Expert unpacks China's long game in Ukraine war with Newshub Nation

As relations between China and the US deteriorate, and ties between Russia and China grow stronger, the spectre of conflict between east and west is rising.

The Economist's Beijing Bureau Chief David Rennie told Newshub Nation from the first moment Russia invaded Ukraine one year ago, "China's official position is that it is neutral". 

However, he added that "very quickly when you spoke to western diplomats in China, they were pretty clear that China's neutrality was fake."

"This has been proved by the fact last year China has been producing narratives that align with the Kremlins and Russia, namely blaming the war on America and NATO," said Rennie.

According to China, "the only reason the war is still going on is because American arms dealers and energy companies are making such huge profits from the war."

Rennie believes the west must be cautious of China's most recent calls for a ceasefire and brokered peace deal because of China's close consultation with Russia on the specifics of the deal.

China has not consulted with Ukraine along the same lines, and with Russian forces occupying the eastern regions of their country, Rennie believes a call for a ceasefire right now is "not an honest good faith call for peace, it's a call for Ukraine to surrender vast chunks of their country."

While the official version is that China does not have alliances with anyone, Rennie said "China sees a strong interest in helping Vladimir Putin avoid defeat.

"If you have the west pouring weapons into the Ukrainian side and the Chinese start pouring weapons into the Russian side it's very hard not to see that as the beginning of a global cold war.

"China and the US are closer to that kind of cold war than they have ever been."

While the cold war between the US and Russia was fraught with danger, Rennie emphasised there was an effort on sensitive and dangerous topics such as nuclear safety to come together and avoid a potentially catastrophic accident. 

Rennie urged the US and China to come together in a similar way to ensure they avoid a nuclear war or something equally catastrophic. 

However, the mechanisms to avoid such an understanding between the two superpowers are currently not in place. 

A lack of communication can lead to unnecessary escalation, such as the recent tension caused by the Chinese spy balloon found floating above the US which led to State Secretary Antony Blinken cancelling his trip to China. 

Rennie believes the escalating tensions will have an impact on New Zealand's economic relationship with China, which he describes as "a brilliant fit," due to their bottomless demand for our goods as their middle class expands.  

"China has shown that as it becomes more willing to challenge the west, they're willing to use trade as a weapon," said Rennie.

"The wake-up call for New Zealand business over the last couple of years has been watching the punishment dealt out to their brothers and sisters in Australia." 

Australia's condemnation of China has cost it financially as Australian businesses are now finding it harder and harder to turn the same profits in China as they could in the past. 

Rennie sees this wake-up call for New Zealand as a realisation even something as beneficial as our trade relationship with China carries great political risks.  

Rennie identifies two big ambitions that impact the Pacific.

The first is that China's backyard is growing. 

"China wants to push the Americans as far away from their coasts as possible. We can now see the Chinese navy becoming a blue-water navy," he said. 

Secondly, "the Chinese want to draw pacific nations into their political ambitions to redraw the rules-based order and to be allies and supporters at the United Nations," said Rennie. 

"China is extremely pragmatic about the fact that in the UN general assembly, every country gets a single vote," meaning influence over pacific nations, which is easier to achieve, can still pay dividends. 

"China is playing a regional and global influence game, which means it is motivated to invest in the Pacific, New Zealand's backyard." 

Watch the full video for more. 

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