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'Huge alarm’ Xi panic over key US and UK powerplay ‘they never thought could be done'

Numerous countries have slapped Moscow with sanction packages since February, including freezing around $300 billion of Russia’s foreign exchange reserves. The Chinese Government has been “concerned” by the Western sanctions but caught “completely by surprise” by the “unity” of Western countries, Professor Steve Tsang has argued.

Professor Tsang, who heads up SOAS, University of London’s China Institute, told “The use of economic sanctions, in particular, the freedom of the Russians’ foreign exchange reserve – that really caused huge alarm in Beijing.”

But the danger that such a fate could in any way head towards Beijing makes Chinese lawmakers “really uncomfortable”.

Professor Tsang posed the question: “Who happens to have the biggest foreign exchange reserve in the world, the bulk of which is in US Treasury bills?

“You can see how the Chinese government could be really uncomfortable with the idea that something like that could be done to them.”

But not the Ukraine war, nor the sanctions levelled at Russia as a result of its invasion, have altered Beijing’s dynamic with the EU, UK, or US, Professor Tsang added.

This is because was “never really” any “love, from the Chinese side, anyway”, to lose through sanctions, he explained.

He added: “There is still no love.”

What the Western sanctions did do, Professor Tsang argued, is change how the Chinese government perceived Western unity, and the impact of such decisive, collective action.

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The three carriers are prevented from selling off valuable landing slots at UK airports, which are now going unused after previous bans on Russian flights landing on UK soil.

Estimates place their worth at around £50 million and form part of the UK’s attempt to cripple Vladimir Putin’s ability to wage war in Ukraine, alongside similar measures from other countries like the US.

Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said: “As long as Putin continues his barbarous assault on Ukraine, we will continue to target the Russian economy.”

She added that although the UK had “already closed our airspace to Russian airlines”, this would make “sure they can’t cash in their lucrative landing slots at our airports”.

But as the economic screws tighten on Putin, key Russian ally China will be worried about the fate of their renewed and “no limits” ties with the Kremlin.

Xi declared solidarity with Vladimir Putin shortly before the invasion of Ukraine got underway, but as the war effort wears on, the Chinese government has been careful to neither condemn Russia or become the target of Western economic sanctions.

Professor Tsang added: “The Chinese miscalculated when Xi Jinping gave his support the unlimited friendship, the unlimited friendship support when Putin went to China at the start of the Olympics.”

He added: “Now, that clearly turned out to be a miscalculation when Putin made a mess of it.”



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