Beijing may be 6,500 kilometers (4,000 miles) from Kyiv, the Ukrainian capital, but the geopolitical stakes for China in the escalating crisis over Ukraine’s fate could not be higher.

If Russia invades Ukraine and precipitates a drawn-out conflict with the United States and its Western allies (though a direct military confrontation is unlikely), China obviously stands to benefit. America will need to divert strategic resources to confront Russia and its European allies will be even more reluctant to heed U.S. entreaties to join America’s anti-China coalition.

But if U.S. President Joe Biden defuses the crisis by acceding to some of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s demands, China will likely end up worse off strategically. While Putin will reap the benefits of his coercive diplomacy, and Biden will avoid a potential quagmire in Eastern Europe, China will find itself the sole focus of America’s national security strategy. Worse still, after Putin has skillfully exploited the U.S. obsession with China to re-establish Russia’s sphere of influence, the strategic value of his China card may depreciate significantly.