Commentary on Political Economy

Friday 24 May 2024

 

Exclusive | Ukraine Hits Russian Complex in Occupied Crimea With U.S.-Supplied Missiles

Approx. 950 bomblets

Designed to inflict

casualties by blast

and fragmentation.

Sources: United States Army Acquisition Support Center; Federation of American Scientists; Collective Awareness to UXO; Missile Threat
Jemal R. Brinson/THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

Ukraine’s first use of the longer-range variant of ATACMS in April hit an airfield in Crimea, destroying several advanced Russian air-defense missile launchers and radars, according to Ukrainian officials. They hit another Crimean airfield last week, appearing to take out several aircraft, according to satellite images.

This week, Ukrainian military officials said they had hit the port in Sevastopol, damaging a warship. While officials didn’t say what weapons had been used, Russian officials in Crimea said they had shot down nine ATACMS missiles the night of the attack.

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Ukraine’s military said it destroyed an advanced Russian S-400 air-defense system on Wednesday, which open-source analysts attributed to an ATACMS strike near occupied Mospyne in eastern Ukraine. Three weeks ago, an ATACMS strike on a training ground in the occupied Luhansk region killed dozens of Russian soldiers, analysts said.

As Crimean residents reported explosions and the sound of air-defense systems working on Thursday night, Sergei Aksyonov, a Russian-installed official in Crimea, wrote on Telegram that Ukrainian missiles had killed two “bystanders,” and an “empty commercial property” was damaged. He didn’t comment on any damage to the Alushta communications center.

On Friday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said American weapons were being used to strike “a wide variety of targets outside the conflict zone,” though he didn’t specifically mention Crimea or any other sites.

A satellite image shows a destroyed aircraft after a Ukrainian strike on an air base in Russian-occupied Crimea last week. Photo: maxar technologies/Reuters
Smoke rose in the distance after a Ukrainian strike in Russian-occupied Krasnodon in eastern Ukraine earlier this month. Photo: Alexander Reka/Zuma Press

Mark Cancian, a former artillery officer in the U.S. Marine Corps now at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said Ukraine would likely focus on deep strikes while it tries to rebuild manpower in hopes of launching a more robust counteroffensive next year. Crimea, he said, was an appealing target because it has an abundance of fixed military facilities—such as airfields and ports—that can’t easily be camouflaged or spread out.

Ukraine has twice damaged the Kerch bridge, which connects Crimea to Russia, leading Russia to halt using it for military shipments because it fears they will get hit, Western intelligence analysts believe. Instead, Russian forces are moving supplies by rail through other occupied parts of Ukraine.

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“They might be able to squeeze it,” Cancian said. “I don’t think they can cut it off, but they can make Crimea uncomfortable.”

Ukraine had hoped that ATACMS missiles would help disrupt the Russians and weaken their ability to maintain their front-line defenses, enabling a Ukrainian breakthrough in a 2023 counteroffensive aimed at dealing Moscow a decisive blow.

In the end, Russia beat back the Ukrainian attacks, with Kyiv gaining minimal territory while suffering heavy losses of personnel and equipment, leaving Ukraine in a much more dire position than a year ago.

A look at the capabilities of the Army Tactical Missile System, or ATACMS. Photo illustration: Xingpei Shen

“The problem is that the Ukrainians, at this point, don’t really have a convincing concept of victory,” Cancian said. “Before the counteroffensive, the idea was they’d take back territory bite-by-bite.”

The U.S. decision to send the longer-range ATACMS was the subject of intensive debate for well over a year. U.S. lawmakers repeatedly pressed the White House to provide the weapons while Ukraine appealed for the systems and offered assurances they wouldn’t be used to fire at targets on Russian territory.

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At first, the Biden administration was so wary of providing the ATACMS that it had Himars rocket launchers it supplied to Ukraine modified so they couldn’t be used to fire the missiles should Kyiv acquire them from other sources.

But as the conflict dragged on, the administration’s concern that the Ukraine conflict might escalate into a direct U.S.-Russia clash began to fade.

In the U.S., some members of Congress have been pressuring the Biden administration to allow Ukraine to fire ATACMS and other U.S.-made weapons into Russian territory. The ban on doing so, military analysts say, has impeded Ukraine’s efforts to halt Moscow’s recent invasion of the northeastern Kharkiv region.

