China’s Anti-War Movement Gets Louder, Defying Communist Party Line on Ukraine

A group of over 130 alumni of China’s top universities issued a statement on Tuesday condemning the Russian invasion of Ukraine and calling on their own government to honor its 1994 security pact with the Ukrainian government.

The statement strongly contradicts the Chinese Communist Party’s neutral public stance on the invasion and its background support of the aggressive Russian government.

Radio Free Asia (RFA) quoted from the statement, which will probably not be seen by many Chinese, as their authoritarian government is censoring criticism of the Russian war effort:

“We strongly condemn Russian aggression against Ukraine and resolutely support the just struggle of the Ukrainian people to resist it, and defend their country,” said the statement, signed by graduates of disparate departments from journalism to physics at Peking, Tsinghua and Renmin universities.

It cited a joint security pact signed between China and Ukraine that commits Beijing to “providing security guarantees” to Ukraine, in the event that Ukraine was the subject of foreign aggression. Letter signatory Lu Nan, who graduated from the journalism department at Renmin University, said the letter was initiated by alumni of Peking University.

“We all have a common purpose, which is to oppose war and maintain peace,” Lu told RFA. “Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is a fundamental challenge to human conscience.”

According to Lu, the alumni are “very angry at the large number of Little Pinks who support the use of violence in Russia in online comments.” Little Pinks is a derogatory nickname for the angry young hyper-nationalists that infest Chinese social media.

A picture shows damages after the shelling by Russian forces of Constitution Square in Kharkiv, Ukraine's second-biggest city, on March 2, 2022. - On the seventh day of fighting in Ukraine on March 2, Russia claims control of the southern port city of Kherson, street battles rage in Ukraine's second-biggest city Kharkiv, and Kyiv braces for a feared Russian assault. (Photo by Sergey BOBOK / AFP) (Photo by SERGEY BOBOK/AFP via Getty Images)

A picture shows damages after the shelling by Russian forces of Constitution Square in Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-biggest city, on March 2, 2022. (SERGEY BOBOK/AFP via Getty Images)

Another alumnus noted the anti-Russia statement was a “rare” gesture of defiance against the Chinese Communist Party line and might be remarkable enough to inspire other anti-war groups to speak up as well.

The Associated Press

A man reacts inside a vehicle damaged by shelling, in Brovary, outside Kyiv, Ukraine, Tuesday, March 1, 2022. (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky)

One of those groups might be the thousands of Chinese actually living in Ukraine at the moment. RFA noted they are pushing back against the crude pro-Russian social media comments of the Little Pinks, such as “jokes” about “the sexual availability of Ukrainian women if the men die in the war.”

Ukrainian service members look for and collect unexploded shells after a fighting with Russian raiding group in the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv in the morning of February 26, 2022, according to Ukrainian service personnel at the scene. - Ukrainian soldiers repulsed a Russian attack in the capital, the military said on February 26 after a defiant President Volodymyr Zelensky vowed his pro-Western country would not be bowed by Moscow. It started the third day since Russian leader Vladimir Putin unleashed a full-scale invasion that has killed dozens of people, forced more than 50,000 to flee Ukraine in just 48 hours and sparked fears of a wider conflict in Europe. (Photo by Sergei SUPINSKY / AFP) (Photo by SERGEI SUPINSKY/AFP via Getty Images)

Ukrainian service members look for and collect unexploded shells after a fighting with Russian raiding group in the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv in the morning of February 26, 2022, according to Ukrainian service personnel at the scene. (SERGEI SUPINSKY/AFP via Getty Images)

Other Chinese nationals in Ukraine complained about the slow process of evacuating them, which features an overloaded hotline number and a distinct shortage of evacuation flights. One Chinese embassy official told RFA that Chinese in Ukraine are being advised to conceal their nationality from the locals – only a few days after the embassy arrogantly suggested slapping Chinese Communist flags on vehicles to protect them.

“As soon as they see me as a Chinese face, they think I’m here to sabotage or support Russia. I don’t think the current situation in Ukraine is safe for Chinese,” a Chinese video blogger in Ukraine told CNN on Monday, noting Ukrainian media is filled with “disgusting” quotes from the Little Pinks. 

Beijing’s approach to Ukraine seemed to anticipate the same quick weekend victory as Moscow and grows more muddled as the war drags on.

Chinese state media stubbornly refuses to describe Russia’s action as an “attack” or “invasion,” instead using the “special military operation” language preferred by the Kremlin. Chinese media coverage is largely focused on putative ceasefire negotiations between Ukraine and Russia, with occasional human interest pieces on Ukrainian refugees and daily life in Kyiv, but very little coverage of the war itself. 

On Wednesday, Chinese banking regulator Guo Shuqing announced his government will not join in growing international sanctions against Russia. This was unsurprising, given both China’s dark alliance with the Russians and Beijing’s often-stated desire to eliminate sanctions as a means of punishing human rights violations. However, the Washington Post noted Wednesday that Chinese support for the embattled Russian economy is proving much less valuable than Moscow expected:

China has not rushed to help Russia soften the blow. Chinese officials and commentators have urged caution at drawing American ire and instead suggested China focus on building up its resilience against similar measures that could target the country in the future rather than helping Russia now.

[…]

Without making public statements, some Chinese institutions appear to be quietly adhering to sanctions, and there are few signs of significant attempts to create a lifeline for the Russian economy.

This failure of China’s nerve was especially noticeable in the energy market, where China was widely expected to step in and replace lost European business – but now appears hesitant in the face of rising prices and Beijing’s reluctance to burn bridges with the West, where its business interests are far more valuable than anything Russia can offer.

“China would risk losing access to technologies from the West if it ignores restrictions on Russia. And the West has far more to offer than Russia in terms of semiconductors, software and high-end industrial goods,” analyst Dan Wang of Gavekal Dragonomics told the Washington Post.

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