Friday, August 29, 2008

China cannot back Russia in Georgia crisis: analysts

China cannot back Russia in Georgia crisis: analysts
BEIJING (AFP) — China will not endorse Russia in its battle with the West over the Georgia crisis but cannot say so publicly for fear of upsetting Moscow, political analysts say.

Since the Georgia crisis began -- culminating in Moscow recognising the independence of two secessionist regions, South Ossetia and Abkhazia -- China's reaction has been subdued.

It has expressed concern over the issue but has refrained from taking sides in what has become an increasingly strident war of words between Russia and the West.

But analysts said that if push came to shove, China's official stance would not support Russia, whose actions violated Beijing's long-held principles of national sovereignty and territorial integrity.

"The official Chinese position, if it were pushed, would be that this is unacceptable," said Paul Harris, professor of political science at Lingnan University in Hong Kong.

"China doesn't want to give the green light to somebody coming to the side of separatist forces within their troubled regions."

Analysts said that China, with its own regions that want or claim independence -- like Xinjiang or Taiwan -- did not want to make these claims legitimate by supporting Russia's action.

Taiwan in particular was at the centre of China's reluctance as Beijing claims the island for itself, while Taiwan says it is an independent country, though with the recognition of only a few countries.

Moscow has faced fierce condemnation from the West over its recognition of the independence of the two regions.

The UN Security Council is discussing the wording of a resolution on the Georgian conflict, and China normally takes Russia's side in Council matters. But it has been largely silent on the Georgian issue.

Analysts were split on how China might vote if a resolution came to the table, although most agreed it was unlikely to come to that as negotiations would be taking place behind the scenes.

"China will not abstain, China is not going to go for something overturning a sovereign government and a sovereign rule," said Bob Broadfoot, head of the Hong Kong-based Political and Economic Risk Consultancy.

"It's just not going to happen, as China's position on Taiwan would go down the drain."

"If the resolution is focused on the question of sovereignty, China may very well side with the West," said Jean-Pierre Cabestan, professor of political science at Hong Kong Baptist University.

"But China will do its upmost to avoid such a resolution being presented to the Security Council, because it doesn't want to damage its relationship with Russia."

Lingnan University's Harris said that China, which he said has an underlying sympathy with Russia over the break-up of the Soviet Union, would hold back from casting its vote.

"It is always possible that the Western countries will force a vote and if it happens, I think China will abstain," he said.

Cabestan said that China was also concerned about the Georgia crisis because it was worried Russia might exert similar pressure on Central Asian states -- all of which were former Soviet republics like Georgia.

"That's not in China's interest, as it has in the past managed to get some influence in Central Asia, and China and Russia both cooperate and compete in the region for influence."

Ultimately, Broadfoot said, the crisis could push China closer to the West.

"China will try to keep quiet," he said. "But if Russia overplays its hand, they will side with the US."


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