Chinese Media on the War in Ukraine: How the US is to blame (for everything, apparently), Sanctions, and why Ukraine is not Taiwan
Experts and officials weigh in on the Russian invasion
China has been gripped by events in Ukraine over the last few days. Responses have run the gamut from horror and sadness for the people of Ukraine to supporting Russia, blaming the US and off-color jokes about inviting young and beautiful Ukrainian women to come to China.
Below is a selection of pieces covering Chinese views on the US’s role in what has happened to Ukraine, comparisons between Ukraine and Taiwan, views on sanctions, and stories of Chinese citizens caught up in the fighting, as well as a selection of responses from the more-tense-than-usual Regular Press Conference that the Foreign Ministry holds on weekdays.
Some interesting additional things I came across while researching for this post:
The word “入侵” (“invasion”) is conspicuous for its absence from state media reports about Ukraine. Where it is used, quotation marks are added and it is usually in reference to western reactions to the invasion.
President Zelensky’s Feb 24 speech, in which he makes an emotional appeal to Russian citizens, does not seem to be having the same impact in China as in the West, where it has received widespread praise and been shared widely on social media. We cannot find it at all on Weibo - if anyone has a link to any Chinese social media discussion of it, please add in the comments!
However, speeches in which Zelensky criticizes other countries for their lack of response have been widely disseminated and shared.
There’s been a huge uptick in interest in Servant of the People, the TV show Zelensky starred in when he was a comedian and actor on Douban. Almost two-thirds of reviewers there have given it a five-star rating.
There’s some disagreement between China/Russia reporting and their Western counterparts about who is refusing to talk to who. Chinese media and social media is saying Zelensky is refusing talks with the Russians (the issue even trended on Weibo for a time). Zelensky has, however, issued multiple statements calling for dialogue.
What follows is a selection of mainstream coverage around the war that caught our eye. There were also a handful of dissenting voices, many of whom got quickly censored, decrying Russia’s invasion, which will receive coverage on ChinaTalk in the coming days.
Also, also have a listen to the ChinaTalk podcast feed. We’ve already recorded and published two emergency pods today, one with Chris Miller on Putin’s motivations and another with Justin Sherman on the cyber angle today.
Editing and translation by Callan Quinn. Views from translated sources very much do not represent the author or ChinaTalk.
When did Ukraine become a pawn?
Originally published by the Global Times, 环球时报. View the original here.
"Who is ready to fight alongside us? I don't see anyone. Who is ready to give Ukraine a guarantee of NATO membership? Everyone is afraid."
On Feb 25, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky accused the United States and the European Union in a speech of Ukraine being “left alone” to fight Russia.
The Russian-Ukrainian crisis has developed to this point, and the Americans can’t get away from that. However, as war breaks out in Ukraine, they will only show solidarity from a distance, and in the game of great powers, the pawn has thus become the abandoned pawn.
When did Ukraine become a pawn?
Zhang Hong, a researcher at the Institute of East European, Russian and Central Asian Studies of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, told the Global Times that Ukraine’s "Orange Revolution" from November 2004 to January 2005 marked the United States’s start of formally intervening in Ukrainian affairs.
Behind that is the substantial deterioration of Russia-US relations. In the eyes of Washington, Moscow has gone from something to be transformed to a competitor that needs to be contained.
Over many years, the US has influenced Ukraine through fields such as the military and economy, and has tried to transform it through the use of NGOs.
In mid-February the US military, on one hand, declared an “imminent invasion” by Russia and on the other hand ordered the transfer of members of the Florida National Guard to Ukraine and other European countries. According to the US site Axios, this was about 160 personnel in total [Editor’s note: this group left in early February. See Axios here].
But Russia’s Komsomolskaya Pravda published an article in December 2021 stating that there were at least thousands of US and NATO military personnel in Ukraine. “The supply of weapons to Kyiv by the US and UK is just the tip of the iceberg for preparing to start a war with Russia.”
The report said there about ten NATO military facilities operating in Ukraine but they however claim they are “training centers.”
Another article in Komsomolskaya Pravda stated that the largest deployment of US military personnel in Ukraine is the Yavoriv military training ground near Lviv, the main city in western Ukraine. Since 2015, the United States has been sending instructors there to train the Ukrainian army and there are about 300 troops usually stationed there.
