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The U.S. Is Not Yet Ready For The Era of ‘Great Power’ Conflict

Updated: 3-6-2023: Since 2018, the military has shifted to focus on China and Russia after decades fighting insurgencies, but it still faces challenges to produce weapons and come up with new ways of waging war. The U.S. Is Not Yet Ready For The Era of ‘Great Power’ Conflict

Clint Hinote returned from a deployment in Baghdad in the spring of 2018 to a new assignment and a staggering realization.

A classified Pentagon wargame simulated a Chinese push to take control of the South China Sea. The Air Force officer, charged with plotting the service’s future, learned that China’s well-stocked missile force had rained down on the bases and ports the U.S. relied on in the region, turning American combat aircraft and munitions into smoldering ruins in a matter of days.

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“My response was, ‘Holy crap. We are going to lose if we fight like this,’” he recalled.

The officer, now a lieutenant general, began posting yellow sticky notes on the walls of his closet-size office at the Pentagon, listing the problems to solve if the military was to have a chance of blunting a potential attack from China.

“I did not have an idea how to resolve them,” said Lt. Gen. Hinote. “I was struck how quickly China had advanced, and how our long-held doctrines about warfare were becoming obsolete.”

 


Mammoth Shift

Five years ago, after decades fighting insurgencies in the Middle East and Central Asia, the U.S. started tackling a new era of great-power competition with China and Russia. It isn’t yet ready, and there are major obstacles in the way.

Despite an annual defense budget that has risen to more than $800 billion, the shift has been delayed by a preoccupation with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the pursuit of big-ticket weapons that didn’t pan out, internal U.S. government debates over budgets and disagreement over the urgency of the threat from Beijing, according to current and former U.S. defense officials and commanders.

Continuing concerns in the Mideast, especially about Iran, and the Russian invasion of Ukraine have absorbed attention and resources.

Corporate consolidation across the American defense industry has left the Pentagon with fewer arms manufacturers. Shipyards are struggling to produce the submarines the Navy says it needs to counter China’s larger naval fleet, and weapon designers are rushing to catch up with China and Russia in developing superfast hypersonic missiles.

When the Washington think tank the Center for Strategic and International Studies ran a wargame last year that simulated a Chinese amphibious attack on Taiwan, the U.S. side ran out of long-range anti-ship cruise missiles within a week.

The military is struggling to meet recruitment goals, with Americans turned off by the long conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, potentially leaving the all-volunteer force short of manpower. Plans to position more forces within striking range of China are still a work in progress.

The Central Intelligence Agency, after two decades of conducting paramilitary operations against insurgents and terrorists, is moving away from those areas to focus more on its core mission of espionage.

The U.S. military’s success in the Mideast and Afghanistan came in part from air superiority, a less well-equipped foe and the ability to control the initiation of the war. A conflict with China would be very different.

The U.S. would be fighting with its Asian bases and ports under attack and would need to support its forces over long and potentially vulnerable supply routes.

If a conflict with China gave Russia the confidence to take further action in Eastern Europe, the U.S. and its allies would need to fight a two-front war.

China and Russia are both nuclear powers. Action could extend to the Arctic, where the U.S. lags behind Russia in icebreakers and ports as Moscow appears ready to welcome Beijing’s help in the region.

This article is the first in a series examining the challenges faced by America’s military as it enters a new international era.

The U.S. military is still more capable than its main adversaries. The Chinese have their own obstacles in developing the capability to carry out a large-scale amphibious assault, while the weaknesses of Russia’s military have been exposed in Ukraine.

But a defense of Taiwan would require U.S. forces, which are also tasked with deterring conflict in Europe and the Middle East, to operate over enormous distances and within range of China’s firepower.

The threat is mounting. Beijing has in recent years shifted the security terrain in its favor in the areas around China. In the South China Sea, it has built artificial islands and fortified them with military installations to assert control over the strategic waterway and deny the U.S. Navy freedom to roam.

Decades of ever bigger military budgets, including a 7% boost in spending this year, have improved the lethality of China’s air force, missiles and submarines, and better training has created a more modern force from what was once a military of rural recruits.

China is developing weapons and other capabilities to destroy an opponent’s satellites, the Pentagon says, and its cyberhacking presents a threat to infrastructure.

The CIA said President Xi Jinping has set 2027 as a deadline for the Chinese military to be ready to carry out a Taiwan invasion, though it said Mr. Xi and the military have doubts whether Beijing could currently do so.

A China in control of the South China Sea and Taiwan would hold sway over waters through which trillions of dollars in trade passes each year.

It would also command supplies of advanced semiconductors, threaten the security of U.S. allies such as Japan and challenge American pre-eminence in a part of the world it has dominated since World War II.

In its efforts to meet the new challenge, the Pentagon has expanded its access to bases in the Philippines and Japan while shrinking the U.S. military footprint in the Middle East. New tactics have been devised to disperse U.S. forces and make them less of an inviting target for China’s increasingly powerful missiles.

The Pentagon’s annual budget for research and development has been boosted to $140 billion—an all time high.

The military is pursuing cutting-edge technology it hopes will enable the military services to share targeting data instantaneously so that U.S. air, land, sea and space forces, operating over thousands of miles, can act in unison, a current challenge.

Many of the cutting-edge weapons systems the Pentagon believes will tilt the battlefield in its favor won’t be ready until the 2030s, raising the risk that China may be tempted to act before the U.S. effort bears fruit.

A conflict in the Western Pacific might also give Russia’s military, which has been badly battered in Ukraine, the confidence to carry out President Vladimir Putin’s goals of reviving Russian power in what it believes to be its traditional sphere of influence in Central and Eastern Europe.

“This is a massive problem to dig out of,” said Eric Wesley, a retired Army lieutenant general who served as the deputy commanding general of the Army Futures Command, which oversees that service’s transformation. “We are in a vulnerable period where we are pursuing this deterrence capability and their time is running out.”

Chris Meagher, a top Pentagon spokesman, said that Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin was directly overseeing the implementation of the U.S. defense strategy to counter China and that the department’s forthcoming spending request would advance the effort.

“The challenge posed by the PRC is real, but this Department is tackling it in historic ways with urgency and confidence,” he said, referring to the People’s Republic of China.

“Our strategy drove last year’s budget request and is driving our soon-to-be released budget, which will go even further in matching resources to our strategy.

We are continuing our work developing new operational concepts, deploying cutting-edge capabilities, and making investments now and for the long term to meet the challenges we face.”

 

Unassailable U.S.

A little more than a generation ago, the U.S. looked unassailable. The collapse of the Soviet Union and the rapid success of the U.S.-led Desert Storm campaign to evict Saddam Hussein’s troops from Kuwait in 1991 demonstrated Washington’s ability to wage a new type of war, using precision-guided munitions and stealth technology to vanquish regional dangers.

President George H.W. Bush declared a “new world order” with the U.S. as its anchor.

In 1995, Beijing began a series of aggressive military exercises near Taiwan to underscore its objections to a visit to the U.S. by Taiwan’s president.

The Clinton administration responded with the largest display of American military might in Asia since the Vietnam War, sending U.S. ships through the Taiwan Strait and positioning two aircraft carrier battle groups in the region the following year.

Strategists at the Pentagon’s in-house think tank nonetheless saw trouble ahead.

By using long-range missiles, antisatellite weapons and electronic warfare, Beijing could turn the tables on Washington by attacking the bases and ports the U.S. relied on in the western Pacific to project power, potentially keeping the Americans far from the conflict.

Guided by his defense advisers, candidate George W. Bush proposed to skip a generation of technology and move to advanced tools, such as long-range weapons, sensors and data-sharing technology to counter Beijing’s “anti-access” strategy.

Then the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks changed the threat, and the Pentagon’s mission.

“There was a moment when we thought ‘Huzzah, the transformation of the force is actually going to happen,’ ” recalled Jeff McKitrick, who worked at the Pentagon think tank and is now a researcher with the Institute for Defense Analyses, a Pentagon-supported research center. “Then 9/11 came and everybody focused like a laser beam on the global war on terror.”

Soon this became the mission of Gen. Hinote, then a major, as well. He was known by the call sign “Q,” after the fictional character in the James Bond stories who runs the spy service’s gadget lab, because of his skill in programming the radars and sensors of fighter jets.

At the outset of the 2003 Iraq war, he was assigned to a squadron of “stealthy” F-117 fighter jets.

He helped plan the operation to strike at military targets in Baghdad and disable the air defenses of Saddam Hussein’s forces.

“We had a really good plan for taking down the Iraqi communications infrastructure, leadership infrastructure and what we thought were the weapons of mass destruction,” he said. “China learned from that.”

As the U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan dragged on, the top U.S. Air Force officer in Japan warned that China’s air defenses were becoming impenetrable to all but the most sophisticated U.S. fighters.

In 2009, Robert Gates, defense secretary from 2006 to 2011, limited the procurement of F-22 fighter jets to 187 to free up funds for other weapons programs.

The Air Force’s Air Combat Command said at the time that would leave the service nearly 200 short of the premier air-to-air fighter jets it previously sought for potential conflicts with China and Russia. Such air-to-air combat experience was limited:

The June 2017 shootdown of a Syrian Su-22 jet by a Navy FA/18 over Syria was the first time a U.S. fighter pilot had blasted an enemy plane out of the sky since 1999.