George Barros, an analyst at the Institute for the Study of War, said the U.S. could immediately alter the battlespace in Kharkiv if Washington would lift this ban, which lets Moscow move troops and weapons to the front far more efficiently than they can in other regions, where they have to disperse and camouflage positions behind the front line.

“Ukrainians are not able to engage them until they cross the international border,” he said.

Daniel Michaels and Kate Vtorygina contributed to this article

Write to Ian Lovett at ian.lovett@wsj.com

The War in Ukraine

News and insights, selected by the editors

Thursday 23 May 2024

 

Hello, I’m Philip Glamann, in Taiwan this week for Lai Ching-te’s presidential inauguration.

If his first week is any indication, Lai faces a real bumpy road ahead.

After being sworn in on Monday, Lai urged China to cease its military intimidation of Taiwan. China was not receptive and indicated it would continue using pressure tactics against Lai as it did with his predecessor, Tsai Ing-wen.

Lai Ching-te with Tsai Ing-wen, left, and vice president Hsiao Bi-khim. Photographer: An Rong Xu/Bloomberg

Beijing responded to Lai’s speech by accusing him of seeking independence and destabilizing the region. In retaliation, China sanctioned three US defense contractors over arms sales to Taiwan, and former US congressman Mike Gallagher for backing Taipei. It lashed out at US Secretary of State Antony Blinken for congratulating Lai.

Beijing also rolled out the big guns, literally. The People’s Liberation Army launched extensive exercises around Taiwan, the largest since last year’s meeting between Tsai and then-US House speaker Kevin McCarthy.  

The drills occurred in five zones around the island of 23 million people, and went a step further than before by involving some of Taiwan’s offshore outposts just off the Chinese coast.

Lai’s troubles didn’t stop there. The Kuomintang, the opposition party favored by Beijing, pushed for a bill that would increase their legislative power while limiting Lai’s authority. Supporters of Lai’s Democratic Progressive Party cried foul, saying the amendments were rushed and didn’t include their feedback.

The DPP argues that the new bill would give opposition lawmakers the power to launch endless investigations against Lai and his aides, potentially leading to fines or jail time. The opposition disagrees, insisting the rules are being followed.

The dispute could lead to significant political instability in Taiwan, a major producer of some of the world’s most advanced chips, throughout Lai’s four-year term. The island has already experienced unrest with a large protest on Lai’s first full day in office, demonstrations that are likely to grow in the coming days.

Such a disruption might suit China just fine because internal discord in Taiwan weakens its resistance to unification.

Paradoxically, continued political division in Taiwan might calm cross-strait ties in the long run. A divided government would reduce the need for China to take aggressive actions like military drills, giving Chinese leader Xi Jinping time to address economic issues and modernize the military.

This could change if Lai does something surprising, like advocating independence or hosting prominent US lawmakers. Nevertheless, Beijing would likely be content to see Lai navigating political turmoil at home over the next four years.

Reagan’s Lesson for Xi

President Xi Jinping has a problem his predecessors didn’t need to deal with — how do you govern a post-boom China?

The rapid gains in prosperity that once bolstered support for the Communist Party now seem a thing of the past. Under the current Chinese leader, incomes are rising, but at their slowest pace since the late 1980s, and the property crisis is crushing household wealth.

Bloomberg reporters from Shanghai, Beijing and Taipei spoke with a broad range of people living across mainland China to understand how that’s changing life on the ground.

Visitors in a shopping district in Shanghai, China, on May 1. Photographer: Qilai Shen/Bloomberg

They asked people the famous Reagan question — are you better off today than you were four years ago? — and adapted it to China where the term length is five years.

For the most part, people say their lives are getting harder. A window cleaner’s salary has stalled for the first time in 30 years. A commodity broker is negotiating over tiny differences in power contract prices. A financial analyst fears losing his job after a 40% pay cut.

The economic slowdown is leading to questions about the so-called social contract in China, which promised a better life in exchange for fewer freedoms.

In some ways China appears to be reverting to the past. Bloomberg Economics analysis suggests that the country is heading back to a low growth, low freedom model similar to the Mao Zedong era. 

