxy war between NATO and Russia — and says, “Hey, we should let Xi Jinping play a role in settling this dispute”?

Apparently, some voices within Joe Biden’s team think that the Chinese government can come in and help hammer out a fair deal, according to the Wall Street Journal:

The willingness to encourage negotiations and seek out a role for China in talks represents a shift in Western thinking, particularly in the U.S., which has been highly skeptical of any involvement for Beijing given China’s longstanding support for Moscow. Secretary of State Antony Blinken publicly expressed cautious optimism recently that Beijing could help defuse the conflict.

The approach is based on the belief that neither side has the ability to continue fighting indefinitely, and that Beijing’s willingness to play a role in international peace talks should be tested, the officials said. Still, they remain uncertain about Russia’s willingness to negotiate a cease-fire under Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Russia just launched one of its biggest waves of attacks last night, using drones on Ukrainian cities. Russian forces continue to shoot cruise missiles into apartment buildings, killing civilians.

Russian deputy foreign minister Sergei Ryabkov insists that the U.S. was behind the drone that blew up over the Kremlin last week, and warned a few days ago that the U.S. and Russia are “already standing on the edge, on the edge of this precipice” of “an open armed conflict.”

Does the Russian government look and sound like it’s willing to negotiate a ceasefire right now?  That WSJ article includes a quote from Adam Hodge, a spokesman for the National Security Council, declaring, “Unfortunately, we see no signs that Russia is preparing to stop its attacks on the Ukrainian people.” Why is the administration examining options for a hypothetical ceasefire that Russia has no discernable interest in accepting?

For that matter, why would the Ukrainians want a ceasefire if they’re about to launch a long-touted spring counteroffensive? Unless, as the Washington Post reported this weekend, the Ukrainians are afraid the counteroffensive has now gotten overhyped:

The Ukrainian military has spent nearly 15 months exceeding the world’s expectations. Now, senior leaders are trying to lower those hopes, fearing that the outcome of an imminent counteroffensive aimed at turning the tide of the war with Russia may not live up to the hype.

“The expectation from our counteroffensive campaign is overestimated in the world,” Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov said in an interview this past week. “Most people are . . . waiting for something huge,” he added, which he fears may lead to “emotional disappointment.”

Notice that statement from Ryabkov was sufficient to freak out retired general Barry McCaffrey, who appeared on MSNBC a few days ago:

The deputy foreign minister of Russia, saying you’re on the verge of open warfare with the United States — I’ve dealt with Russians for years, in Moscow, at the highest levels. I’ve never seen anything like it. Since Khrushchev almost got them in a nuclear conflict, the Russians, when the Commies were in charge, had collective leadership. They were chess players. They were careful about Mother Russia. This system, now, these are not calculated bluffs to force actions on NATO or the United States. This was an indication of a system that is unstable, that is coming apart. That’s irresponsible, it’s comical and goofy. We don’t know what to make of it, but it implies a very dangerous situation, in which Putin, seeing his political viability start to crumble, is capable of irrational action. That’s the concern.

McCaffrey is 80; whether you agree with his analysis or not, I’m just glad to see someone using the term “Commies” in front of MSNBC viewers. As for McCaffrey’s description of his previous dealings with Russians, he led a delegation to Moscow as co-chair of the Atlantic Council of the United States NATO Counterterrorism Working Group.

For a while now, there’s been a loud debate about whether the Biden administration is really willing to stand up to Beijing, or whether that’s a pose and it’s really conflict-averse and always latching onto any sign that we could go back to the “partners in prosperity” happy-talk about the U.S.–Chinese relationship. (You don’t have to look too far to find people who think that Biden’s attitude toward China can be traced back to “10 percent for the big guy.”) If you’re openly or subtly inviting Beijing — an increasingly strong ally to Putin — to the negotiating table over how to resolve the Russia–Ukraine war, you are not standing up to China. You’re increasing its leverage over world affairs.

There is evidence that China has shipped rifles and drone parts to Russia since the invasion of Ukraine started, and the White House continues to pretend to not see any evidence that the Chinese government has violated the administration’s “red line.”

Yes, China did offer “twelve points” for a political settlement to the Russia–Ukraine conflict in February. Notably missing from China’s proposal was any requirement for Russia to withdraw from territories it had annexed and occupied. Under China’s idea of “peace,” Russia gets to keep what it has conquered so far, and all sanctions on Russia are to be lifted. Unsurprisingly, Putin loved China’s proposal.

Why would the Biden team want to invite these guys to the ceasefire negotiations?

Wait, it gets worse. Back in April, French president Emmanuel Macron traveled to Beijing and talked up the possibility of China playing a role in ending the war. Macron’s trip was ridiculed as playing right into Beijing’s hands. Not too long after Macron had talked up the idea of China playing the role of honest broker over Ukraine, the Chinese ambassador to France, Lu Shaye, went on French television and declared that former Soviet states don’t really have indisputable legal sovereignty. The Chinese foreign ministry quickly backtracked from the ambassador’s statement, but the message was clear. In the Chinese government’s worldview, forget about Ukrainian sovereignty. It’s not even convinced about the full sovereignty of Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia — NATO members! — Armenia, Belarus, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Moldova, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, or Uzbekistan.

Why is Biden following Macron’s lead?

And does anybody in the Biden administration care that inviting Beijing in to play peacemaker is completely at odds with the tough-guy, “as long as it takes” Churchillian leader that Biden intermittently pretends to be?


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