Mr. Gates said he sought to hedge against future threats while also focusing on the war on terror. “My concern as secretary was all about balance,” he said, in an email response to questions.

“The need to prepare for future potential large-scale conflict with Russia and China while properly funding the long-term ability to deal with smaller-scale conflicts we were most likely to face in the future.”

Mr. Gates said both Presidents Bush and Obama saw cooperation with China as possible and thought a conflict “was low probability.” He said that changed when Mr. Xi came to power in 2013.

The Chinese president has backed a stronger Chinese military and a more assertive foreign posture as part of his campaign to expand Beijing’s global clout.

In 2011, Congress and the White House agreed to multiyear spending limits known as sequestration to curb the federal deficit.

The move forced a series of across-the-board cuts and hampered initiatives to transform the military, including on artificial intelligence, robotics, autonomous systems and advanced manufacturing.

“With the grinding wars in the Middle East taking $60 billion to $70 billion a year, and service chiefs worried first and foremost about declines in force readiness, we simply didn’t have the necessary resources to cover down on all of the more advanced threats like hypersonics,” said former Deputy Defense Secretary Robert Work.

“The U.S. responses to China and Russia’s technical challenges were therefore delayed—and when it did respond, its choices were constrained by sequestration.”

Taiwan In Focus

In 2018, the Pentagon issued a National Defense Strategy saying the U.S. would prepare for a new world of “great power competition.”

Deterring China from invading Taiwan, a longstanding U.S. partner that Beijing claims as Chinese territory, defines the challenge.

Allowing China to take Taiwan, just 100 miles from the Chinese mainland, and then trying to wrest it back, Pentagon officials concluded, would involve the U.S. in a protracted fight and might spur China to escalate to nuclear weapons.

The U.S. needed to demonstrate it could prevent Beijing from seizing the island in the first place—a requirement included in the Biden administration’s National Defense Strategy issued in 2022.

In 2019, Gen. Hinote, using his new authority in the Air Force’s future war office, organized another classified wargame.

The simulation postulated a Chinese attack on Taiwan and assessed how two U.S. forces might fare in contesting it: an “outside force” made up entirely of long-range U.S. bombers and missiles, and an “inside force” of aircraft, ships and troops that would fight within the range of Chinese planes and missiles.

The conclusion was that neither approach would succeed on its own.

“We needed a mix to protect Taiwan and Japan,” he said. “Ever since, we have been gaming, simulating and experimenting to determine that mix.”

 

A more recent wargame conducted by the Pentagon’s Joint Staff showed the U.S. could stymie a Chinese invasion of Taiwan and force a stalemate if the conflict was fought later in the decade, although high casualties on both sides would result.

That simulation assumed that the U.S. would have the benefit of new weapons, tactics and military deployments that are currently being planned at the Pentagon.

To prepare for the future, the Marine Corps has gotten rid of its tanks and is reinventing itself as a naval infantry force that would attack Chinese ships from small islands in the western Pacific.

A new Marine littoral regiment, which operates close to the shore and will be equipped with anti-ship missiles, is to be based in Okinawa by 2025.

In an exercise in May 2021, the Marines lugged a 30,000-pound Himars missile launcher across a choppy sea to the Alaska shoreline, loaded it into a C-130 transport plane and flew it to a base in the wilderness.

The purpose was to rehearse the sort of tactics the Marines would employ on islands in the western Pacific against the Chinese navy.

The Army, which saw its electronic warfare, short-range air defense and engineering capabilities atrophy amid budget pressures and the previous decades’ wars, is moving to develop a new generation of weapons systems that can strike targets at much longer ranges.

It is planning to deploy a new hypersonic missile in the fall though its utility against Chinese forces will depend on securing basing rights in the Pacific.

The Navy, which is confronting budget pressures, personnel shortages and limits to American shipbuilding capacity, is currently planning to expand its fleet to at least 355 crewed ships, a size still smaller than China’s current navy. In the near term, the U.S. will have around 290 ships.

The Air Force, which has one of the oldest and smallest inventory of aircraft in its 75-year history, has rolled out the first B-21 bomber and is pursuing the capability to pair piloted warplanes with fleets of drones.

It has tested a new hypersonic missile that will be fired from fighter aircraft, and developed plans to disperse its planes among a wider range of bases in the Pacific.

Decades-old B-52s are being refurbished to fill out the bomber fleet. The service has decided to buy the E-7 command aircraft—originally produced by Australia—and is procuring advanced weapons to attack Chinese invasion forces.

At times, the pace has been slower than Gen. Hinote would have liked.

“As we began to push for change, we lost most of the budget battles,” he said. “There is more sense of urgency now, but we know how far we have to go.”

The general has pushed to equip cargo planes with cruise missiles to boost allied firepower, the use of high-altitude balloons to carry sensors and electric “flying cars” to carry people and equipment throughout the Pacific island chains—ideas that have led to experiments but so far no procurement decisions.

He thinks a future Air Force could rely more on autonomous, uncrewed aircraft and deploy fewer fighters. “When push comes to shove and you have to decide if you are going to field unmanned vehicles, or keep flying old aircraft, we’ve never made that decision,” he said.

“I think we’ve got a recipe for blunting” a Chinese attack, he said. “I just think you have to reinvent your force to do it.”

 

Updated: 3-10-2023

Saudi Arabia, Iran Restore Relations In Deal Brokered by China

 

The U.S. Is Not Yet Ready For The Era of ‘Great Power’ Conflict

Accord marks diplomatic victory for Beijing in a region where U.S. has long dominated geopolitics.

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia—Iran and Saudi Arabia agreed to re-establish diplomatic relations Friday in a deal mediated by China, ending seven years of estrangement and jolting the geopolitics of the Middle East.

The deal signals a sharp increase in Beijing’s influence in a region where the U.S. has long been the dominant power broker, and could complicate efforts by the U.S. and Israel to strengthen a regional alliance to confront Tehran as it expands its nuclear program.

It comes as the U.S. has been trying to broker a peace deal between Saudi Arabia and Israel, an effort now clouded with uncertainty.

China in recent years has built closer economic ties with Iran and Saudi Arabia, both of which are important suppliers of oil to the world’s second-largest economy.

But this bridge-building effort is the first time Beijing has intervened so directly in the Mideast’s political rivalries.

It comes at a time when relations between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia, long aligned with Washington, have grown strained over America’s diminishing security guarantees and Riyadh’s decision to cut oil production to keep crude prices high during Russia’s war in Ukraine.

The agreement between Iran and Saudi Arabia was hammered out behind closed doors in Beijing between top officials of the two countries, they said in a joint statement.

Chinese leader Xi Jinping raised the idea of the talks most recently during a state visit to Riyadh in December, according to people familiar with the matter.

As part of the deal, Iran pledged to halt attacks against Saudi Arabia, including from Houthi rebels it backs in the Yemen civil war, according to Saudi, Iranian and U.S. officials. Iran and Saudi Arabia will reopen their embassies and missions on each other’s soil within two months and agreed that their foreign ministers will hold a summit soon to hammer out other details.

For Tehran, the accord eases the international isolation it has faced since antigovernment protests last fall and the collapse of talks aimed at restoring a 2015 international nuclear deal dashed its hopes of relief from economic sanctions.

For Riyadh, it gives the kingdom more leverage as it seeks new U.S. security guarantees from the Biden administration.

“For Iran it’s about escaping diplomatic isolation. For China, it’s about deepening their engagement in the region and showing it’s not just an energy consumer. And for Saudis it’s about the Americans,” said Ray Takeyh, an Iran expert at the Council on Foreign Relations and former State Department official and former U.S. diplomat.

The U.S. Is Not Yet Ready For The Era of ‘Great Power’ Conflict

But re-establishing diplomatic relations isn’t likely to immediately lessen the longstanding security and sectarian tensions that have divided Riyadh and Tehran for decades and fueled their competition for regional dominance, analysts said.

Ties between the two countries were cut in 2016 after the Saudi Embassy in Tehran was overrun amid protests over the execution of a prominent Shiite cleric by the Saudi government.

Since then, the Iran-Saudi rift has represented the often violent schism between Shiite and Sunni Muslims that has dominated the Middle East for decades.

The Saudis and Iranians have backed opposite sides in conflicts ranging from Syria to Yemen for nearly a decade. In 2019, they were on the brink of war when Iran was blamed for missile and drone attacks on a Saudi oil field.

The current rapprochement follows signs that the proxy wars waged by Riyadh and Tehran were cooling. A United Nations-supported truce between Saudi- and Iran-backed sides in the Yemen war has held for nearly a year.

The civil war in Syria has largely been won by President Bashar al-Assad’s government, with help from Iran and Russia.

Another Persian Gulf rival of Iran, the United Arab Emirates, reopened its embassy in Iran last year and has been pursuing trade and open lines of communication with Tehran.

The deal left unaddressed Iran’s nuclear program, which has been a source of friction between Tehran and much of the world, including China, for two decades. U.S. sanctions on Iran have left its economy in ruins, with a currency crisis in recent weeks roiling the country.

