The big wildcard in today’s dramatic escalation in tensions over east Ukraine, is how and when Beijing will react to Putin’s announcement recognizing the Donbass region as independent and immediately deploying “peacekeeping” forces to Donetsk and Lugansk.
A hint as to what may be coming, came earlier on Monday when China said it would impose new sanctions on U.S. defense contractors Raytheon Technologies and Lockheed Martin due to their arms sales to Taiwan, stepping up a feud with Washington over security and Beijing’s strategic ambitions.
Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin announced the move at a daily press briefing, citing a newly passed Anti-Foreign Sanctions Law that took effect in 2021. It was in response to a $100 million deal approved by the US for maintenance of Taiwan’s missile defense systems by the two companies.
“China once again urges the U.S. government and relevant parties to . . . stop arms sales to Taiwan and sever military ties with Taiwan,” Wang said.
“China will continue to take all necessary measures to firmly safeguard its sovereignty and security interests in accordance with the development of the situation,” he said without giving any details.
Today’s decision follows China’s announcement in October 2020 it would impose unspecified sanctions on Lockheed Martin and Raytheon after the U.S. approved $1.8 billion in arms sales to Taiwan; Raytheon, maker of Pratt & Whitney jet engines, said at the time it would “remain committed” to the success of its ties to China’s civil aviation industry, while Lockheed said its presence in the country is limited.
And while the West is united against Russian actions in the Donbas, just as it is united against a possible incursion by China in Taiwan, Russia’s stance on the matter is clear: hours before the Winter Olympics opened two weeks ago, Putin and Xi Jinping declared that they are backing each other over standoffs on Ukraine and Taiwan with a promise to collaborate more against the West.
At the time, Russia voiced its support for China’s stance that Taiwan is an inalienable part of China, and opposition to any form of independence for the island; the announcement was promptly met by an angry response by Taiwan which condemned as “contemptible” the timing of China and Russia’s “no limits” partnership.
So while Beijing has so far been silent in its response to the latest news out of the Kremlin, it would be surprising if China were to voice an opposition to Putin’s plan of action – which was almost certainly crafted with the tacit approval of Beijing – and implicitly side with the west, now that the two countries are clearly formalizing an anti-western axis.