We instinctively understand others through projection: by assuming they think and feel like us. Countries often make the same mistake in their foreign policy. At the heart of China’s relations with Europe over the past two years lies a cognition gap: its foreign policy elite underestimated the extent of European support for Ukraine.
China’s international relations experts, dominated by a strain of realism that emphasises economic interests and power above values and political culture, largely assumed that the Ukrainians wouldn’t put up much of a fight. When they did, they assumed Europe wouldn’t want to pay for it or cut its energy dependence on Russia. As a result, Chinese elites also underestimated the damage done by Xi Jinping’s “limitless” friendship with Vladimir Putin to Beijing’s foreign relations.