The Saudi government had kept U.S. officials apprised of their discussions to re-establish diplomatic relations with Iran, which dates back to talks in recent years in Baghdad and Oman, and supported the efforts in the hope that it would resolve some of the growing tensions in the Gulf, officials said. The U.S. wasn’t directly involved in these talks, officials said.

Ultimately, U.S. officials said the aim was to prevent any further attacks against Saudi Arabia, including those by Iranian-backed Houthi militants in Yemen.

The officials believe that Iran had an incentive to join the talks because it wants to ease the growing political and economic pressure at home, and hopes that any diplomatic breakthroughs with its immediate neighbors might help.

U.S. officials said the next two months, until the official reopening of the embassies, would be critical in gauging how serious Tehran is in honoring the agreement.

The U.S. Is Not Yet Ready For The Era of ‘Great Power’ Conflict


“This is not a regime that typically does honor its word, so we hope that they do,” White House National Security Council Strategic Coordinator John Kirby told reporters Friday. “We’d like to see this war in Yemen end, and that this arrangement that they have, might help lead us to that outcome.”

Mr. Kirby added: “This is not about China. We support any effort to de-escalate tensions in the region. We think that’s in our interests, and it’s something that we worked on through our own effective combination of deterrence and diplomacy.”

China’s role in the talks marks a watershed moment for Beijing’s ambitions in the region, a part of the world where the U.S. has waged war and spent hundreds of billions of dollars in providing security for allies.

Along with Russia’s intervention in the Syrian civil war, China’s diplomacy is another sign of the U.S.’s waning influence.

China has stepped up its relations with Saudi Arabia and Iran in recent years as it became a major buyer of Middle East oil, but its ambitions had long appeared commercial, with little interest in involving itself in the region’s messy disputes.

Beijing has provided a lifeline to sanctions-hit Iran, becoming its main remaining crude buyer since the U.S. pulled out of a nuclear deal in 2018.

But it has also sought closer ties with Saudi Arabia, Iran’s regional rival, for which it is the biggest trade partner and a top oil buyer. Riyadh has also started importing sensitive missile technology from the Chinese military.

Tehran had been increasingly worried Beijing’s growing ties with Saudi Arabia could leave it further isolated. Mr. Xi’s visit to Saudi Arabia in December triggered a backlash in Iran after Beijing joined an Arab statement calling on Tehran to cooperate with the International Atomic Energy Agency over its nuclear program.

The Gulf-China summit in Riyadh in December was key in getting Beijing more interested in de-escalating tensions between Riyadh and Tehran, said Ayham Kamel, head of Middle East and North Africa at political-risk advisory firm Eurasia Group, calling it a “quick win that showcases a new framework” of cooperation between China and the Middle East.

“Prince Mohammad bin Salman’s view that China can accommodate some of Riyadh’s security interests has been partially vindicated,” said Mr. Kamel.

China’s ability to broker a deal between two Middle East heavyweights “opens the first chapter of Beijing emerging as a key diplomatic power in the region,” he added.

Aaron David Miller, a veteran U.S. negotiator in the Middle East, said the deal reflects smaller powers readjusting to Washington’s de-prioritization of the region.

“The Saudis see a multipolar future with China and Russia as important partners—fellow autocrats who don’t ask questions about human rights,” said Mr. Miller, now a senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

“But it’s also a real slap in the face to Biden. At a time when U.S.-China relations are getting colder, MBS is getting cozier with Beijing,” he said, using Prince Mohammed’s initials.

The growing rapprochement between Shia-led Iran and the region’s leading Sunni states has unfolded despite U.S. efforts to keep Tehran economically and diplomatically isolated.

Under the Trump administration, the U.S. exited the 2015 nuclear deal reached by former President Barack Obama, restored sanctions and turned up efforts to choke off Iran’s oil exports and strangle its economy.

Saudi officials told U.S. officials shortly after the Biden administration took office in 2021 that they planned to continue to explore improving ties with Tehran, and the U.S. raised no objection though saw little prospect of a rapprochement, U.S. officials have said.

The White House kept most sanctions in place and embarked on its own effort to restore the nuclear deal. But after Iran’s harsh crackdown on antigovernment protesters last fall the talks were suspended.

“For Tehran, rapprochement with the kingdom formally breaks the anti-Iran maximum pressure coalition, offering it less isolation with the potential for economic engagement.

For Riyadh, it showcases a shift towards directly managing its tensions bilaterally rather than outsourcing to external actors,” said Sanam Vakil, deputy director of the Middle East and North Africa program at Chatham House, a London-based think tank.

Iran and Saudi Arabia are restoring relations at a time when the U.S. is trying to broker a peace deal between the Saudis and Israel, which would add to the growing ties between Israel and the Arab world.

Iran is a rival of Israel, opposing the normalization deals and waging a covert war against the country.

Arab countries have embraced ties with Israel in part for intelligence sharing on Iran, and there have long been hopes in Washington for a so-called Arab NATO that would counter Iran.

In Israel, the announcement of restored Saudi-Iran ties was met with dismay.

“The Saudi-Iran deal is a total failure of the Israeli government’s foreign policy,” said Yair Lapid, the opposition leader. “It’s the collapse of a regional defense wall we started building against Iran.”

 

Updated: 3-13-2023

Xi To Call Ukraine’s Zelenskiy After Russia Visit Next Week

* Talks Would Be First Since Russia’s Invasion Of Ukraine
* Xi Planning To Visit Moscow As Early As Next Week, WSJ Reports

Chinese President Xi Jinping and Ukrainian leader Volodymyr Zelenskiy plan to speak by video link in what would be their first conversation since Russia’s invasion, a Ukrainian official familiar with the preparations said.

No date has yet been set for the conversation, the person said, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss matters that aren’t yet public. There was no immediate comment from Zelenskiy’s press office.

The session would come after a visit by Xi to Moscow expected next week, The Wall Street Journal reported Monday.

There was no immediate official confirmation of that trip from Russia or China. But both countries have said for weeks that a Xi visit was in the works as China seeks to position itself as a broker to end the war in Ukraine while it maintains close ties to the Kremlin.

Putin said in February he was looking forward to hosting Xi in Moscow, and China’s annual National People’s Congress legislative session wrapped up on Monday.

Zelenskiy, meanwhile, has long sought talks with China, which had emerged as one of Russia’s largest global supporters amid the conflict.

Beijing last month released proposals to achieve peace in Ukraine, its most ambitious diplomatic foray into the conflict, but they were quickly rejected as one-sided by Kyiv’s allies in the US and Europe.

Zelenskiy was less categorical, saying at the time, “it’s good that China has started to talk about Ukraine” and welcoming Beijing’s commitment to the principle of territorial integrity.

For its part, Russia welcomed the initiative, which came days after Putin hosted Chinese State Councilor Wang Yi at the Kremlin.

Xi’s diplomatic foray into the Ukraine conflict would come as the US and China remain at odds on a broad range of issues. Washington and Kyiv have warned Beijing against providing lethal aid to Moscow, something China so far says it has no plans to do.

Although Xi last week accused the US of seeking to encircle and contain China, some of his harshest direct criticism to date, new Premier Li Qiang on Monday appeared to open the door for talks to resume between Washington and Beijing.

Xi is expected to speak soon with US President Joe Biden to put the relationship back on track after tensions over an alleged Chinese spy balloon derailed positive momentum following a November summit.

China achieved a major diplomatic win late last week, when it helped facilitate an agreement by Saudi Arabia and Iran to restore diplomatic ties.

At the meeting of Group of 20 foreign ministers in New Delhi in early March, Russia and China rejected wording on the war that had been agreed at the leaders’ summit in Indonesia less than six months before.

They teamed up to block India, the host country, from negotiating a compromise.

 

Updated; 3-16-2023

Chinese, Ukrainian Ministers Speak As Zelenskiy-Xi Call Awaited

Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang spoke with his Ukrainian counterpart Dmytro Kuleba about bilateral ties and Russia’s invasion, ahead of a possible call between the leaders of both countries.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy has long sought talks with Chinese leader Xi Jinping, whose government has a close bilateral relationship with Russia. A call may be held as soon as next week.

China teamed up with Russia to reject wording about the invasion at a meeting of Group of 20 foreign ministers in New Delhi in early March. Similar wording had been agreed at the leaders’ summit in Indonesia less than six months before.

China Looks To Show World It Can Broker Russia-Ukraine Peace

China in February released proposals that it said were aimed at achieving peace in Ukraine, but they were rejected by Kyiv’s allies as favoring Russia. Xi is expected to travel to Moscow next week for talks with President Vladimir Putin, and may talk to Zelenskiy afterward.

“China has been taking an objective, fair position, and is dedicated to facilitating peace and negotiations, calling on the international community to create conditions for peaceful negotiations,” Qin told Kuleba, according to a statement posted on the China’s foreign ministry’s website.

Beijing is concerned that a resolution to “the crisis” may be delayed, and that the situation could escalate or get out of control, according to the statement.

Kuleba said the pair discussed “the significance of the principle of territorial integrity.” He spoke to Qin after talking to the US Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

Kyiv and Beijing have had difficult relations in recent years. Among other things, Ukraine blocked the sale of Motor Sich, a company that produces jet engines, to a Chinese company, while its state-run food company had trouble repaying its debt to China.

