Ukraine’s China Problem, and How To Solve It

In a recent Wall Street Journal column, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy praised his country’s potential to become “a major information technology hub.” Surely all civilized people are working to see Ukraine repel Russian invasion and its war-torn economy roaring back stronger than ever. But before US taxpayers’ money is spent on rebuilding Ukraine, there’s a serious issue that needs to be addressed: the People’s Republic of China.

The Ukrainian resistance was truly heroic. Moscow expected a rapid collapse. Instead, Putin’s three-day war became a protracted drudgery. In fact, Ukraine may even be about to turn the tables on Russia with a counteroffensive.

Much of this success was aided by robust military and economic aid from the United States, the European Union, the United Kingdom, and Asian allies like Japan. At the end of the war, this will no doubt be followed by investments and contributions to the kind of modernizing reconstruction that Zelenskyy envisions. As he points out, there will be significant gains to be made in this new Ukraine, especially if the country uses the transition to break the grip of endemic corruption that has plagued it for so long.

These profits should fall under the purview of Ukraine and the free societies that have so tirelessly supported them. The United States, for example, has already provided or pledged $53 billion in aid, and there is no end in sight. Washington understands the strategic advantage of inflicting a defeat on Putin, but the Biden administration seems to have no idea how to achieve that happy outcome other than demanding more money from Congress, which has precious little control over how and why it is spent becomes.

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This split raises a potential – and significant – problem with the PRC. Zelenskyy has opened the floodgates to Chinese involvement in reconstruction, creating an unacceptable scenario in which American funds are used to pay Chinese state-owned companies for economic reconstruction and development projects.

Zelenskyy may be hoping that by including the PRC, he will dissuade Chairman Xi from providing direct military aid to Russia, despite the “unlimited” partnership announced just before the war began. He should say goodbye to this idea immediately. Military intervention is not Xi’s style. But he is currently funding Putin’s war effort by gobbling up cheap Russian energy supplies that Putin has diverted from Europe. We can expect that next week’s meeting of the two leaders in Uzbekistan will announce new levels of cooperation, none of which will benefit Ukraine.

Xi does not see the conflict in Ukraine as an either-or and will seek to benefit from both sides of the conflict. He will continue to fund Putin even as he seeks fat rebuild deals for Chinese state-owned companies that promise benefits, particularly in information technology. Ukrainians need to know that a Chinese presence in their systems will not only invite PRC perfidy into all aspects of their lives, but will also discourage US tech companies from getting involved for fear of losing intellectual property. The United States and our allies must therefore impose conditions on Ukraine’s reconstruction aid to keep China out of the reconstruction process – and taxpayers’ money out of the PRC’s coffers.

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As Congress debates President Biden’s recent request for funding for Ukraine, they should remember that the support denied by Chinese treaties sets a precedent in US foreign aid. For example, in 2019 NDAA Section 889, Congress stipulated that foreign aid funds should not be spent in countries that have Huawei, ZTE, Hikvision, Dahua and other Chinese technologies as part of their infrastructure. This legislation reflects the US government’s recognition that Chinese technology systems can be used by Beijing to steal valuable personal, commercial and national security information wherever it is used. This recognition should be extended in all legislation related to the financing of reconstruction in Ukraine.

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Similar restrictions should apply to aid from the EU, UK, Japan and other countries focused on rebuilding Ukraine. While Congress can only control the use of American taxpayers’ money, Washington can and should exercise tremendous influence over how our allies allocate aid to Ukraine. The government should make every effort to ensure, as free countries, that they will not use their aid in any way that could give China an advantage.

President Zelenskyy has built up a large reservoir of international support for his people and their future. He should maintain this level of support by understanding that China is not a friend – in fact, the PRC has sided with the bad guys. They should not be allowed to benefit from the destruction they are complicit in.

Given the predatory role of the People’s Republic of China in the conflict with Russia, a Ukrainian parliamentarian recently sounded the alarm about the “strategic partnership” that Ukraine entered into with China in 2011. The US Congress should heed the trumpet call and ensure that any reconstruction aid flowing into Ukraine does not end up in the pockets of Xi and his cronies.

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