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The ‘Russian invasion was wrong’: China’s views on the war in Ukraine | Russia-Ukraine War News News

Liu-wen Fang’s tears flowed as she saw the first images of kyiv under attack and burning as Russian forces invaded Ukraine in February 2022.

The 26-year-old had supplemented her business degree with an exchange year in the Ukrainian capital in 2018, where she studied Russian and Ukrainian languages ​​at a large university.

During that year, he became very fond of kyiv and its people. He remembers walking along the winding banks of the city and visiting its vast parks, sharing cocktails with friends in its charming bars and having dinners in houses like the ones he now saw turned into ruins charred by Russian missiles.

“It was very hard to see the city that had been my home turned into a war zone,” Fang* told Al Jazeera from his home in Shanghai.

Before the invasion, Fang had a fairly positive view of Russia and President Vladimir Putin. After the invasion, everything changed.

“What I saw and what I heard from my Ukrainian friends about their lives being destroyed because of Putin’s imperialist fantasies meant that I lost all my support and respect for Russia and Putin,” he said.

Fang knows that his critical views on Russia are unique, particularly in the context of China’s heavily censored media environment and especially when it comes to the war in Ukraine. However, more than a year after the invasion, there are signs that ordinary Chinese people’s perspectives are shifting towards Russia’s war in Ukraine and China’s vision of Putin.

China’s waning support for Russia?

Hsia-Liang Hou, 41, from Chengdu province in central China, recently reassessed her views on Russia and Putin.

For years, he had seen Russia as a country with a powerful military and Putin as a strong and intelligent leader who dared to take on the West and NATO.

But after more than a year of war without a decisive Russian victory, Hou said he began to see the invasion of Ukraine as a show of Russian weakness rather than strength.

“Russia is much bigger than Ukraine in many ways, and they had all the advantages at the beginning, but they still didn’t get very far on the battlefield,” he told Al Jazeera.

When Hou first heard that Russian forces had entered Ukraine, he saw it as a retaliatory action by Moscow designed to decisively and quickly counterattack NATO and the United States. After all, NATO had wanted to encircle China and Russia, and Putin “has been one of the few leaders who have fought against this,” he said.

But Russia’s lack of success in Ukraine has made it reassess whether the NATO threat was as urgent and imminent as it had thought.

“If NATO is such a threat to the survival of your country, why don’t the Russians fight harder?” she asked.

Tai-Yuan Wan also thought that the invasion of Russia was justified because of what he believed to be a scheming US and an aggressive NATO working to gain more and more power closer and closer to Russia.

But, as the fighting continues into a second year, it appears Russian forces are not really trying to “save Ukraine” as Moscow has claimed, he said.

Russia “now just wants to burn the country to the ground, which I don’t support,” Wan told Al Jazeera from the Chinese capital Beijing.

Emergency workers arrive at a residential area hit during a Russian attack in kyiv,
Emergency workers arrive at a residential area affected during a Russian attack in kyiv, Ukraine, in December 2022 (File: Roman Hrytsyna/AP Photo)

Wan also does not support Russia’s recently announced plans to place nuclear weapons in Belarus.

“I think it is a very aggressive step and a threat to world peace, and it makes me think that Russia is starting to act much more aggressively than the West in this conflict,” Wan said.

Wan, Hou and Fang said they rarely discuss the war in Ukraine with their friends and family in China.

Many Chinese do not feel that the war affects their lives, so they do not keep up to date on events and have very little to say about it, Wan explained.

People in China also receive very different information about the war, depending on where they get their news, Fang said, explaining that opinions about the war depend on whether they receive news “from Chinese media or if they also receive news from some foreign media.” “. .

“That makes it difficult to discuss the issue,” Fang said.

Wan, Hou and Fang said they had noticed that more Chinese were beginning to see the war as a Russian mistake.

However, Hou believed that the majority was still on Russia’s side in the conflict.

Hou’s view is supported by a China focus from the Carter Center survey held last April on Chinese public opinion regarding the war in Ukraine. That poll found that about 75 percent of those polled agreed that supporting Russia in Ukraine was in China’s best interest.

Wan, however, disagreed.

“I think most people in China today believe that the invasion was wrong,” he said.

Wan’s belief is supported by a more recent survey published in November by the Japanese think tank Genron NPOwhich found that roughly half of Chinese respondents expressed some level of opposition to Russia’s invasion.

The latest survey could indicate that Chinese societal sentiment is moving away from support for Russia’s actions in Ukraine.

China must be neutral

No such change appears to have occurred in terms of President Xi Jinping’s policies toward Russia or his opinion of Putin.

That the Chinese leader stands by the Russian president was made clear when Xi arrived in Moscow for a three-day visit from March 20-22.

During the visit, the two leaders expressed their condemnation of the conduct of the United States on the international stage and showed their intentions to deepen ties on a wide range of issues, from trade to military affairs.

Su-Mei Chen from Shanghai said she was disappointed by the outcome of Xi’s visit to Russia.

The 30-year-old told Al Jazeera that she was already skeptical of the Chinese government’s 12-point peace plan for the war in Ukraine unveiled on the anniversary of Russia’s invasion. Chen saw that the plan mainly favored Russia.

She hoped that Xi’s visit would result in more realistic steps to end the war.

“The only positive thing about China maintaining close ties with Russia after the invasion was that China could put pressure on Russia to find a peaceful solution,” he said.

“But Xi hasn’t even talked to the Ukrainians and is expanding cooperation with the Russians, so now it looks like China is completely on Russia’s side in the war,” he added.

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping toast.
Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin toast during a reception following their talks at the Kremlin in Moscow on March 21, 2023 (File: Pavel Byrkin/Sputnik/AFP)

China, which stands so resolutely with Moscow, is not favored even by some pro-Russia Chinese, like Kou-Tong Wong, 48, from Shenzhen.

“I hope Russia wins the war, but this is not a conflict that has anything to do with China, so we should not be sending weapons or soldiers to fight it,” he told Al Jazeera.

Despite highly favorable Chinese media coverage of the Russian perspective on the war, Chen believes there is a general reluctance among ordinary Chinese for Beijing to give Moscow unconditional support.

“This is because many Chinese see China as a peaceful nation that does not interfere in distant conflicts, and also because Chinese-Russian ties are weak,” he said.

Chen’s point stands in stark contrast to Putin and Xi’s relationship. Both leaders had repeatedly touted the deepening ties between China and Russia during Xi’s visit to Moscow.

But none of the people interviewed by Al Jazeera believed that Xi’s relationship with Putin reflected the general relationship between the Chinese and the Russians.

“I think it is mainly a political alliance of convenience between two governments and not an expression of a deep bond between two peoples,” said Fang, a former exchange student in Ukraine.

“Even if there was a strong link between the Chinese and Russians, that is not a guarantee of anything,” he added.

“The deep kinship between the Russians and the Ukrainians did not protect them from fighting a war with each other.”

* The names of the interviewees have been changed to protect their identities.

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