 

Updated: 3-17-2023

Xi To Visit Russia For First Time Since Putin’s Invasion of Ukraine

Chinese leader Xi Jinping is making his first state visit to Russia since it invaded Ukraine, in a strong show of support for President Vladimir Putin.

Xi will be in Russia from Monday to Wednesday next week, according to a statement from China’s Foreign Ministry. Xi, who secured a third term as president a week ago, will be the most prominent international leader to visit Putin since his February 2022 invasion of Ukraine.

“Xi’s visit to Russia will be a journey of friendship” and deepening mutual trust, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said Friday at a regular press briefing in Beijing.

During the trip, Xi is expected to discuss China’s 12-point blueprint for ending the war, a document dismissed by most Western governments.

The criticism of the plan was more muted from Kyiv, which has sought talks at a leader level with China since the war broke out, while also urging Beijing to take a more critical stance against Russia.

The Kremlin confirmed the state visit, saying it was at Putin’s invitation. The two leaders will discuss “developing the no-limits partnership and strategic cooperation between Russia and China,” the Kremlin said in a statement.

Xi and Putin will “exchange views in the context of deepening Russo-Chinese cooperation in the international arena,” it said, adding that several bilateral documents will be signed, without providing details.

Zhang Hanhui, China’s ambassador to Russia, said economic and trade cooperation between the two countries has “advanced” despite the pandemic, geopolitical challenges and sluggish global recovery, the People’s Daily, the Communist Party’s official newspaper, reported Saturday.

“The more unstable the world gets, the more steady strides China and Russia should make in their relations,” Zhang said in a joint interview with Chinese media, according to the report. Bilateral trade this year could reach the 200 billion yuan target set by leaders of the two nations, with a 26% year-on-year jump in the first two months, he added.

The Bloomberg Dollar Spot Index extended its loss after the news of the visit, falling as much as 0.5%.

This visit comes as Xi is rebooting his image as a global statesman. He already got a significant win by recently helping broker a deal between Saudi Arabia and Iran to restore diplomatic ties.

Soon after he returns from Russia he will host Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, the Foreign Ministry in Beijing said. Xi and Ukrainian leader Volodymyr Zelenskiy also plan to speak by video link soon, in what would be their first conversation since Russia’s invasion, a Ukrainian official familiar with the preparations said.

Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang spoke Thursday with his Ukrainian counterpart Dmytro Kuleba about bilateral ties and the invasion. Xi and President Joe Biden may also hold their first call since the crisis over an alleged spy balloon that flew over the US.

The Chinese leader needs to strike a careful balance on the visit to Russia, on the one hand seeking to project an image as a potential neutral mediator, while also managing his close ties with Putin.

“Russia’s economic isolation has already benefited the Chinese economy in certain ways,” said Joseph Torigian, an assistant professor at American University who researches Chinese and Russian politics. “We don’t know whether Xi will push for even more beneficial deals or whether he will try to avoid a sense in Moscow that he is exploiting their position.”

Xi last visited Russia in mid-2019, while Putin wen to Beijing in early 2022 to attend the opening of the Winter Olympics. At that meeting the two leaders agreed to a “no limits” friendship and signed a series of long-term energy supply deals.

The two met in September last year at a meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Forum, where Putin said he understands Beijing’s “questions and concerns” about his invasion of Ukraine, a rare admission of tensions between the diplomatic allies.

 

Updated: 3-20-2023

China’s Xi Jinping Meets With Putin In Moscow As Beijing Casts Itself As Peacemaker


Fighting for battlefield advantage, neither Russia nor Ukraine is interested in talks now.

Chinese leader Xi Jinping’s visit to Russia this week is aimed in part at positioning Beijing as a potential mediator between Moscow and Kyiv—but with both sides gearing up for spring combat operations, neither is ready now to talk about peace.

Mr. Xi, who arrived in Moscow on Monday for a summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin, faces an uphill struggle to establish himself as an honest broker in the conflict, given his vocal backing of Russia in the wake of Mr. Putin’s invasion of his smaller neighbor.

After talks with Mr. Putin, Mr. Xi plans to speak with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, The Wall Street Journal has reported. Mr. Zelensky has said that he welcomes Chinese efforts and that peace depends on Russia withdrawing from all occupied Ukrainian territory.

On Monday, the Kremlin welcomed Mr. Xi with great fanfare, kicking off a visit that is aimed at showcasing the countries’ close ties. A military band greeted the Chinese leader’s arrival in the Russian capital.

The U.S. Is Not Yet Ready For The Era of ‘Great Power’ Conflict

Mr. Xi’s visit to Russia is expected to focus primarily on bilateral relations and the leaders are set to sign about a dozen agreements, including one on economic cooperation through 2030, the Kremlin said.

Before starting informal talks, where they are likely to discuss what the Kremlin described as “the most sensitive issues in the relationship between the two countries,” Messrs. Putin and Xi were shown on Russian state television sitting side by side in a ceremonial room inside the Kremlin.

During that meeting, the pair—who often boast of a close personal rapport that undergirds their countries’ relations—seemed relaxed together. Both were smiling and referred to each other as a “dear friend.”

It was in stark contrast to the war in Ukraine, where, according to Western estimates, tens of thousands of soldiers on both sides have been killed or wounded in more than a year of fighting.

Mr. Putin told Mr. Xi that he had read a recent proposal by Beijing to resolve the Ukraine conflict and that Moscow was “always open to the negotiation process.”

Speaking through an interpreter, Mr. Xi told the Russian president that their countries have “many similar goals” and that “with our cooperation and interaction, we will definitely achieve these goals.”

The pair then shared an elaborate lunch including venison and quail, according to Russian state media. Mr. Putin will host a state dinner for Mr. Xi on Tuesday evening.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said China is supporting Russia as it commits “crimes” in Ukraine.

“That President Xi is traveling to Russia days after the International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant for President Putin suggests that China feels no responsibility to hold the Kremlin accountable for the atrocities committed in Ukraine, and instead of even condemning them, it would rather provide diplomatic cover for Russia to continue to commit those very crimes,” Mr. Blinken told reporters Monday as the State Department released a report on global human rights.

China, which touts its relationship with Russia as a “friendship without limits,” has sought to cushion the blow of Western sanctions on Moscow by buying more Russian oil and natural gas and boosting shipments of electronics, computer chips and other goods.

It has also offered consistent diplomatic support to Mr. Putin. China’s Foreign Ministry on Monday chided the International Criminal Court, saying it should “steer clear of politicization and double standards” after it issued an arrest warrant for Mr. Putin for alleged war crimes.

U.S. officials warn that Beijing is considering sending weapons to help Mr. Putin, whose armed forces have been hindered by supply shortages. Washington and Europe last month dismissed out of hand a Chinese diplomatic initiative to end the Ukraine conflict.

All of that makes it likely, analysts said, that the main audience for China’s public-diplomacy campaign is countries in the developing world where it is seeking to win influence and present an alternative to the West’s efforts to back Ukraine.

In late February, Beijing issued a 12-point document, titled “China’s Position on the Political Settlement of the Ukraine Crisis,” using its preferred moniker for Russia’s yearlong invasion of Ukraine.

The paper offers few details and presents a list of conditions largely in keeping with international norms, such as respect for territorial integrity and the cessation of hostilities.

The Chinese proposal contains several barbs aimed at the U.S., whose arms transfers to Ukraine Beijing says have added to suffering in the war. The plan calls for an end to unilateral sanctions and for all parties to abandon what it terms a Cold War mentality.

“The paper gives China another chance to blame the U.S. as the primary instigator of the conflict and the biggest force in prolonging it,” said Alexander Gabuev, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

Russia is currently undertaking a broad offensive in eastern Ukraine. Meanwhile, Kyiv is gearing up for its own counteroffensive, expected later this spring, hoping a continuing mobilization and new Western arms deliveries will give it the punch to push the Russians as far back as possible before winter sets in again.

China’s Ukraine proposal is part of a broader effort to show that it can be effective at what Mr. Xi has termed “big-power diplomacy.”

Earlier this month, Beijing brokered an agreement to restore diplomatic relations between Saudi Arabia and Iran, in which it leveraged economic ties with both countries to help bring the longtime rivals together.

China even secured agreement from Iran and a number of Arab countries to meet in a leaders summit in Beijing later this year, people familiar with the situation have told the Journal.

The U.S. Is Not Yet Ready For The Era of ‘Great Power’ Conflict

Beijing’s attempts to raise its diplomatic stature are in part a response to what it describes as U.S.-led efforts to contain China.

Some critics say the Chinese plan is less of a road map to peace than a way of deflecting criticism over its relations with Russia, which is becoming slowly more dependent on Chinese money as Western sanctions bite.

“It’s a cover for deepening ties with Russia and pushing back against Western criticism against China,” said Mr. Gabuev. “The optics of the trip are terrible in the West so the peace plan gives Xi an excuse to be traveling to Moscow.”

Mr. Xi has sought to maintain relations with both Moscow and Kyiv. Mr. Xi plans to talk to Mr. Zelensky for the first time since the start of the war, likely after his visit to Moscow.

