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Proxy war takes big toll in Ukraine

By ZHANG YUNBI | China Daily | Updated: 2022-04-11 07:48
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Photo taken on March 7, 2022 shows a view of the third round of talks between Russian and Ukrainian delegations at the Belovezhskaya Pushcha. [Photo/Xinhua]

Amid refugee crisis, Beijing slams using smaller nations as pawns in confrontation

Editor's Note: China Daily presents a series of analyses to make readers around the world better understand the how and why behind China's views and decisions on the Ukraine situation. This is the fourth installment of the series.

Although many politicians in Washington have avoided describing the Ukraine crisis as a de facto proxy war, Leon Panetta, the former US secretary of defense during the administration of president Barack Obama, recently did not hold back: "I think we are engaged in a conflict here. It's a proxy war with Russia, whether we say so or not. That, effectively, is what's going on.

"And for that reason, we've got to make sure we are providing as much weaponry as possible," he told Bloomberg TV in an interview on March 18.

Amid the crisis, Beijing has publicly lashed out at Washington and its NATO allies for fueling a proxy war by offering weapons, missiles and fighter jets to Ukraine and stoking tension.

Behind China's decadeslong opposition to proxy wars is the belief that such a typical Cold War era tool seriously sabotages a country's autonomy, officials and scholars said.

Proxy wars were typical during the Cold War to help avoid direct warfare between the US and the former Soviet Union, and a smaller nation grilled on the forefront of conflicts is always the biggest loser with refugee crises soaring, they added.

"A proxy war, like color revolution, serves to shore up a potential new Cold War and brings only turmoil and suffering to a region," said Zuo Xiying, a professor at the School of International Studies of Renmin University of China.

Washington decided to wage a proxy war in Ukraine partly because its plan to intimidate Russia by reinforcing military deployment in Eastern Europe countries actually had failed, Zuo said.

"History shows that a smaller nation-chosen as a proxy and caught between two major countries-is always going to be the one suffering the largest damage from conflicts," Zuo said.

Before the Ukraine crisis broke out, the US and some of its NATO allies had publicly encouraged Ukraine to join NATO, started providing weaponry to the country and fanned the current tension, analysts said.

A fact sheet released by the US Department of Defense on Thursday said "the security assistance the Biden Administration is providing to Ukraine is enabling critical success on the battlefield".

The release incorporates a long list of US military aid committed to Ukraine, including over 1,400 Stinger anti-aircraft systems and over 50 million rounds of ammunition.

Ukraine's fall from a central gateway of the Eurasian region to the forefront of major countries' conflict was prompted by a string of factors, "but it is undoubtable that the only major factor is the external forces' reaching their hands too far", said Cui Hongjian, director of the European studies department at the China Institute of International Studies.

"When the US determined to manipulate Ukraine as a pawn for geopolitical confrontation with Russia, it was no longer possible for Ukraine to maintain its balance in diplomacy," Cui added.

Vice-Foreign Minister Le Yucheng has criticized "some major countries" because they do not want to get dragged into conflicts and "make empty promises to small countries, turn small countries into their pawn and even use them to fight proxy wars".

"A NATO commitment of no eastward expansion could have easily ended the crisis and stopped the suffering. Instead, (they) chose to fan the flames at a safe distance," Le said in an address at a symposium on March 19.

Speaking of the refugee crisis, the G7 foreign ministers said in a joint statement on Thursday that "over 4.2 million crossed the border to other countries, almost all of them to the EU and the Republic of Moldova".

"Now that Ukraine has suffered as a proxy, the US and NATO will be even more deplorable and immoral if they continue offering weaponry to Ukraine and make the nation suffer at the forefront for any longer," said Wu Xinbo, dean of the Institute of International Studies at Fudan University.

Washington and NATO are the initiators of this crisis, and its resolution requires their engagement with Russia, not scorching Ukraine, Wu said.

'Extremely worried'

Anatol Lieven, a senior research fellow at the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft, a US think tank, and a former foreign affairs correspondent, said he is "extremely worried" about the proxy war that disregards "the number of Ukrainian lives-like Afghan lives in the past-that were thrown away in the course of this struggle".

"It's quite clear that there are elements in both Washington and London who do want to use this as Afghanistan was used in order to weaken Russia eventually," he said in an MSNBC television broadcast on March 24.

In sharp contrast to the US, China's consistent objection to waging proxy wars stems from its decades-old core diplomatic belief of 'no intervention in other country's internal affairs', not to mention allowing other countries to meddle in China's domestic affairs, observers said.

"More than 30 years after the end of the Cold War, such a geopolitical tragedy taking place in Europe now deserves our profound reflection," Zhang Jun, China's permanent representative to the United Nations, said at a UN Security Council briefing on Ukraine on Tuesday.

"Small and medium-sized countries should not be pushed to the forefront of confrontation between great powers. All countries have the right to decide their foreign policy independently, and should not be forced to take sides," he said.

China has never engaged in proxy wars nor sought the so-called spheres of influence, and it opposes power politics and bloc confrontation, State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi told Gambian Foreign Minister Mamadou Tangara in Islamabad, Pakistan, on March 23.

China stands for equality among all countries regardless of their size, and it advocates democratization of international relations, Wang added.

"Another reason behind Beijing's high alert against Washington's frequently waging proxy wars worldwide is that a potential proxy war is what some hawkish individuals and groups back in the US are expecting to take place in China's neighborhood," said Yuan Zheng, deputy director of the Institute of American Studies of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

Choosing Ukraine as a proxy to receive massive military assistance and stoking conflict with another major country are not new tactics, as the US and some of its NATO allies have been doing similar things in the Asia-Pacific region as well, Yuan said.

"Washington has not given up any chance to motivate its allies in this region to confront and contain China, as it keeps sending military consultants, helping to train their troops, deploying missile systems and speaking out loud on issues involving China's core interests," Yuan said.

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