At the same time, officers from Canada, the UK, Denmark, Poland, Lithuania and other countries train Ukrainian soldiers there according to NATO standards. The report suggests that while this training ground belongs to Ukraine in name, in reality it has already become a NATO forward military base. In addition, in Ochakov on the Black Sea, the US helped build the Ukrainian Naval Operations Center. However, only one part was handed over to the Ukrainians while the other part is used by US intelligence agencies.
Military "aid" is just one of the ways the United States has intervened in Ukraine. Zhang Hong said that the United States has used various economic means, such as loans, as a type of bait to prompt Ukraine into adopting the "shock therapy" of the so-called "Washington Consensus" - implementing a route to radical reform and transformation.
Through international organizations, the United States and the West has imposed harsh conditions on economic reform in some former Soviet republics such as Ukraine, driving them to carry out structural reforms and ultra-tight fiscal policies.
Following these tight fiscal policies leading to the deterioration of people’s livelihood, the US and West continued to force reforms through providing loads.
"In reality this is actually a painful national transformation, and it is precisely because of this failed transformation that the current overall development of the former Soviet republics today is not ideal," Zhang Hong said.
The Ukrainian media outlet Vesti published an article on the topic of "how the United States uses the US dollar to control Ukraine", stating that aid from Washington given to Kiev are mostly used for public administration and so-called “maintaining democracy” and “monitoring human rights”.
“This is an immense trick by the US,” said the Ukrainian analyst Oleg Penzin.
He said that much of the aid money is also being spent on Americans working in Ukraine as consultants who earn much higher salaries than local experts. In addition, the US’s foreign military spending program is passed by Congress alone and two or three years ago this sort of aid amounted to about $100 million.
Ukraine is officially using this money to buy weapons such as the US "Javelin" anti-tank missile system. But really these are all just loans.
“As well as this, transformation funds and human rights organizations with the backing of the US government support pro-Western groups in Ukraine,” said Zhang. “This isn’t about transforming social class but ideological transformation, and from this have emerged a group of so-called ‘opinion leaders’ and ‘democratic elites’.
TV station Russia Today revealed last year that since 1992, the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) has actively supported Ukraine's "advancement of democratic reforms." This includes measures in training Ukrainian youth to take part in politics. The NED has close ties to the US State Department, USAID, and the CIA.
Russian political scientist [Ivan] Mejuho said that these Western organizations are committed to spreading anti-Russian propaganda among Ukrainian youth, and they pay special attention to youth between 10 and 14 years old.
Stranded in Ukraine
Originally published by The Paper. View the original here.
“There’s a war, there’s a war, hurry up and run!”
The voice on the end of the phone was urgent and nervous, and Cheng Xinyue was still dazed from being woken. It was 5 am Ukrainian local time on February 24.
Her boyfriend quickly tapped her and she started to react, She clicked open a local video sent by a Chinese friend in Kyiv and was taken aback. The video showed a loud “bang” and a short flash of white like lightning, lighting up the darkness of the city as the headlights of local vehicles began to light up. In the distance red lights appeared and smoke rose.
“We, including the locals here, never expected, that they would really start an attack.” Zhao Chen has never experienced something like this before and, in a panic, she contacted her family in China. Very quickly, friend and students in both China and Ukraine were sending news to each other one after the other.
From 5.30 to 8.30 on the morning of the 24th, Zhao followed the latest developments in local news reports and busily replied to messages from friends all over the world.
Around 9am on the same day, Wang Yukui came out of a supermarket in Kyiv to the sound of “wu wu weng weng” across the grey sky. She was extremely frightened and quickly told her roommate, who was out buying supplies with her. The two looked up and saw a bomber flying over the heads.
“My first reaction was to run away quickly, but I didn’t know where to run to.”
Around 10am in Odessa, Zhao Chen was taking her Ukrainian language class at home. With nine people normally in the class, at first she was the only one online. The teacher however didn’t stop the class and continued with just one student, with two more later joining.
But as she was answering a question from the teacher, Zhao Chen heard a violent “guang dang” sound coming from outside of the window. The Russian military had attacked a local military materials storage facility and there had been an explosion.