Last week, Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang made a rare telephone call to his Ukrainian counterpart, Dmytro Kuleba, during which he blamed the U.S. for protracting the crisis and urged that the conflict be solved through negotiation.

Ukraine says there can be no peace until Russian troops leave Ukraine entirely, including the Black Sea peninsula of Crimea and parts of eastern Ukraine that Moscow has occupied since 2014.

Mr. Zelensky praised China’s efforts in publishing a position paper on the conflict and welcomed Beijing’s call to respect nations’ sovereignty, though he said the document included gray areas that needed clarification.

“The fact that China started talking about Ukraine is very good,” he said.

 

Updated: 3-22-2023

China Is Starting To Act Like A Global Power

The U.S. Is Not Yet Ready For The Era of ‘Great Power’ Conflict

Beijing grows bolder in challenging the U.S.-led global order.

BEIJING—China now sees itself as a global power—and it is starting to act like one.

Long reluctant to inject itself into conflicts far from its shores, Beijing is showing a new assertiveness as Xi Jinping begins his third term as the country’s head of state, positioning China to draw like-minded countries to its side and to have a greater say on global matters.

China is emerging from three years of “zero-Covid” isolation to a far more unfriendly West, and signaling that it feels it has the military and economic heft to start shaping the world more to its interests.

Earlier this month, Beijing surprised the world by brokering a detente between Saudi Arabia and Iran, a bold foray into the Middle East’s turbulent rivalries.

Now, Mr. Xi says he wants to insert himself into efforts to end the Russia-Ukraine war, as he returns home from several days of warm meetings in Moscow with Russian President Vladimir Putin, and plans his first conversation since the beginning of the war with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

The moves might not result in lasting diplomatic breakthroughs, and China’s perceived inclination toward Russia on the Ukraine war, highlighted again this week in Moscow, has undercut Mr. Xi’s credibility as a neutral arbiter among Kyiv’s backers.

Early Wednesday, as Mr. Xi was preparing to depart Moscow, Russia launched a new wave of missiles and armed drones into Ukraine, killing four people in a school dormitory in the Kyiv region.

But China’s willingness to wade into these conflicts in such a strident way marks a new phase in the country’s vision for itself and its role in the world.

It sends a message that China and its friends are no longer obliged to conform to a U.S.-led global order, and that Beijing poses a challenge to Washington as it tries to shape a world it sees as divided between democracies and autocracies.


 

China long hewed to a policy of biding one’s time while slowly building up its economic, political and military might.

That began to shift as China’s economic and political interests came to span the globe, with infrastructure projects tied to its Belt and Road initiative in Latin America, Africa and Southeast Asia.

It has hundreds of billions of dollars of investments and growing diasporas worldwide that must be protected, as well as a voracious appetite for strategic resources abroad.

In addition to his interventions on the Russia-Ukraine and Saudi-Iran conflicts, Mr. Xi has in the past few weeks promoted three new initiatives expanding his vision for the world, titled the Global Development Initiative, the Global Security Initiative and the Global Civilization Initiative.

Though short on the particulars, their sweeping ideals seek to position China as a country with which nations that are wary of U.S. hegemony can do business, seek security guarantees and find respect.

“In advancing modernization, China will neither tread the old path of colonization and plunder, nor the crooked path taken by some countries to seek hegemony once they grow strong,” Mr. Xi said in a speech this month as he unveiled his Global Civilization Initiative, cautioning unnamed countries to “refrain from imposing their own values or models on others.”

Mr. Xi also warned darkly of a U.S.-led effort to contain and suppress China at legislative sessions this month that confirmed his third term as China’s president.

Mr. Xi’s sharpened rhetoric reflects a belief that China can serve as a counterpoint to the West and its framing of a showdown between democracy and autocracy.

Rather than an authoritarian country, as President Biden would have it, Mr. Xi wants nations around the world, particularly in the Global South, to regard China as a voice of reason, an economic model and a benign power that can stand up to a U.S.-led Western order that it sees as hectoring and bullying.

“Coming out of Covid, there’s an attempt to put China forward in a different light, and a large part of it is to create a contrast between the roles that China and the U.S. play,” said Paul Haenle, a China expert at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

“They honestly believe they have a different way of being a major power and exerting its influence in the world and they believe the U.S. is too security-focused, that it uses its military too often.”

Mr. Haenle represented the U.S. at the Beijing-organized six-party talks aimed at addressing North Korea’s nuclear weapons program—a tentative foray by Beijing into international diplomacy in the mid-2000s that eventually fell apart.

Today, he sees a strikingly different approach from China, particularly in its willingness to take risks on the global stage.

“Xi Jinping is much more tolerant of risk than anyone had anticipated,” he said. “He’s also taking bolder steps than China has been willing to do in the past, both with Iran-Saudi Arabia, and with regards to Ukraine.”

The U.S. Is Not Yet Ready For The Era of ‘Great Power’ Conflict

Mr. Xi has been emboldened by his success in asserting Beijing’s authority in Hong Kong, Xinjiang and the South China Sea, despite Western denunciations of his actions.

In some of these cases, Beijing found considerable support among developing nations for its portrayal of the U.S. as hypocritical and self-serving, seeking only to block China’s rise.

In Xinjiang, the far western region of China where the U.S. and its allies have accused Mr. Xi of carrying out forms of genocide against Muslim minorities, China’s vigorous diplomatic efforts have resulted in virtual silence from Muslim-majority countries—including from Saudi Arabia and Iran, the two rivals that China brought together in secret meetings in Beijing this month.

Oriana Skylar Mastro, a fellow at Stanford University’s Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies, said that while some of China’s rhetoric falls flat in Western capitals, “there are a lot of studies that show that those themes work particularly well in the developing world—the idea of the U.S. resorting to military intervention, and the idea of China being peacemakers.”

There is also an element of defense in Mr. Xi’s newly energized diplomacy. In the three years that Mr. Xi’s strict zero-Covid policy effectively sealed his country off from the outside world, Mr. Biden’s efforts to rally a global coalition of wealthy Western-aligned countries have in many ways created a far more daunting international environment for China.

Mounting suspicion of China’s motives has replaced the largely welcoming embrace that China had grown accustomed to in previous decades, a shift that began toward the end of the Trump administration.

The U.S. Is Not Yet Ready For The Era of ‘Great Power’ Conflict

Then-President Donald Trump was largely alone in taking a more confrontational approach to Beijing. But a post-Covid China can now look out around and find a ring of countries, including South Korea, Japan, the Philippines, Australia and India, that are far more suspicious of China’s intentions and more inclined to align themselves with Washington—a development Mr. Xi attributes to Mr. Biden’s efforts at “containment, encirclement and suppression,” a charge that Washington denies.

Farther afield, China’s perceived alignment with Russia has sapped any momentum that Beijing had enjoyed in Western European capitals, and even in the far more favorable Eastern European countries that, before the Ukraine war, had appeared to be falling more closely into Beijing’s orbit.

Mr. Xi is also concerned about growing international attention and sympathy for Taiwan, the self-ruled island that Beijing claims as its own.

The island’s leaders have awakened and rallied its public to the potential for conflict and moved quickly to upgrade its capabilities—all while raising its profile among Western powers and emerging as a symbol of defiance against Mr. Xi.

Scoring diplomatic victories on the global stage helps serve as testimony that Washington’s efforts to isolate or challenge China won’t work.

Back home in China, Mr. Xi’s message that the U.S. is encircling the country to forestall China’s rise offers a powerful narrative of grievance that feeds nationalism.

It builds on the Communist Party’s longstanding interpretation of modern history as a period in which predatory Western nations, taking advantage of China’s weakness in the late 19th century, exploited the country for selfish ends and held it back.

On Tuesday, Mr. Xi told Mr. Putin that the world was going through changes unseen in a century, using a favored formulation of the Chinese leader to reference this dark period in the country’s past—and to point ahead to the brighter future he hopes to bring.

While jumping into the fray on Russia-Ukraine and Saudi-Iran diplomacy, China has been active on other fronts recently, winning diplomatic recognition from Honduras, one of Taiwan’s last remaining allies, and prompting Washington to race to reopen its long-shut embassy in the Solomon Islands, where diplomatic advances by Beijing have raised concerns in Washington of rising Chinese influence across the Pacific islands.

China has also stepped gingerly into Afghanistan, where the U.S.’s hasty retreat in August 2021 offered it a chance to establish itself as a more influential player.

In Myanmar, rebels called this month for Beijing to intervene in that country’s civil war, another reflection of China’s growing stature.

China last year positioned itself as a neutral mediator in the Horn of Africa.

It remains to be seen whether Mr. Xi’s efforts will allow Beijing to carve out a role for itself on the global stage similar to the one Washington has.

Like the U.S., China has found that its growing overseas footprint, particularly in countries such as Pakistan, can get it bogged down in security concerns and complaints it is acting as an imperialist power, precisely the charge Beijing has leveled against the U.S.

Entanglements in overseas conflicts could sap China’s dynamism, and if its peace deals fall apart, it could set back Beijing’s objectives by making the country look naive or impotent, undermining confidence in China among the countries that it is trying to win to its side.

Saudi-Iran mistrust runs deep, and making further headway might prove difficult. On Russia-Ukraine, even Beijing’s backers say that its 12-point peace plan sidesteps the most nettlesome issues dividing Moscow and Kyiv.

