Don’t take China-Russia limit relationship with a grain of salt: Li Daokui

The so-called “no borders” partnership between China and Russia is “situational” and should be taken “with a grain of salt,” said Li Daokui, a former adviser to the country’s central bank, known as the People’s Bank of China.

Before Russia invaded Ukraine in late February, Beijing and Moscow announced a borderless strategic partnership they said was intended to counter US influence. In a joint statement, both countries said there were no “forbidden areas” for cooperation, but did not name Ukraine, although Russian troops were building up on the Ukrainian border at the time.

“I choose to believe that China will not support Russia in a military way,” Li, currently Mansfield Freeman professor of economics at Tsinghua University, told Slice Mag’s “Squawk Box Asia” on Wednesday. †[The] no limit relationship should be taken with a grain of salt.”

“However, China will continue to do business with Russia based on humanitarian principles. That is, to help Russian residents get through this very difficult period,” he said.

Since the Russian invasion of Ukraine on February 24, Beijing’s official stance has been to blame the conflict on NATO’s expansion eastward. Chinese authorities have so far refused to fully condemn Moscow’s invasion of its neighboring country.

It stands in stark contrast to much of the developed world, where multiple countries have imposed unprecedented sanctions on Russian companies, banks and individuals who left Moscow dire consequences for its unprovoked invasion.

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping pose for a photo during their meeting in Beijing on February 4, 2022. The two countries announced a “no borders” partnership ahead of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, although Beijing has tried positioning himself further away from Russia than portrayed after Xi and Putin met.

Alexei Druzhinin | AFP | Getty Images

The Russian economy is expected to enter a deep recession this year, with the Institute of International Finance forecasting a contraction of up to 15% as a result of the war.

In the meantime, Li predicted that Beijing will be “very proactive” in urging both Russia and Ukraine to “come to an early agreement”.

“Let’s keep in mind: both Russia and Ukraine were good friends with China before this conflict,” he said. “People tend to forget – Ukraine is actually a great, great friend of China, next to Russia.”

Taiwan: a ‘fundamentally different’ problem

As for Taiwan, Li said the issue was of “completely different nature” to Ukraine, a stance reflecting sentiment from Beijing.

Beijing has repeatedly stated its intention to reunite with Taiwan, an island off the coast of mainland China that has democratic self-government but is claimed by the People’s Republic of China.

“The overwhelming number of countries in the world do not recognize Taiwan as an independent country,” Li noted. According to the island’s foreign ministry, only 14 countries worldwide are listed as Taiwan’s diplomatic allies.

Ukraine, on the other hand, has been largely recognized as an independent country, he said.

“What [Russia] has done any war or special military operation against Ukraine…is a violation of the recognition of many other nations,” said Li. The Taiwan issue, on the other hand, is recognized by most countries in the world as an “internal issue of the Chinese politics.”

“This is fundamentally different,” he said.

— Evelyn Cheng and Holly Ellyatt of Slice Mag contributed to this report.