Looking out the window, [she saw] across the winter’s day sparse tree branches and a cloud of grey fog spreading in the distance, accompanied by black smoke.
That day, the Ukrainain parliament passed a decision to enter a state of war throughout the country. The [access to the] metros in Kyiv were opened free of charge so that the stations could be used as air raid shelters.
As the war broke out, people in Ukraine were preparing for war. Wang Yukui observed that one the roads more and more vehicles were leaving the city. Gas stations in Kyiv were “full of vehicles”, and some even didn’t have enough. People were queuing at pharmacies and banks.
Returning to her dormitory, Cheng Xingyue first packed her luggage so that she’d be ready to evacuate if needed. Her boyfriend went to a large supermarket near his home to buy supplies. Even by 6.30 am, a lot of people had already gathered in front of it and in the cold winter weather, wearing a hat and with his hands in his pockets, he waited in the long queue outside.
Chen Xingyue was happy that her boyfriend went there early. She heard that by the afternoon, all the rice, noodles, and oil in the supermarket was gone.
In addition to all the dry food and previously cooked food they already had, they would have enough for about a month.
In Odessa, Zhao Chen also went to the supermarket with her roommate to buy things. Upon entering the supermarket, they found a group of people at the ATM waiting to withdraw money. They were surprised; the queue was long. Later on when Zhao Chen and her roommate were at the checkout, they were told that the card machine was malfunctioning and they could only pay with cash.
On January 24, the Chinese Embassy in Ukraine counted the number of Chinese international students in the country and through the international student societies told students not to go outside unless it was necessary, recommended they stock up on supplies, keep in touch with compatriots, and write down emergency telephone numbers.
Coming out of the supermarket, Zhao Chen noticed the anxious expressions on the faces of passersby. She heard two middle-aged locals talking about wanting to go to remote villages or return to their hometowns to escape.
Zhao Chen saw on local news that about 2,000 people had gathered at the Odessa Railway Station wanting to flee to the western area of Ukraine and enter Poland or Moldova overland.
On her way to and from the supermarket, Wang Yukui saw local Kyiv residents making phone calls and quickly packing their suitcases, But there were also those continuing to stay. A friend one year older than Wang Yukui told her that the Russian army may attack Kyiv with rockets. Wang Yukui wasn’t convinced but her friend was serious.
“I’m not joking. It’s true. Be careful of your safety.”
“I asked him if he would join the war. He said that if his country needed him to then he perhaps would.” Wang Yukui said.
Wielding the sanction stick
Originally published by CCTV/Sina. View the original here.
Since Russian President Vladimir Putin announced the launch of the country’s special military operation, countries from the United States to Europe have been constantly expressing various phrasing all ending in the same unvarying word: sanctions.
Severe economic sanctions. Major sanctions. Imposition of tougher sanctions. Destructive sanctions.
But in fact, Russia has been suffering from sanctions by the United States and Europe for a long time. Over the past 20 years, the number of sanctions imposed by the United States has increased tenfold, according to data released by the US Treasury Department.
On February 23, Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying said at a regular press conference that the US imposed 3,800 sanctions in the last presidential term, which is equivalent to wielding the "sanction stick" an average of three times a day. Since 2011, the United States has imposed sanctions on Russia over 100 times.
What makes these menacing sanctions so different this time? Can the US and EU achieve their goals? Why is the US so keen to sanction other countries?
A reporter from CCTV connected with Wang Yiwei, [director of the Institute of International Affairs, and director of the Center for European Studies at Renmin University of China] for his take.
Reporter: What are the changes in the US and EU sanctions against Russia now compared to the previous ones? Can sanctions have a deterrent effect on Russia?
Wang Yiwei: Right now, the sanctions imposed by the United States and Europe on Russia have indeed escalated. They have to make some sort of show of "punishing" Russia.
Before this has turned out to be sanctioning some Russian officials and companies, but this time it was sanctioning the entire country of Russia. In addition, we’ve noticed that the sanctions in Europe and the United States are not exactly the same.
There are more energy sanctions from the EU. But this is a double-edged sword because more than 40% of Europe's natural gas, oil, and coal come from Russia.
So as a result, we have seen Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi openly oppose the energy sanctions, which means the EU is in trouble right now. To put it simply, the EU's financial sanctions do not have any finesse. On the contrary, they are in many areas that ought to be avoided.