Even so, said Dr. Mastro of Stanford University, Beijing might not need to deliver world peace to advance its interests. It merely wants to position itself as a benevolent power in a world dominated by Washington and U.S. military power.

“They are saying how embarrassing it is to the U.S. that they were able to do this on Saudi-Iran,” said Dr. Mastro, who is also a nonresident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, a Washington think tank. “They’re trying to show the world that they are not a threat, that the United States is a threat, and this is another data point.”

 

Updated: 3-23-2023

Not Everyone Is Laughing Off Xi’s Plan For Peace In Ukraine

In much of the Global South, the Chinese leader is seen as a peacemaker while many Western leaders are regarded as warmongers.

The Global South Sees Xi As Peacemaker

It was easy enough for the US and other Western governments to dismiss China’s peace plan for the war in Ukraine when it was proposed last month — and there was scorn to spare when President Xi Jinping raised it again during his recent visit with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Critics point out that the plan secures Russian territorial gains and gives Putin breathing space to rebuild his badly damaged fighting force.

But Pankaj Mishra argues that, for many outside the West, the Chinese leader comes off as a global statesman. Nations in the Global South that want an end to the war — and the inflation and shortages that have accompanied it — welcome his offer to mediate between the belligerents.

Many African and Latin American leaders buy Putin’s argument that NATO and the US are responsible for provoking the war.

China benefits from having little historical baggage in many former Western zones of influence around the world. Also helpful to China is the US’s long record of failed wars, abortive nation-building and hypocritical moralizing.

“This week’s 20th anniversary of the war in Iraq was a reminder to many of that conflict’s still unaccountable perpetrators and uniformly abysmal legacies, from Islamic State to Donald Trump,” Pankaj writes.

At the same time, China is getting credit for mediating an agreement between Iran and Saudi Arabia, which holds out the prospect of ending the long and bloody civil war in Yemen. This further burnishes Xi’s peace-making credentials.

Even if his Ukraine plan goes nowhere, China’s new reputation as mediator will grow in relative terms so long as the US seems more committed to war than peace.

Updated: 3-29-2023

Zelensky Urges China’s Xi To Visit Ukraine

Ukrainian president warns that Moscow would be emboldened by a victory in the eastern city of Bakhmut.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky is urging Chinese leader Xi Jinping to meet with him as Beijing maneuvers itself as a potential peacemaker with strong ties to Moscow.

Mr. Zelensky’s overtures are a test of China’s push to expand its influence on the global stage while maintaining Beijing’s claim of neutrality in the Ukraine war.

Mr. Xi met Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow last week in a visit that reaffirmed the countries’ economic and political partnership. Now Kyiv is seeking to counter Russia’s embrace of China with its own diplomatic efforts.

“We are ready to see him here,” Mr. Zelensky said in a video interview with the Associated Press. Mr. Zelensky told reporters last month that Ukrainian diplomats had signaled to Beijing his willingness to meet.

“We would like to meet,” he told reporters. “It’s in the interests of Ukraine today.”

Mr. Xi hasn’t spoken with Mr. Zelensky since the start of the war, but Beijing released an ambiguous position paper calling for peace talks last month and indicated it wants to play a greater role in any settlement.

“We do maintain communication with all relevant parties, including Ukraine, but I currently have no information to provide on the communication between leaders,” said Mao Ning, a spokeswoman for China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, when asked about Mr. Zelensky’s invitation during a regularly scheduled news conference on Wednesday.

Mr. Xi had been expected to call Mr. Zelensky for the first time since the start of the war after his trip to Moscow, The Wall Street Journal has reported. But Mr. Zelensky told the Associated Press there had been no recent contact between the leaders.

“I want to speak with him. I had contact with him before the full-scale war. But during all this year, more than one year, I didn’t have,” Mr. Zelensky said.

The Ukrainian leader told the AP the Chinese president didn’t voice full support for the Russian assault on Ukraine during Mr. Xi’s visit to Russia last week.

Washington has been wary of Mr. Xi’s recent diplomacy and accused him of providing cover for Mr. Putin. The U.S. said last month that China was considering delivering artillery and drones to Russian forces.

China, which has become an important economic lifeline for Russia as it faces Western sanctions and has sold it microchips and other technology that can be used for military purposes, so far doesn’t appear to have provided lethal weapons, U.S. and Ukrainian officials say. China has denied it is contemplating such action.

Asked about Mr. Zelensky’s appeal to the Chinese leader, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov on Wednesday said Moscow highly appreciates China’s balanced position on Ukraine and had no right to advise on Mr. Xi’s contacts.

Ukraine has broadened its outreach to world leaders besides its close Western allies. Japan’s prime minister visited Kyiv earlier this month, and Kyiv has also worked with Saudi Arabia, a conservative monarchy with a burgeoning relationship with Moscow, to help broker a prisoner exchange with Russia last year.

Mr. Zelensky also sent a letter to Mr. Xi that was delivered to Chinese officials at the World Economic Forum in Davos this year.

“Ultimately, China has more interest in strengthening its ties with Russia than it does with Ukraine,” said Bonnie Glaser, managing director of the Indo-Pacific Program at the German Marshall Fund.

“If you look at it from Zelensky’s point of view, why not engage with China, because ultimately China could have influence on Russia. I doubt anybody has a lot of leverage over Putin but Xi Jinping has a good relationship with him.”

Separately, Ukraine said its forces shot down a Russian warplane near the eastern city of Bakhmut while repelling multiple attempts by the Kremlin’s forces to seize the town, which has become an important prize in the broader war.

Bakhmut, a small city in Ukraine’s eastern Donetsk region, has become a central battleground in Russia’s assault on the country, with the fight there taking on increasing symbolic and strategic importance to both sides after more than six months of brutal combat.

Ukraine’s forces have held out in the town against overwhelming Russian firepower after the Kremlin’s forces began targeting the area last summer.

Mr. Zelensky said that if Russia were to succeed in capturing Bakhmut, Moscow could begin building international support for a negotiated settlement that would force Ukraine into unacceptable compromises, according to his interview with the AP.

“If he will feel some blood—smell that we are weak—he will push, push, push,” he said.

If Russia were to seize Bakhmut, he said Mr. Putin would “sell this victory to the West, to his society, to China, to Iran.”

Ukraine’s air force said in a statement early Wednesday that its gunners had shot down a Russian Su-24 bomber on the Bakhmut front a day earlier.

“The enemy makes further attempts to seize the town of Bakhmut. However, our defenders courageously hold the city, while repelling numerous enemy attacks,” the Ukrainian military general staff said in its morning update on the fighting.

Russian forces, led by the paramilitary Wagner Group, have dedicated immense firepower and wave upon wave of newly recruited fighters in an attempt to capture Bakhmut in recent months.

The battle has leveled much of the city and inflicted heavy losses on both sides, causing some western military analysts to question the wisdom of Ukraine continuing to hold the city.

Moscow’s assault on the city gathered momentum in January when Russian forces captured the nearby mining town of Soledar. That momentum has slowed in recent weeks with the tempo of Russian attacks abating and Wagner’s leader complaining about a lack of ammunition.

A Ukrainian commander in the area said on Tuesday that Ukraine’s efforts to exhaust Russian forces in Bakhmut helped it recapture territory elsewhere in the country.

Meanwhile, Rafael Mariano Grossi, the director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, visited Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia nuclear-power plant, which has been the subject of global safety concerns since Russian forces seized it last year, the Ukrainian nuclear energy agency said. Mr. Grossi said earlier this week that he would visit the plant to assess its safety and security.

Separately on Wednesday, explosions rocked the Russian-occupied city of Melitopol in southeastern Ukraine, cutting power to parts of the city, according to Russian and Ukrainian officials.

“Melitopol—it’s loud! Several explosions at once are heard in all districts of the city,” said Ivan Fedorov, the exiled mayor of Melitopol, in a post on his Telegram channel. “The occupiers are fussing.”

Russian state newswire TASS reported that the early morning explosions in Melitopol damaged the city’s power supply system and cut off electricity in parts of the city and nearby villages. There were no casualties.

The Ukrainian military also warned of “a high probability of further missile and airstrikes across Ukraine” on Wednesday. Russian forces have launched numerous missile and drone attacks on Ukrainian civilian housing and infrastructure far behind the front lines in recent months, part of what Ukrainian and Western officials say is a strategy to demoralize the broader population at a time when front lines in eastern Ukraine have remained static.

Meanwhile, Ukraine’s Operational Command South said its missile and artillery units destroyed a motorboat that was used to move a Russian sabotage and reconnaissance group between the Dnipro islands as well as an Orlan-10 winged observation drone.

 

Updated: 3-31-2023

China, Australia To Hold Trade Talks Next Week: Guardian

Chinese and Australian officials will meet in Beijing next week for talks related to their trade dispute, Guardian Australia reported.

The discussions will be “highly technical,” the paper said, citing Assistant Trade Minister Tim Ayres. Ayres was speaking from China where he attended the Boao Forum this week, and met Chinese Vice Commerce Minister Wang Shouwen.

Frosty trade relations between the countries have shown signs of thawing since Australia’s center-left Labor government was elected in 2022.