Of course, China today is much richer with far higher standards of governance. And the slowdown partly stems from Xi’s efforts to address problems created by his predecessors, such as debt-driven growth, a real estate bubble and industrial overcapacity

Ultimately, Xi aims for sustainable economic growth but for many of China’s 1.4 billion citizens, this means adapting to a new reality: those who enjoyed more prosperity and less control now face the opposite.

The Empire Strikes Back

Don’t follow the US.

That’s the message Beijing is sending to Brussels as a deadline looms for the European Union to announce results of its probe into Chinese electric vehicle subsidies. 

Xi Jinping’s government is considering unleashing tariffs as high as 25% on imported cars with large engines, according to the China Chamber of Commerce to the EU, citing “insiders.”

While no specific countries or regions were named, it comes as trade tensions are escalating with the US and European Union.

The impact of these potential tariffs could be substantial. Last year, China imported 250,000 cars with engines over 2.5 liters. Germany luxury carmakers Mercedes-Benz and BMW would be the hardest hit due to Europe’s greater reliance on the Chinese market compared to the US. 

Beijing is ramping up threats of retaliation as it seeks to dissuade the EU from taking the same path as the US, which recently slapped 100% tariffs on Chinese EVs, in addition to levies on solar panels and batteries.

For China, the impact of US tariffs is minimal, as Chinese automakers sell few EVs there. But for Europe, it’s different. 

Chinese carmakers are focusing on Europe for growth at a time when it’s facing overcapacity and intense price competition at home. Cheap Chinese EVs are already making inroads in the European market, with companies like BYD planning to sell its Seagull hatchback for less than €20,000 ($21,500) on the continent from next year.

If the EU adopts US-style tariffs, China could lose its price advantage. This might lead Xi’s government to impose tariffs on popular European products like wine and dairy in retaliation, risking a larger trade conflict. 

Bloomberg Opinion’s Lionel Laurent argues that inaction is a non-starter and that Europe might benefit from an independent strategy. 

One possible solution could be imposing tariffs lower than the US (perhaps around 25%) and if needed, providing targeted subsidies to shield consumers in the push to decarbonize, he said.

Slash and Burn

97%
That's how much Alibaba slashed prices for its artificial intelligence services, spurring an immediate reaction from rival Baidu and potentially kicking off of a price war in China’s nascent AI market.

What We’re Reading:

 

American antipathy towards UN is hardening

The Times

In the space of two days the world was given a revealing glimpse of the moral compass that guides the multilateral institutions of the so-called global community, the various bodies in which governments and peoples invest their trust for the cause of creating a safer and more just planet.

At the United Nations headquarters in New York on Tuesday, flags flew at half-mast and security council members stood and observed a minute’s silence for Ebrahim Raisi, the president of Iran, who died last weekend. His contribution to domestic and global peace has been the blood of thousands of Iranian dissidents and victims of Iranian-sponsored terror around the world. RIP.

The day before, at the International Criminal Court in the Hague, a body separate from but endorsed by the UN, created by more than 100 nations for the administration of so-called international criminal justice, the court’s chief prosecutor announced he was recommending arrest warrants for Binyamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, and Yoav Gallant, the country’s defence minister, for alleged war crimes. In the interests of balance, perhaps, he called for the arrest of the Hamas leader Yahya Sinwar and other figures in the Islamist organisation.

Consider the juxtaposition of the “international community’s” priorities. For the murderous head of a theocratic authoritarian state: solemn remembrance and solidarity. For the democratically elected leader of a nation fighting a war against a terrorist organisation that massacred its civilians and still holds many of them (and those of other countries) hostage: a request for an arrest warrant.

Even for Joe Biden, whose daily vacillations on Israel’s war in Gaza have become a menace to the security of America’s principal ally in the Middle East, the ICC’s action was too much, and he issued a terse and sulphurous statement condemning it (though his administration did, thoughtfully, express its condolences to Iran on the death of its president).

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The stark contrast between the official multilateral institutions’ treatment of civilised nations and their enemies has again brought into sharp focus the purpose and value of global co-operation through these bodies, especially for the United States.

In the US, the virtue and utility of multilateralism, particularly through the UN and similar bodies, have long been a source of tension. But recent events have been pushing the country further away from the multilateral system.

American foreign policymakers have had mixed feelings about the UN for some time. Its elevation of the interests of hostile states, its consistent anti-Israel stance, the sheer lunacy of the priorities of some of its bodies and councils, and the soaring ambitions of its bureaucracy to be less a global forum for co-operation and more a world government, have made it a constant pain in Washington’s backside.