Russia spotted an opportunity, that NATO wouldn’t be able to fight it over a situation in Ukraine. And Russia has endured sanctions for years so it’s no big deal.
In comparison, the competitive advantage of the US is finance. It established the entire global financial system, and it wants to kick Russia out of the international SWIFT system.
But Europe really doesn’t want to cooperate on that. So now the US has resorted to so-called secondary sanctions, where so long as Russia has any relationships around the world, particularly in military-civil dual use trade, companies will be hit. But this requires cooperation. Not only so-called NATO allies must cooperate, but other countries must cooperate, and the impact will be too big. These are all problems.
So the sanctions still aren’t sanctioned. Now it has become a hot potato between the EU and the United States. If there are no sanctions, it seems that they will not be able to occupy the moral high ground as it relates to this incident. Europe is now squabbling over whether to impose sanctions.
Some further measures have already been adopted for example around finance, energy, transportation, dual-use goods, export control, export financing, and visas. But these are basically irrelevant to Russia's huge territory and independent "fighting nation" characteristics.
Of course, there will be some financial losses, but it also has many ways to circumvent the effects of these sanctions.
Reporter: Why is the US so keen on sanctions?
Wang Yiwei: There are three reasons.
The first is that the US always believes that it occupies the so-called moral high ground, and it often points to Russia as being a so-called authoritarian state, that Russia’s behavior is destroying the international rules-based order. Of course, those rules are made by the US and its allies.
The second reason is that the US always thinks the whole world belongs to it and that the global financial payment system and the hegemonic dollar system are dominated by it so it uses its long reach to control the world. It wants to be the world's policeman so that it can maintain this “order.”
The third reason is that its military and sanction deterrents are the “big sticks” that it often uses. But to deal with Russia it does not dare to use military means.
In the final analysis, Russia is a nuclear power on equal footing with the US. As such, it can only use financial, trade, and these other sorts of methods to implement so-called punishments to show its willingness and ability to support allies.
But of course, Ukraine is not its ally, and security obligations to NATO and Europe are the starting point.
Reporter: What impact might these sanctions have globally?
Wang Yiwei: The various sanctions bring with them financial volatility and geopolitical conflict risks, and these will have a serious impact on the global economy.
First of all, Russia is a big energy exporter, which has directly led to the soaring of energy prices. Ukraine is also a big food-producing country, so food prices will also be volatile.
Because the United States and Europe will sanction the import and export of companies related to Russia, it will have an effect on the stability of global supply chains.
Reporter: What will be the consequences of the US’s actions over the last few days?
Wang Yiwei: It could be said that the US is already in a mess. First off, it has moved into the Indo-Pacific region and has no intention of getting entangled with Russia in Europe.
As such, these statements the US makes are often words only and nothing more than wanting to create the risk of war. For example, it predicted Russia would invade Ukraine on February 16. We can see that things didn’t plan out according to this script. It is impossible to confront Russia in any real way so the US’s remarks are often hesitant and contradictory.
At the same time, the US military-industrial complex sells weapons, takes Ukrainian assets and turn their prices into bubbles, and even destroys the euro currency. The prestige of its so-called hegemonic system, NATO, has been seriously damaged, and it hurts the Europeans. The Europeans are the first to get hurt of course, but it’s followed by those in NATO and the EU who must pay the bill for the US’s action.
The US can just leave, just like it did in Afghanistan. It doesn’t really care about the suffering and happiness of the common Ukrainian people.
Who will the US abandon next?
Originally published on Sohu. View the original here.
After Russia and Ukraine fell into conflict, beneath the strong military pressure of Russia, Ukraine panicked. Its president, Zelensky, claimed that he had already requested aid from more than 20 countries but there was no reply. In a speech, he said desperately that Ukraine had been completely abandoned by NATO.
It wasn’t long ago that [Katherine Chang], the representative of Taipei in Austria, published an article in an Austrian newspaper, saying that Taiwan "empathizes" with Ukraine's situation.
The DPP authorities have since also cooperated with the US and Western public opinion to hype the so-called "Ukraine today, Taiwan tomorrow" idea in an attempt to use the Ukraine issue to exaggerate the "military threat" of the mainland. Some Western politicians also sing along with the Taiwan authorities.
