The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion China is complicit in Russia’s war on Ukraine

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping in Beijing on Feb. 4. (Alexei Druzhinin, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP, File)
4 min

Marco Rubio, a Republican, represents Florida in the U.S. Senate.

The Chinese Communist Party has a long list of sins, including the systematic repression of basic human rights, industrial espionage, the use of slave labor and genocide. Now, the CCP’s complicity in the atrocities Russia is committing in Ukraine can be added to that list.

Twenty-one years ago, China signed a “Treaty of Friendship” with Russia. It might have started as a marriage of convenience, but that relationship has grown only stronger over time, through cooperation at the United Nations, energy deals and military exercises. Earlier this year, the two nations pledged an unprecedented level of cooperation and coordination. And over the past few weeks, Beijing has enabled Russian President Vladimir Putin’s war of aggression.

With China’s support for Putin’s bogus excuses for invading Ukraine (the Chinese foreign ministry blamed the United States and NATO for pushing Russia to the “breaking point”), CCP General Secretary Xi Jinping has once again made his strategic objective clear: dismantle democracies and replace them with authoritarian regimes to undermine, and eventually supplant, the U.S.-led world order.

Marco Rubio discusses this piece in more detail on James Hohmann's podcast, "Please, Go On." Listen now.

Of course, Beijing denies any foreknowledge of the invasion and plays semantic games to avoid openly endorsing Putin’s war. However, official documents speak for themselves.

At the Winter Olympics in Beijing, Putin and Xi announced a “no limits” partnership to deepen their cooperation — likely a veiled reference to the impending attack on Ukraine. More damning, the New York Times reports, China told Russia to refrain from invading until after the Olympics, which is exactly what happened.

As war approached, China turned a blind eye to Moscow’s aggression, refusing to acknowledge it as an invasion. Even though Putin’s troops are now clearly committing war crimes in Ukraine, Beijing refuses to condemn them.

This is yet another display of how little the CCP’s word is worth. China’s foreign minister paid lip service to Ukraine’s “sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity” at the Munich Security Conference right before the invasion. For decades, Beijing has claimed it espouses “non-interference” in other countries’ “internal affairs.” And the CCP consistently denies the validity of what it considers “separatist” movements in Taiwan, Tibet, Inner Mongolia, Hong Kong and Xinjiang. By supporting Putin’s invasion of Ukraine in “defense” of Russian-speaking separatists, Beijing has abandoned its supposed principles in favor of ruthless opportunism.

The world now sees that the CCP’s claimed impartiality and commitment to sovereignty are a shameless, self-serving charade. That means every nation partnering with Beijing on infrastructure projects, technical investment and deployment, or advanced research should question the reliability and security of those relationships. It also means the United States and its European allies must resist perceiving China as a potential “tamer” of Putin, as the CCP might have us do. For many years, the free world has tried, in vain, to persuade Beijing to “tame” North Korea — this time will be no different.

It is naive and dangerous to believe the United States has “shared interests” with a genocidal communist regime. The delusion that we could somehow identify such interests in the absence of shared values is responsible for decades of failed U.S. policy. Instead of cooperating with Beijing, the United States must act to prevent it from strengthening Putin and undermining freedom.

Starved of funds from Europe and the United States, Russian banks are pinning their hopes on a lifeline from China’s financial system. If Beijing crafts a workaround to aid Putin, Americans’ money, in the form of trade and investment, will begin making its way to banks that help finance the Russian military’s campaign. We cannot let this happen — which is why I have introduced a bill that would impose sanctions on any Chinese bank that attempts to help Putin escape the penalties for waging war on Ukraine.

Putin’s invasion of Ukraine has laid bare to the world what some U.S. policymakers have been aware of for some time — that the Moscow-Beijing axis is real, and it is a growing threat to the United States and to freedom worldwide. So significant is the danger presented by this relationship that it demands a fundamental rethink of U.S. strategy.

That begins with a willingness to punish Chinese support for Putin’s invasion. Xi hopes to reap the benefits of a “no limits” partnership with a dictator whose military bombs hospitals and slaughters civilians. To protect our national and economic security, we must ensure that Xi and the CCP pay a price for that partnership.

Marco Rubio discusses this piece in more detail on James Hohmann's podcast, "Please, Go On." Listen now.