Against that, its status, particularly through the security council, as the most serious, credible and easily accessed forum for the conduct of high-level diplomacy has been highly prized. Now, however, the cost-benefit equation of this trade-off is getting decidedly more disadvantageous for the US.

This week’s ICC action will reinforce American popular and institutional hostility to the multilateral system (the US, wisely expecting something exactly like this to happen, never signed up for membership of the court). But it comes on top of other developments that further undermine US trust.

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The accusation that 19 United Nations Relief and Works Agency employees took part in Hamas’s October 7 attacks led the US to briefly suspend funding for the agency and Congress passed legislation in March to extend that suspension.

The performance of the UN’s World Health Organisation in its handling of the Covid pandemic, particularly its craven approach to the Chinese Communist Party, further exposed the malignant influence of these institutions.

If Donald Trump is elected, you can be fairly certain that US estrangement from the international system will grow dramatically. Trump’s Nato scepticism is well known and, while an exit from the military alliance is unlikely, we can expect many more strains that are likely to weaken it. The contempt the UN and its agencies showed for Trump in his first term has been reciprocated.

Trump likes to recall the time he spoke at the general assembly and warned the German government it had become dangerously dependent on Russian oil and gas, for which he was literally laughed at by the German delegation. The laughter stopped in February 2022.

But even Democrats, who have typically taken a more favourable view of multilateralism and the institutions that facilitate it, are becoming sceptical of some of the international ties associated with it. The left has already rejected many of the tenets of global economic integration that it championed under Bill Clinton and that were seen as part of a commitment to advancing through international co-operation.

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President Biden this month imposed new tariffs on imports of steel, electric vehicles and other products from China, stepping up a trade war that is a feature of the wider strategic rivalry between the two countries. The administration is also mulling co-operation with Congress to impose sanctions on the ICC for its actions against the Israeli leaders.

For a diminishing number of policymakers on the left the UN and other bodies continue to have their utility. But the mood is changing rapidly. The moral and political neutrality the UN was obliged to practise in the Cold War has given way to something much worse — an apparent tilt in its stance away from the US and its democratic allies and towards the rogues’ gallery of autocrats, revisionists and antisemites.

As all the signs point to a steadily escalating Cold War 2.0, this time with China, America needs friends and allies. It doesn’t need to find itself and its allies condemned, undermined and tethered by international organisations it helps to sustain.

Wednesday 22 May 2024

 

China’s Sea Power Leaves U.S. Adrift

By

Mike Waltz

and

Mark Kelly

Updated  ET

Vessels under construction at Yangzi-Mitsui Shipbuilding in Suzhou, China, March 1. Photo: Zuma Press

In his 1890 book, “The Influence of Seapower Upon History,” Alfred Thayer Mahan identified a crucial factor in the British Empire’s rise to global dominance: a battle fleet. A strong force could protect a nation’s merchant marine and maritime commerce, which could finance national power. Mahan subsequently exhorted the U.S. to build such a fleet and reap the rewards.

America today faces its most significant great-power threat since the end of the Cold War, especially on the seas. China has learned Mahan’s lessons well. Its international shipbuilding industry and expansive merchant marine, combined with its growing navy, pose a comprehensive threat to American prosperity and security.

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China uses the world’s oceans to pursue global supremacy, employing coercion and economic intimidation against weaker nations. In the South China Sea it has seized more than a dozen islands in waters claimed by its neighbors. China is using the islands as military outposts, which serve to choke off the region’s economic and natural-resources lifelines. Beijing’s games of chicken with foreign ships contravene international law, risk dangerous escalation, and deny freedom of navigation to American allies and partners.

Yet the Communist Party’s reach and intentions extend beyond regional waters. China has become the world’s top shipbuilder. It controls one of the world’s largest shipping companies and boasts the largest navy. It has built these capabilities with the help of massive state subsidies.

By flouting international standards of fair market behavior, China has secured nearly half the world’s shipbuilding market as well as control over port and shipyard infrastructure around the world.

In shipbuilding, according to a conservative analysis by the Center for Strategic and International Security, China offered $132 billion in subsidies to the shipbuilding and shipping industries between 2010 and 2018. These industries are buttressed by policies like debt forgiveness, low-interest bond issuance, equity infusions and barriers to foreign competition.

