‘Sanctions are never fundamentally effective’: Is China's approach to Russia right?

Tingshu Wang / Reuters

Fact Box

  • Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Wang Wenbin addressed imposing sanctions on Russia on March 2, 2022, stating, “China firmly opposes all illegal unilateral sanctions, and believes that sanctions are never fundamentally effective means to solve problems. They will only create serious difficulties to the economy and livelihood of relevant countries and further intensify division and confrontation. [...] China and Russia will continue to conduct normal trade cooperation in the spirit of mutual respect, equality and mutual benefit.
  • The United States, EU, and UK governments have imposed sanctions on Russia limiting the ability to access $630 billion in international reserves, dual-use goods (chemicals and lasers), the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, and travel across countries. 
  • In an emergency United Nations General Assembly, 141 countries passed a nonbinding resolution on March 2, 2022, condemning Russia for invading Ukraine with only five countries in opposition: Russia, Belarus, Syria, North Korea, and Eritrea.
  • On February 28, 2022, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy signed an application for membership to the European Union after releasing a video calling for immediate entry and Russian forces to go home. 
  • Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24, 2022, “unleashing airstrikes on cities and military bases and sending in troops and tanks” with condemnation coming from the US, Europe, South Korea, Australia, and other countries.

Siam (Yes)

As many European nations along with the US have enacted severe economic sanctions against Russia for Putin's invasion of Ukraine, China has declined to support these measures. Employing economic sanctions by the US is not a new strategy; it has been used in the past to promote its foreign policy objectives. Yet these economic sanctions are simply a 'cosmetic' facade more often than not. Without changing the behavior of Russians, the economic sanctions do little to this major superpower. Sanctions must be hyper-focused on the reason for the war to be effective and less unilateral, targeted at the entire country instead of Americans agreeing to talk with the Russians about peace and solving the issues at hand. 

And from history, it is clear they do not work. When Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait in 1990, universal economic sanctions failed to work, and it took a war to solve that problem. The Iranians continue to build a program for nuclear weapons despite two decades of economic sanctions. America's most hated enemy, Cuba, continued to exist for more than 50 years despite severe economic sanctions. Both Pakistan and India were not deterred by the threat of economic sanctions when they decided to test nuclear weapons. And in 1988, Pan Am 103 was destroyed by a bomb, but 20 years later, despite severe sanctions, Libya refused to extradite them to the USA. Finally, despite all the sanctions against China, the nation exports sensitive technologies to countries that violate human rights. 

Unfortunately, we live in a global economy where many countries do not entirely depend on others to survive. If sanctioned, they will merely get supplies elsewhere. And in the end, this only harms American businesses and the rest of the world.

Andrew (No)

China's approach to solving the crisis of Russia's illegal invasion of its sovereign neighbor is fundamentally wrong because China has no approach. It's not surprising that the two authoritarian regimes would stick together, especially after their recent joint announcement that their friendship has 'no limits;' apparently, even the slightest condemnation of Russian aggression is beyond those limits. Incredibly, China would have the gall to not even condemn the killing of civilians or alleged use of banned weapons, let alone the unprovoked invasion in the first place. But instead have used the occasion to decry the old and new sanctions the US and her allies have put on Russia. In a callous statement, Hua Chunying, spokesperson for the Chinese leadership, didn't mention any sympathy for the Ukrainian people, many of whom have lost life and limb, but expressed concern that '[the United States] must not harm the legitimate rights and interests of China.' Make no mistake, China has offered no alternative response other than apologies for her ally.

China's appraisal that sanctions are ineffective is wishful thinking, likely due to its territorial aspirations with its sovereign neighbor Taiwan. A recent Washington Post article highlights thirteen times economic sanctions have proven effective in the modern world to solve crises. Further, the strong and united message that the United States and her allies have sent will act as a deterrent for years to come. In the long run, the proof that sanctions work may ironically be the fact that China hasn't invaded Taiwan after seeing the economic devastation brought by the world following an unjust invasion.

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