Sanctions placed on Australian exports in 2020, following calls by then-Prime Minister Scott Morrison for an international Covid-19 investigation, have already been eased on commodities like coal.

Trade impediments were “damaging” regional Australian communities which haven’t been able to find alternative markets for their produce, Ayres told the Guardian.

Next week’s talks will include officials from Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and China’s Ministry of Commerce, according to the report.

Australia’s Trade Minister Don Farrell and Chinese Commerce Minister Wang Wentao held virtual discussions in February, the first between top trade ministers on both sides since 2019.

Farrell is expected also expected to head to Beijing this month to discuss a further relaxation of restrictions on Australian exports, including lobsters and wine.

Farrell has said he doesn’t expect Australia’s plans to buy a fleet of nuclear submarines under the so-called Aukus agreement to derail progress in rebuilding relations with China.

 

Updated: 4-5-2023

China Can’t Be Peace Mediator For Ukraine, Lithuania Says

* Foreign Minister Landsbergis Speaks To Bloomberg Television
* China Stance Wouldn’t Allow Ukraine To Keep ‘Full Sovereignty’

China cannot act as a peace mediator over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine as Beijing’s stance would rob Kyiv of its sovereignty, according to Lithuanian Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis.

“We’ve already seen that they are aligning themselves, or they want Russia to align to their version of the global order,” Landsbergis told Bloomberg TV’s Maria Tadeo after a meeting of his NATO counterparts in Brussels. “And definitely in that world order, Ukraine is not able to maintain its full sovereignty.”

European leaders are trying to calibrate their relationship with China as it becomes an increasingly difficult interlocutor, partly given President Xi Jinping’s close ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

French President Emmanuel Macron said earlier Wednesday that China can play a “major role” in Ukraine while adding that he opposes moves to decouple from the world’s second-biggest economy, as he pushes Europe to take a more moderate stance toward Beijing than the US is demanding.

Moments after Macron landed in China for a three-day visit, he made clear his strategy to appease tensions and find common ground with Beijing on several fronts, starting with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. He suggested that China could use its close ties with Russia to push for peace.

China sees “Russia already as some sort of a satellite. And they currently do not have, but they’re planning to have, Russia exactly where they want it,” Landsbergis said. He rejected China’s proposals for an end to Russia’s war in Ukraine. “It’s not a peace plan. Definitely,” he said. “You cannot have full sovereignty of a country, and loss of territory.”

Business Executives

Asked about European leaders flying into Beijing with business executives, Landsbergis replied: “Our consumers, people in Europe should not have to pay the price for decisions made during business trips to Beijing.” Macron’s group includes a delegation of executives from large and small French companies.

Despite pressure from the US for a tougher stance on China, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, who is also visiting China this week, has urged the bloc to scale back the risks in dealing with Beijing rather than decouple completely in response to a new era of state security and control.

Landsbergis said Lithuania had chosen to decouple from China, but that he understood not all countries could do the same. He added: “De-risking cannot be business as usual.”

Putin’s announcement that he would station nuclear weapons in Belarus, just days after signing a declaration with Xi, amounts to a “slap in the face” to China, Landsbergis said in separate remarks.

He said the move amounted to Russia pushing back against China’s attempts to encroach on it as Beijing will soon have Moscow “where they want them — weak militarily, super weak economically, basically a bankrupt country with no allies whatsoever,” Landsbergis said.

 

Updated: 4-3-2023

Malaysia, China to Discuss ‘Asian Fund’ To Cut US Dollar Dependency

The U.S. Is Not Yet Ready For The Era of ‘Great Power’ Conflict

* Malaysia PM Anwar Revives Proposal For Asian Monetary Fund
* President Xi Jinping Welcomes Further Talks, Says Anwar

China is open to talks with Malaysia on forming an Asian Monetary Fund, said Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim, reviving a decades old proposal to reduce reliance on the dollar.

Anwar said he proposed setting up the fund at the Boao forum in Hainan last week, stressing the need to reduce reliance on the dollar or the International Monetary Fund.

“When I had a meeting with President Xi Jinping, he immediately said, ‘I refer to Anwar’s proposal on the Asian Monetary Fund’, and he welcomed discussions,” Anwar told the Malaysian parliament on Tuesday. Anwar was on a state visit to China last week to steer ties post-Covid.

“There is no reason for Malaysia to continue depending on the dollar,” he added. Malaysia’s central bank is already working on enabling the two nations to negotiate on trade matters using the ringgit and renminbi, said Anwar, who doubles as finance minister.

The Malaysian leader’s comments come just months after former officials in Singapore discussed what economies in the region should be doing to mitigate the risks of a still-strong dollar that’s weakened local currencies and become a tool of economic statecraft.

The dollar’s strength is a headache for Asian nations including Malaysia, which is a net importer of food items. The Bloomberg dollar index reached a record high in September 2022, as the rally in the greenback sent the ringgit and other Southeast Asian currencies to multi-decade lows.

Anwar said Tuesday he had initially mooted forming the Asian Monetary Fund during his first stint as finance minister in the 1990s. His idea at that time didn’t gain traction as the US dollar was still seen strong, he said.

“But now with the strength of the economies in China, Japan and others, I think we should discuss this — at least consider an Asian Monetary Fund, and, secondly, the use of our respective currencies,” he said.

Anwar also revealed to lawmakers the breakdown of the record 170 billion ringgit ($39 billion) investment China had committed to Malaysia.

This includes an initial investment of 2 billion ringgit this year in Zhejiang Geely Holding Group and Proton’s automotive high-tech valley project, which will increase to 32 billion ringgit.

Rongsheng Petrochemical Co. will also increase their activities in Pengerang, Johor with an 80 billion ringgit project, Anwar said. Rongsheng is one of China’s biggest refiners.

China’s Yuan Replaces Dollar As Most Traded Currency In Russia

* Cooperation With China Has Deepened As Sanctions Took Effect
* Kremlin Urges Conversion From ‘Toxic’ To ‘Friendly’ Currencies

China’s yuan has replaced the US dollar as the most traded currency in Russia, a year after the invasion of Ukraine led to a slew of Western sanctions against Moscow.

The yuan surpassed the dollar in monthly trading volume in February for the first time, and the difference became more pronounced in March, according to data compiled by Bloomberg based on daily transaction reports from the Moscow Exchange. Before the invasion, the yuan’s trading volume on the Russian market was negligible.

The U.S. Is Not Yet Ready For The Era of ‘Great Power’ Conflict

The switch comes after additional sanctions this year affected the few banks in Russia that retained the ability to make cross-border transfers in dollars and other currencies of countries branded “unfriendly” by the Kremlin.

Raiffeisen Bank International AG, whose Russian branch remains one of the main conduits for international payments in the country, was among lenders that came under elevated pressure from European and US authorities.

Russia has deepened its ties with China since the Feb. 2022 invasion prompted a break in relations with the West. In March, Chinese President Xi Jinping made Moscow his first visit abroad after his reelection and promised the Kremlin expanded cooperation in the areas of trade, investment, supply chains, mega projects, energy and hi-tech.

The U.S. Is Not Yet Ready For The Era of ‘Great Power’ Conflict

Sweeping sanctions targeting Russia’s financial system have forced the Kremlin and Russian companies to switch their foreign-trade transactions from the dollar and euro to currencies of countries that have declined to join any restrictions.

The Finance Ministry converted its market operations to the yuan instead of the dollar earlier this year and developed a new structure for the national wealth fund to hold 60% of its assets in yuan.

The Bank of Russia regularly calls on companies and citizens to move their assets into the ruble or “friendly” currencies to avoid the risk of having them blocked or frozen.

Despite all that, the dollar remained the most popular currency on the Russian market until now, only rarely losing out to the yuan in terms of volumes on any given trading day, according to exchange data compiled by Bloomberg.

Also, although the yuan has been more popular in Russia, China’s capital account controls as well as geopolitical concerns among global investors remain a barrier as Beijing seeks to promote the currency’s usage overseas.

Global foreign-exchange reserves allocation in the yuan accounted for about 2.7% of the total amount by end of last year, down from the peak at 2.9% in the first quarter, IMF data showed.

“Now there are fewer dollars on the market as Russia’s revenues decreased due to the oil-price drop and a decrease in exports,” said Iskander Lutsko, a strategist at ITI London. At the same time, “commodity imports from Russia to China are up by 29%, although exports from China are stagnating.”

 

 

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A Case For Bitcoin As Recession Hedge In A Diversified Investment Portfolio (#GotBitcoin?)

SEC Guidance Gives Ammo To Lawsuit Claiming XRP Is Unregistered Security (#GotBitcoin?)

15 Countries To Develop Crypto Transaction Tracking System: Report (#GotBitcoin?)

US Department Of Commerce Offering 6-Figure Salary To Crypto Expert (#GotBitcoin?)

Mastercard Is Building A Team To Develop Crypto, Wallet Projects (#GotBitcoin?)

Canadian Bitcoin Educator Scams The Scammer And Donates Proceeds (#GotBitcoin?)

Amazon Wants To Build A Blockchain For Ads, New Job Listing Shows (#GotBitcoin?)

Shield Bitcoin Wallets From Theft Via Time Delay (#GotBitcoin?)