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Functionally, China’s shipbuilding industry is state-owned and leveraged to accelerate military-vessel construction. China has also invested nearly $60 billion into port projects around the world, including in such countries as Peru. Beijing makes the vast majority of cranes in these ports, including 80% in U.S. ports. Predatory lending practices enable it to gain control over facilities when poor nations can’t pay their debts, as happened in Sri Lanka in 2017.

Meanwhile, America’s commercial maritime industry has faltered. At the end of World War II, the U.S. boasted a fleet of more than 5,000 ships, which made up more than 40% of the world’s shipping capabilities. Today there are only about 90 U.S.-flagged ships involved in international trade, owing to increased international competition and scant support for the commercial maritime sector at home. At the same time, America’s maritime industrial base is shrinking.

The U.S. doesn’t subsidize commercial shipbuilders. Partially as a result, the U.S. lost 300 shipyards between 1983 and 2013. Today, only 20 U.S. shipyards can produce oceangoing vessels. Most of them, moreover, exclusively produce vessels for the U.S. Navy. The U.S. trade representative is currently investigating potentially unfair trade practices by China in shipbuilding, shipping and maritime logistics sectors, but such inquiries won’t rebuild the U.S. merchant fleet or production capabilities.

Since the end of the 1970s, the U.S. has increasingly relied on other nations to conduct trade. Today, 98% of America’s trade is done via foreign-flagged ships. Such reliance has left America less able to guarantee free access to the world’s economy. Mahan’s dictums hold true. A lack of competitiveness in maritime trade not only jeopardizes America’s ability to ensure its economic interests but also diminishes its capabilities to sustain its military power.

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The U.S. must change course urgently. In our Congressional Guidance for a National Maritime Strategy—and with the support of a bipartisan alliance of maritime officials, industry leaders and lawmakers—we encourage our nation and its leaders to address our pressing maritime challenges.

Our framework proposes investment across the maritime sector to rebuild America’s ability to create and sustain a merchant fleet and industry. It offers proposals that will strengthen the U.S.-flagged international shipping fleet, domestic shipbuilding, and our maritime workforce. It also encourages private-sector investments and streamlines burdensome regulations.

America is flanked on both sides by oceans, making our economy dependent on trade and the vessels that enable commerce. We must ensure the safe passage of U.S. exports and imports that fuel our economy.

The next step is for Congress to codify our bipartisan guidance into the National Maritime Strategy, and for the president to adopt it. That will set a course for securing America’s edge at sea, recognizing the innovative and competitive spirit of the American people.

China’s threat over the oceans and how we respond to it will shape our economic and national security for decades. As former service members, we know that the oceans ensure our path to prosperity and security, today no less than a century ago.

Mr. Waltz, a Republican, represents Florida’s Sixth Congressional District. Mr. Kelly, a Democrat, is a U.S. senator from Arizona.

To China's frustration, the Aukus partnership between the U.S., U.K. and Australia to deliver Virginia-class nuclear-powered submarines is gaining ground, despite funding challenges to the U.S. submarine industrial base. Images: U.S. Navy/Zuma Press/AP Composite: Mark Kelly

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Appeared in the May 23, 2024, print edition as 'China’s Sea Power Leaves U.S. Adrift'.

Pro-Palestinian college protests have not won hearts and minds

Pro-Palestinian protesters pitch tents and gather in front of George Washington University President Ellen Granberg’s house in D.C. on May 9. (Jordan Tovin for The Washington Post)

While the protests might have earned some concessions from administrators, it’s become clear that they’ve failed in one key respect: winning over the American public.

Multiple polls in recent weeks have shown relatively little sympathy for the protesters or approval of their actions. And notably, large numbers of Americans have attached the “antisemitic” label to them.

The most recent data on this come in the form of a striking poll in New York, a hotbed of the protests at Columbia University, in particular.

The Siena College poll shows residents even of that blue-leaning state — Democrats tend to sympathize more with the Palestinian cause — agreed 70 percent to 22 percent that the protests “went too far, and I support the police being called in to shut them down.”

This comes on top of other polls showing low national support for the protests.

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YouGov polling for both the Economist and Yahoo News this month showed Americans disapproved of the protests by around a 2-1 margin. Ditto a Fox News poll last week.

