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Nikki Haley Responds to China-Russia Summit with Girl Power

Haley is worried about Russia and China being “best friends.” Her foreign policy would only make them closer.

TOPSHOT-RUSSIA-CHINA-POLITICS-DIPLOMACY

Nikki Haley, currently running a doomed campaign for (vice) president, took to the pages of the Wall Street Journal to spill some foreign policy tea about China, Russia, and the war in Ukraine. “This week’s meeting in Moscow between Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin is the latest proof that China is Russia’s best friend and biggest backer,” Haley writes. “Everyone knows it.” And it's, like, totally not cool.

Haley can continue to base her foreign policy off of her middle-school experiences dealing with mean girls if she chooses—it will not help or harm her chances, which are precisely zero—but China and Russia are not "best friends for life." To torture the metaphor a bit more, they’re "frenemies" at best.

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Xi and Putin’s recent two-day summit in Moscow, which covered issues from trade and technology to media and the military, is evidence of just that. As Putin made clear in his remarks following the summit, the relationship between China and Russia extends only so far as the pair’s interests converge. It’s the proper way to think about bilateral relationships, and a far cry from President Biden giving America’s alliances pseudo-religious qualities by calling them “sacrosanct.”

As things stand now, China and Russia’s interests overlap quite a lot—and the United States shoulders much of the blame. China and Russia, both subject to stringent Western sanctions, agreed to “work together to expand mutual trade,” in the words of the Russian president. To “maintain this momentum” and build upon recent increases in trade, Putin and Xi entered into fourteen different economic agreements for various classes of goods.

There were striking omissions from the summit agreements, however, signaling the limits of China and Russia’s budding relationship. While energy trade expansion remains a crucial part of the deepening economic relationship between Russia and China, a deal on Power of Siberia 2, a proposed gas pipeline that would supply China with more Russian energy via Mongolia, was not a part of the summit’s economic agreements. Also absent from the summit agreements: a deal to provide Russia with weapons or military equipment, though there have been reports that Chinese companies want to sell arms to Russia and others have already sold Russia microchips that can be used in military equipment.

China has mightily benefited from cheap Russian energy in the wake of the war. As has Russia, given its western clients have turned off, or possibly sabotaged, or both, their tap. But inking a massive agreement on Russian energy or providing Russia with military supplies undercuts China’s desire to be a neutral arbiter in the settlement of the Ukraine war, supplanting the United States' position as global peace broker.

Putin and Xi’s joint statement about the war in Ukraine similarly reflected Russia and China’s overlapping mutual interest.

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Both countries expressed desire to avoid escalation in a clear and pointed rebuke of the United States’ increasing involvement on behalf of Ukraine and penchant for dragging NATO allies, willing or not, along with it. “The parties are opposed to any states and their blocs damaging the legitimate security interests of other states in order to obtain military, political and other advantages,” China and Russia wrote, later adding that it “is necessary to respect the legitimate concerns of all countries in the field of security and prevent the formation of bloc confrontation, and halt actions that further fuel the conflict… to the point where it could cross over into an uncontrollable phase.”

Furthermore, according to the statement, “the Chinese side positively assesses the willingness of the Russian side to make efforts to restart peace talks as soon as possible.” Russia, meanwhile, “welcomes China's readiness to play a positive role in a political-diplomatic settlement of the Ukrainian crisis and the constructive ideas set forth in the document drawn up by the Chinese side ‘On China's Position on the Political Settlement of the Ukrainian Crisis,’” a twelve-point plan for the pursuit of peace released by China last month, from which the joint statement drew heavy inspiration.

Even though the joint statement makes it appear everything is going along swimmingly for the Sino-Russian relationship, flowery diplomatic language disguises the expressed limits of their partnership. 

Putin would surely appreciate further commitments from China to assist Russia’s war effort in Ukraine in roundabout ways. As mentioned, this would likely take the form of an agreement for more Russian energy or for Chinese military contractors to sell arms to Russia. This boost could help Russia make gains in Ukraine and any future settlement more favorable.

But China is, for the moment, refusing to help the Russian war effort because further escalation would undercut China’s credibility. If China’s calls for peace are not heeded, it undermines China’s larger political aim to create a political and economic system parallel to that of the west. Putin is forced to take what he can get from China—vague commitments to pursue peace, opposition to bloc-led escalation, and commitments to facilitate a more multipolar world.

America’s political elite, on the other hand, seems utterly unconcerned with escalation in Ukraine. Biden has promised to support Ukraine “as long as it takes.” Haley’s position? As long as it takes, but quicker. She wants America to not only continue the catfight (oh, you thought we were done with the high school girl metaphor?) in Ukraine, she wants to ratchet it up. Haley suggests the United States should be providing the military means for Ukraine to “repel” the Russian invasion. She stops short of “sending a blank check or risking American troops,” but fails to specify what kinds of weapons should be made available to Ukraine that will do the job.

Nevertheless, Nikki persisted. Why should America further entangle and escalate in Ukraine? “China loses if Ukraine wins,” Haley argues. Xi “wants America to shift attention from Ukraine in the short run, because it would give Russia and China an edge in the long run—in Europe, Asia, and world-wide.”

Xi’s government has done a remarkable job placing China in an almost unlosable situation. Haley’s solution would be a definite win for Xi’s China. If Ukraine somehow manages to repel the Russian invasion, Russia will be reduced from a partner to a Chinese patron, providing China with even more power to deal with other regional powers attempting to balance against it.

In almost every other scenario, China is poised to win, too. A Russian victory and the settlement that followed it would likely be brokered, at least in part, by the Chinese, further providing China with diplomatic legitimacy. The best scenario for China seems to be exactly where the Ukraine war is headed. A protracted conflict in Ukraine would further draw U.S. attention, personnel, and stockpile-draining munitions to the European continent, providing China more leeway and leverage in the Pacific. 

The scenario the Chinese want least: The United States decides to cease all military aid to the Ukrainians and forces the Ukrainians into a negotiated peace with Russia. With an end to the war in Ukraine, the U.S. could meaningfully pivot to the Pacific.

This also happens to be the only solution that does not force China and Russia closer together. The only thing that Haley gets right is that Russia and China together is a fearful thought. Together, China and Russia’s population is more than 4.5 times larger than that of the U.S; their combined number of military personnel would be double; and their combined oil reserves would be triple. Their economy would still be smaller, just over 80 percent of the United States' in terms of GDP, but who knows what would happen when China decides to stop vital U.S. exports.

Don’t worry, girl power will make up the gap. The future, I'm told, is female.

Editor's Note: this piece has been edited to reflect that the combined GDP of China and Russia would be just over 80 percent of the United States' GDP, not 80 percent larger than that of the United States. We regret the error.