In an exclusive media interview, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison warned Taiwan that China is currently watching carefully to see whether "the Russian invasion of Ukraine could set a precedent for the military unification of Taiwan."
Former US President Trump also said on the 22nd that after the "Ukraine disaster," "the next crisis will be in the Taiwan Strait" because mainland China will take Russia's actions against Ukraine as a signal to "invade Taiwan".
The first thing to point out is that the Taiwan authorities' attempts to take advantage of the Ukraine crisis to "touch porcelain" [碰瓷, faking an accident to claim for compensation - check out this guide to 2021 Chinese slang] with the Taiwan Strait issue speaks to having evil intentions.
There is no comparison between Ukraine and Taiwan. The Taiwan issue is China's internal affairs. Taiwan authorities’ purpose is to incite the mainland's "military threat" as well as to provoke [problems in] cross-strait relations and to make excuses for seeking foreign forces to interfere in domestic affairs.
As early as August, when the US announced the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan, these sorts of topics were already being raised on the island. No small number of Taiwanese media likened the image of the US leaving Afghanistan to the withdrawal from Saigon in Vietnam when discussing the topic.
Taiwan netizens asked soulful questions in comment sections: Vietnam was yesterday, today is Afghanistan, who is tomorrow? At that time, Zelensky was just about to meet with President Biden, and I believe in his heart he was asking the same question.
We don’t know if Biden gave Zelensky any sort of promises. But what we can see is that following his visit to the US, Zelensky not only didn’t doubt the US but had his confidence strengthened regarding the US’s support of Ukraine. Until the Russian army launched their attack, he was still working hard in seeking support from the US.
But when it comes down to it, NATO members make a clear statement: NATO will send more troops to Europe to protect its own member states, but it will refuse to send troops to help Ukraine.
At the same time, they also said in unison: We are together with Ukraine!
Yes, the US will abandon Saigon, will abandon Afghanistan, will abandon Ukraine. And it will also abandon Taiwan.
In fact, at the same time that the world's attention is focused on Russia and Ukraine, "Taiwan region" has become the second most searched phrase in the United States on Twitter, second only to "Ukraine".
One popular post wrote: "Guess who's terrified now? Taiwan!"
The official word: Ukraine is a Sovereign Country
The Russia invasion of Ukraine has dominated questions at the Foreign Ministry’s Regular Press Conference over the last few days, with discussions between reporters and spokespersons Hua Chunying and Wang Wenbin becoming a little heated on more than one occasion.
The Foreign Ministry has notably not condemned Russia’s actions and is instead calling for restraint by all parties. However, it did confirm that it considers Ukraine to “for sure” be a sovereign country.
On China’s position on Ukraine: “We have stated China’s principled position on the Ukraine issue. There is a complex historical background and context on this issue. The current situation is the result of the interplay of various factors. We noted that today Russia announced its launch of a special military operation in eastern Ukraine. Russia’s defense ministry said that its armed forces will not conduct missile, air or artillery strikes on cities. China is closely monitoring the latest developments and calls on all sides to exercise restraint and prevent the situation from getting out of control. I would like to stress once again China’s consistent position. We should pursue common, cooperative and sustainable security for all countries. The legitimate security concerns of all sides should be respected and resolved. We hope all sides will keep the door to peace open and continue to work for deescalation through dialogue, consultation and negotiation and prevent further escalation”
On comparing the Russia-Ukraine situation to China-Taiwan: “It is unwise of certain people of the Taiwan authorities to latch on to and exploit the Ukraine issue to their advantage. Taiwan for sure is not Ukraine. Taiwan has always been an inalienable part of China’s territory. This is an indisputable historical and legal fact. The one-China principle is a universally recognized norm governing international relations. The Taiwan region’s peace hinges on the peaceful development of cross-Strait relations, rather than fawning on foreign forces for arms sales and military support. ‘Taiwan independence’ only leads to a dead end. No one shall have any illusion or make any miscalculation on this issue. Since the Ukraine crisis broke out, Taiwan has been frequently mentioned by some people. Some of their remarks fully reveal their lack of knowledge of the history of the Taiwan question... On this issue, we would also like to advise certain people, including some on the Taiwan island, not to have any illusion or make any miscalculation on the Taiwan question.