And a Suffolk University poll showed that 7 in 10 Americans either opposed the protests (46 percent) or sympathized with them while opposing the way the protesters conducted themselves (24 percent). Just 19 percent said they supported the protests, full stop.

The Fox News poll showed just 16 percent said the protests made them more sympathetic to Palestinians, while 29 percent said the protests made them less sympathetic. (Half said the protests made no difference.)

Perhaps most telling are the sentiments that Americans say undergird the protests.

Many pro-Palestinian activists are careful to distinguish between supporting Palestinians and supporting Hamas, a group the United States government regards as a terrorist organization. But large swaths of Americans don’t see much of a distinction in the protests.

The Suffolk poll showed 33 percent of Americans thought a majority of the protesters were pro-Hamas, compared with 43 percent who disputed that. The Fox poll showed 42 percent described the protests as pro-Hamas, while just 49 percent disagreed. Both positions were outnumbered, if not overwhelmingly.

A bit more pronounced is the view that the protests have veered into antisemitism. And that position isn’t just held on the right:

  • The Fox poll showed Americans said that “antisemitic” described the protests, 46-45.
  • The Suffolk poll showed Americans said the protests “reflect antisemitism,” 41-40.
  • And the Yahoo/YouGov survey showed 37 percent of Americans said that “all” or “most” protesters are antisemitic — more than the 30 percent who said only “few” or “none” are.

In each poll, between 25 percent and 35 percent of Democrats attached the protests to antisemitism, and fewer than 6 in 10 Democrats disputed that.

The Siena poll is again even more striking on this front.

It showed that New Yorkers agreed 61-25 that the protesters have lost sight of Hamas’s Oct. 7 massacre of Israelis and that “it feels like these demonstrations have crossed the line into antisemitism.” Even Democrats agreed, 54-32. Even the age group most sympathetic to the Palestinian cause, adults under the age of 35, agreed, 46-38.

There are two clauses in that poll question, raising the possibility that respondents agreed with one part of the question but not necessarily the other. Maybe some agreed the protesters have lost sight of Oct. 7 but are less apt to agree they’ve crossed into antisemitism.

But this is also New York, a state President Biden won by 23 points in 2020. And the fact that these numbers were so lopsided even there would seem to speak meaningfully about how these protests have played.

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« Inutile d’entretenir d’irresponsables illusions à Washington, à Paris ou à Berlin : le couple sino-russe n’est pas près de divorcer »

En ce printemps 2024, Xi Jinping a rappelé qu’il était partie prenante dans le conflit qui fait rage en Europe : il est du côté russe. Le président chinois veut conforter son « ami » Vladimir Poutine dans sa guerre contre l’Ukraine. Ou, plus exactement, Xi entend que l’Occident ne sorte pas renforcé de cette épreuve sur le Vieux Continent. Inutile d’entretenir d’irresponsables illusions à Washington, à Paris ou à Berlin : le couple sino-russe n’est pas près de divorcer.

Ce message a été transmis sans ambiguïté par le numéro un chinois lors de son séjour en Europe (du 6 au 10 mai) puis, dans sa cristalline clarté, proclamé lors de la visite du président russe à Pékin (les 16 et 17 mai). La déclaration commune signée par les deux chefs d’Etat est frappée au coin de la lutte qu’ils mènent ensemble contre les Etats-Unis.

Il s’agit d’accroître les échanges entre leurs deux pays face à une « politique américaine hostile et destructrice » destinée, selon eux, à « endiguer » la montée en puissance de la Chine et de la Russie – en mer de Chine méridionale, où la flotte de guerre de l’empire du Milieu terrorise ses voisins ; en Europe, où l’armée russe a entrepris de dépecer l’Ukraine.

Lire aussi |
Article réservé à nos abonnés

Cette situation impose une coopération renforcée sur le plan militaire. La Chine va soutenir davantage encore l’économie de guerre que Poutine instaure en Russie. Officiellement, Pékin ne livre pas d’armes à la Russie, mais fournit les machines-outils nécessaires à la fabrication des armes – c’est très différent, n’est-ce pas… Elle livre les pièces détachées pour les chasseurs bombardiers russes. Elle vend les semi-conducteurs à utilisation duale (civile et militaire). Elle transmet les informations satellitaires utiles au champ de bataille. En clair, la Chine entretient l’effort de guerre russe.