Blockstream Launches Bitcoin Mining Farm With Fidelity As Early Customer (#GotBitcoin?)

Commerzbank Tests Blockchain Machine To Machine Payments With Daimler (#GotBitcoin?)

Bitcoin’s Historical Returns Look Very Attractive As Online Banks Lower Payouts On Savings Accounts (#GotBitcoin?)

Man Takes Bitcoin Miner Seller To Tribunal Over Electricity Bill And Wins (#GotBitcoin?)

Bitcoin’s Computing Power Sets Record As Over 100K New Miners Go Online (#GotBitcoin?)

Walmart Coin And Libra Perform Major Public Relations For Bitcoin (#GotBitcoin?)

Judge Says Buying Bitcoin Via Credit Card Not Necessarily A Cash Advance (#GotBitcoin?)

Poll: If You’re A Stockowner Or Crypto-Currency Holder. What Will You Do When The Recession Comes?

1 In 5 Crypto Holders Are Women, New Report Reveals (#GotBitcoin?)

Beating Bakkt, Ledgerx Is First To Launch ‘Physical’ Bitcoin Futures In Us (#GotBitcoin?)

Facebook Warns Investors That Libra Stablecoin May Never Launch (#GotBitcoin?)

Government Money Printing Is ‘Rocket Fuel’ For Bitcoin (#GotBitcoin?)

Bitcoin-Friendly Square Cash App Stock Price Up 56% In 2019 (#GotBitcoin?)

Safeway Shoppers Can Now Get Bitcoin Back As Change At 894 US Stores (#GotBitcoin?)

TD Ameritrade CEO: There’s ‘Heightened Interest Again’ With Bitcoin (#GotBitcoin?)

Venezuela Sets New Bitcoin Volume Record Thanks To 10,000,000% Inflation (#GotBitcoin?)

Newegg Adds Bitcoin Payment Option To 73 More Countries (#GotBitcoin?)

China’s Schizophrenic Relationship With Bitcoin (#GotBitcoin?)

More Companies Build Products Around Crypto Hardware Wallets (#GotBitcoin?)

Bakkt Is Scheduled To Start Testing Its Bitcoin Futures Contracts Today (#GotBitcoin?)

Bitcoin Network Now 8 Times More Powerful Than It Was At $20K Price (#GotBitcoin?)

Crypto Exchange BitMEX Under Investigation By CFTC: Bloomberg (#GotBitcoin?)

“Bitcoin An ‘Unstoppable Force,” Says US Congressman At Crypto Hearing (#GotBitcoin?)

Bitcoin Network Is Moving $3 Billion Daily, Up 210% Since April (#GotBitcoin?)

Cryptocurrency Startups Get Partial Green Light From Washington

Fundstrat’s Tom Lee: Bitcoin Pullback Is Healthy, Fewer Searches Аre Good (#GotBitcoin?)

Bitcoin Lightning Nodes Are Snatching Funds From Bad Actors (#GotBitcoin?)

The Provident Bank Now Offers Deposit Services For Crypto-Related Entities (#GotBitcoin?)

Bitcoin Could Help Stop News Censorship From Space (#GotBitcoin?)

US Sanctions On Iran Crypto Mining — Inevitable Or Impossible? (#GotBitcoin?)

US Lawmaker Reintroduces ‘Safe Harbor’ Crypto Tax Bill In Congress (#GotBitcoin?)

EU Central Bank Won’t Add Bitcoin To Reserves — Says It’s Not A Currency (#GotBitcoin?)

The Miami Dolphins Now Accept Bitcoin And Litecoin Crypt-Currency Payments (#GotBitcoin?)

Trump Bashes Bitcoin And Alt-Right Is Mad As Hell (#GotBitcoin?)

Goldman Sachs Ramps Up Development Of New Secret Crypto Project (#GotBitcoin?)

Blockchain And AI Bond, Explained (#GotBitcoin?)

Grayscale Bitcoin Trust Outperformed Indexes In First Half Of 2019 (#GotBitcoin?)

XRP Is The Worst Performing Major Crypto Of 2019 (GotBitcoin?)

Bitcoin Back Near $12K As BTC Shorters Lose $44 Million In One Morning (#GotBitcoin?)

As Deutsche Bank Axes 18K Jobs, Bitcoin Offers A ‘Plan ฿”: VanEck Exec (#GotBitcoin?)

Argentina Drives Global LocalBitcoins Volume To Highest Since November (#GotBitcoin?)

‘I Would Buy’ Bitcoin If Growth Continues — Investment Legend Mobius (#GotBitcoin?)

Lawmakers Push For New Bitcoin Rules (#GotBitcoin?)

Facebook’s Libra Is Bad For African Americans (#GotBitcoin?)

Crypto Firm Charity Announces Alliance To Support Feminine Health (#GotBitcoin?)

Canadian Startup Wants To Upgrade Millions Of ATMs To Sell Bitcoin (#GotBitcoin?)

Trump Says US ‘Should Match’ China’s Money Printing Game (#GotBitcoin?)

Casa Launches Lightning Node Mobile App For Bitcoin Newbies (#GotBitcoin?)

Bitcoin Rally Fuels Market In Crypto Derivatives (#GotBitcoin?)

World’s First Zero-Fiat ‘Bitcoin Bond’ Now Available On Bloomberg Terminal (#GotBitcoin?)

Buying Bitcoin Has Been Profitable 98.2% Of The Days Since Creation (#GotBitcoin?)

Another Crypto Exchange Receives License For Crypto Futures

From ‘Ponzi’ To ‘We’re Working On It’ — BIS Chief Reverses Stance On Crypto (#GotBitcoin?)

These Are The Cities Googling ‘Bitcoin’ As Interest Hits 17-Month High (#GotBitcoin?)

Venezuelan Explains How Bitcoin Saves His Family (#GotBitcoin?)

Quantum Computing Vs. Blockchain: Impact On Cryptography

This Fund Is Riding Bitcoin To Top (#GotBitcoin?)

Bitcoin’s Surge Leaves Smaller Digital Currencies In The Dust (#GotBitcoin?)

Bitcoin Exchange Hits $1 Trillion In Trading Volume (#GotBitcoin?)

Bitcoin Breaks $200 Billion Market Cap For The First Time In 17 Months (#GotBitcoin?)

You Can Now Make State Tax Payments In Bitcoin (#GotBitcoin?)

Religious Organizations Make Ideal Places To Mine Bitcoin (#GotBitcoin?)

Goldman Sacs And JP Morgan Chase Finally Concede To Crypto-Currencies (#GotBitcoin?)

Bitcoin Heading For Fifth Month Of Gains Despite Price Correction (#GotBitcoin?)

Breez Reveals Lightning-Powered Bitcoin Payments App For IPhone (#GotBitcoin?)

Big Four Auditing Firm PwC Releases Cryptocurrency Auditing Software (#GotBitcoin?)

Amazon-Owned Twitch Quietly Brings Back Bitcoin Payments (#GotBitcoin?)

JPMorgan Will Pilot ‘JPM Coin’ Stablecoin By End Of 2019: Report (#GotBitcoin?)

Is There A Big Short In Bitcoin? (#GotBitcoin?)

Coinbase Hit With Outage As Bitcoin Price Drops $1.8K In 15 Minutes

Samourai Wallet Releases Privacy-Enhancing CoinJoin Feature (#GotBitcoin?)

There Are Now More Than 5,000 Bitcoin ATMs Around The World (#GotBitcoin?)

You Can Now Get Bitcoin Rewards When Booking At Hotels.Com (#GotBitcoin?)

North America’s Largest Solar Bitcoin Mining Farm Coming To California (#GotBitcoin?)

Bitcoin On Track For Best Second Quarter Price Gain On Record (#GotBitcoin?)

Bitcoin Hash Rate Climbs To New Record High Boosting Network Security (#GotBitcoin?)

Bitcoin Exceeds 1Million Active Addresses While Coinbase Custodies $1.3B In Assets

Why Bitcoin’s Price Suddenly Surged Back $5K (#GotBitcoin?)

Zebpay Becomes First Exchange To Add Lightning Payments For All Users (#GotBitcoin?)

Coinbase’s New Customer Incentive: Interest Payments, With A Crypto Twist (#GotBitcoin?)

The Best Bitcoin Debit (Cashback) Cards Of 2019 (#GotBitcoin?)

Real Estate Brokerages Now Accepting Bitcoin (#GotBitcoin?)

Ernst & Young Introduces Tax Tool For Reporting Cryptocurrencies (#GotBitcoin?)

Recession Is Looming, or Not. Here’s How To Know (#GotBitcoin?)

How Will Bitcoin Behave During A Recession? (#GotBitcoin?)

Many U.S. Financial Officers Think a Recession Will Hit Next Year (#GotBitcoin?)

Definite Signs of An Imminent Recession (#GotBitcoin?)

What A Recession Could Mean for Women’s Unemployment (#GotBitcoin?)

Investors Run Out of Options As Bitcoin, Stocks, Bonds, Oil Cave To Recession Fears (#GotBitcoin?)

Goldman Is Looking To Reduce “Marcus” Lending Goal On Credit (Recession) Caution (#GotBitcoin?)

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