On whether China will sanction Russia: “Our position is that sanctions are never fundamentally effective means to solve problems. We consistently oppose all illegal unilateral sanctions. According to data released by the US Treasury, the US’ sanctions use has increased ten times over the past 20 years. The previous US administration made as many as 3,800 sanctions designations, which means wielding the stick of sanctions three times per day on average. Since 2011, the US has imposed more than 100 sanctions on Russia. However, have the US sanctions solved any problem? Is the world a better place because of those sanctions? Will the Ukraine issue resolve itself thanks to the US sanctions on Russia? Will European security be better guaranteed thanks to the US sanctions on Russia? We hope relevant sides will give this some serious thought and strive to resolve issues through dialogue and consultation. I would also like to point out that the illegal unilateral sanctions by some countries including the US have caused severe difficulties to relevant countries’ economy and livelihood. When handling the Ukraine issue and relations with Russia, the US mustn’t harm the legitimate rights and interests of China and other parties.”
What hasn’t been said should also be noted.
Questions by reporters about whether China was forewarned about the invasion, whether it was deliberately delayed so that the Olympics could finish in Beijing, whether Xi plans to call Putin, whether China had spoken with Zelensky, and whether China has or plans to supply Russia with any military equipment received vague responses.
In the latter case, Hua said that “there is a fundamental difference between China and the US. When we see the risk of conflict, we won’t do the same as the US, which has offered Ukraine a large amount of military equipment. I believe that as a strong country, Russia doesn’t need China or other countries to provide weapons to it.”
She also branded questions about whether “the Chinese leader [gave] his blessing for President Putin to attack Ukraine” from Reuters as “quite offensive”, adding it “exposes a certain stereotype of looking at China with preconceived notions, bias, arrogance, and malicious characterization”.
Hua added: “When countries like Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan were hit by illegal military operations, and when the seven billion US dollars of assets of the Afghan people were illegally plundered by the US recently, did you condemn any of it? Did you speak up for fairness and justice? Did you question the US government? That’s why I don’t think your question has the objectivity that a professional journalist’s question should possess. You are not neutral. You subscribe to preconceived notions. As a journalist, you shouldn’t impose your presuppositions on others.”
As reported in Yangcheng Evening News:
Recent tensions between Russia and Ukraine have sparked heated debates among netizens on Chinese social media. Reporters from Yangcheng Evening News have noted that in addition to paying attention to changes in the international situation, some netizens have been leaving bad remarks on the platforms of foreign embassies, with some on the net ridiculing them for “taking in a Ukrainian beauty”.
“I’m so angry I almost started crying,” said Weibo user @l0nGnnn on February 26 as he revealed that domestic talk of “taking in a Ukrainian beauty” was circulating in foreign media and “leading to anti-China sentiment among Ukrainians”. the reporter noted that this netizen has been publishing what he has seen and heard in Ukraine since February 24. He told another netizen that he has not yet evacuated Ukraine and is “waiting for a new notice from the embassy”.
On February 26 several WeChat groups for Chinese in Ukraine that the reporter joined saw Chinese students in the country confirm that the inappropriate comments made by some netizens about Ukrainian women have been translated into different languages and spread throughout Ukraine, causing intense dissatisfaction among the Ukrainian population.
Chinese students in Ukraine have urged that such messages about Ukrainian women are not spread as it puts compatriots in danger. The situation is Ukraine is tense and local Chinese also face uncertain safety risks.
ChinaTalk’s Note: Weibo has announced that is has banned 83 accounts, 242 blog posts and 359 comments for discussions about “Ukrainian beauties”. There has been For more about this issue in English, check out Nikkei’s write-up.
Finally, netizens have also pointed out that Covid appears to have been forgotten in the chaos, as one Weibo user noted:
I only have one question about the dispute between Russia and Ukraine: are they all alright with Covid? With so many people fleeing, what should we do if the virus mutates again at an accelerated rate... Has the epidemic situation in the world improved now? Why do politicians just want to start wars and not to heal the common people? Maybe my thinking is too simple.
Thank you for reading. ChinaTalk grows only through word of mouth. Please consider sharing this post with someone who might appreciate it.