« Diluer » le pouvoir américain

Le régime n’a pas condamné l’agression contre l’Ukraine – même s’il n’a reconnu ni l’annexion de la Crimée ni celle du Donbass par la Russie poutinienne. Xi a mis en garde Poutine contre l’emploi du nucléaire tactique dans les plaines du Donbass. Mais Pékin reprend les plus gros mensonges de la propagande du Kremlin : la guerre contre Kiev, c’est parce que l’Occident, éternellement impérialiste, s’apprêtait à attaquer la Russie à partir de l’Ukraine !

Lire aussi |
Article réservé à nos abonnés

Sur un plan économique plus général, les deux pays ont établi un partenariat remarquable. Les Chinois achètent, à prix cassés, les hydrocarbures que la Russie ne vend plus aux Européens et ils inondent le marché russe, délaissé par les firmes occidentales, en voitures, en téléphonie mobile, en batteries électriques et autres produits à forte valeur ajoutée. En 2023, les échanges entre les deux pays ont atteint 240 milliards de dollars (221 milliards d’euros), libellés en yuans, pas en billets verts.

Cette imbrication est un retournement majeur pour la Russie. Elle accepte le risque d’être vassalisée par l’empire du Milieu. L’arrimage à la Chine est le choix de Poutine – décidé pour se prémunir des sanctions occidentales, mais surtout, et bien davantage, pour des raisons politiques et idéologiques profondes. Les deux régimes sont soudés dans et par la même ambition. Elle est affichée en toutes lettres dans le « pacte d’amitié sans limites » que Xi et Poutine signent à Pékin le 4 février 2022, quelques jours avant que les chars russes foncent sur Kiev…

Lire aussi la chronique |

Les deux autocrates, l’un et l’autre animés par un nationalisme de choc, luttent contre ce qu’ils appellent l’« hégémonie » occidentale, notamment celle des Etats-Unis, sur le système international. L’objectif est de refaçonner un ordre plus conforme à leurs intérêts et à la nature de leurs régimes. Pour ce faire, il faut « diluer » le pouvoir américain, dit au Financial Times (15 mai) l’expert Alexander Gabuev. Et cela suppose que les Etats-Unis soient défaits dans leur soutien à l’Ukraine ou, si l’on préfère, que la Russie obtienne le maximum possible dans cette guerre.

Contradiction majeure

Pour autant, l’appui chinois a des limites. La Chine doit préserver ses relations économiques avec l’Europe et les Etats-Unis. Xi se livre à un exercice d’équilibriste digne des plus grands artistes du Cirque de Pékin : soutenir la machine de guerre russe sans rompre avec les Occidentaux. La stabilité de la Chine dépend, en partie, des marchés américain et européen. La situation est difficile. A Washington, Joe Biden et son concurrent républicain, Donald Trump, se livrent à une compétition dangereuse : qui sera le plus protectionniste face à la Chine ? A Bruxelles, l’Union européenne enquête sur le niveau de subventions dont bénéficient les véhicules électriques chinois.

Le Monde Ateliers

« La pensée Xi Jinping » doit résoudre une contradiction majeurePour contrer l’« hégémonisme » américain, la Chine a besoin de son partenaire russe – cette grande puissance nucléaire membre du Conseil de sécurité de l’ONU et qui a plus de 4 000 kilomètres de frontière commune avec l’empire du Milieu. Mais, dotée d’un appareil productif surdimensionné – soit 30 % des capacités manufacturières du monde –, la Chine doit vendre sur les marchés les plus porteurs – japonais, américain, européen.

Xi reçoit chaleureusement les grands du business américain et les ministres de l’administration Biden. Puis signe avec Poutine une déclaration de franche hostilité aux Etats-Unis. Le numéro un chinois sourit poliment dans les Pyrénées à Emmanuel Macron, qui lui offre un béret. Puis Xi salue chaleureusement ses hôtes prorusses à Budapest et à Belgrade avant de quitter l’Europe sans avoir rien concédé, notamment sur son soutien à Poutine dans la guerre en Ukraine. S’il doit choisir entre l’économie (les marchés occidentaux) et le politique (le partenariat avec la Russie contre l’Occident), on sait quelle sera sa priorité : le politique.