China has called for a cease-fire in the war in Ukraine and a return to negotiations as Beijing tries to position itself as peacemaker in the conflict on the first anniversary of Russia’s all-out invasion.
However, Western leaders immediately questioned China’s motives, accusing Beijing of having already taken Russia’s side in the war.
Chinese Foreign Ministry on Friday Issued a 12-point sheet Determining its position on a “political settlement” of the war, though many actions echoed Beijing’s earlier talking points.
Chinese diplomats have engaged in a difficult balancing act over the war, seeking to appear neutral despite Beijing’s close ties to Moscow while blaming Washington and NATO for provoking the conflict.
“Dialogue and negotiation are the only viable solution to the Ukrainian crisis,” the Foreign Ministry said in the document, which it did not directly describe as war. All efforts conducive to a peaceful settlement of the crisis should be encouraged.
The heads of NATO and the European Commission said the proposal was marred by Beijing’s failure to condemn the Russian invasion.
“We will look at the principles, of course, but we will look at them against the background of China taking one side,” said Ursula von der Leyen, the chair of the Commission. “It is not a peace plan.”
“China does not have much credibility because it was not able to condemn the illegal invasion of Ukraine,” said Jens Stoltenberg, Secretary General of NATO.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Washington was studying the plan but stressed that the war “will end tomorrow” if Moscow sticks to the first point – that of respecting sovereignty.
“No one wants peace more than the Ukrainians, and any proposal that could advance peace is something worth considering,” Blinken said on Friday. Putin’s blatant disregard for Ukraine’s sovereignty is at the heart of it. The war could end tomorrow if he simply withdraws his forces.”
It is also unlikely that Beijing’s plan will gain support in Kiev until Russia withdraws from occupied territories, an issue not addressed in the 12-point position paper.
It was an important signal that China looks like it will be involved [a peace formula]. I don’t know what will come next. . . “I want to believe that China will support the idea of peace,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said on Friday.
Zhanna Leshinska, chargé d’affaires at Ukraine’s embassy in Beijing, has ruled out a ceasefire that would freeze the conflict along the current front line.
Leschinska told reporters in Beijing on Friday that China should show its neutrality by pushing Russia to withdraw its forces and increase its engagement with Ukraine.
Shi Yinhong, a professor at Renmin University, said Beijing may have known that neither side would heed her proposal. China feels [it] It is necessary to reiterate its neutrality on the war at this point to salvage some international leverage by not only criticizing NATO but also by distinguishing itself from Russia’s behavior.
And Wang Yi, China’s top foreign policy official, appeared to be making little progress pushing the proposals when he met Putin on Wednesday.
The Beijing paper also warned against the use of nuclear weapons in war and called for the protection of Ukrainian nuclear power plants. He also demanded the cessation of sanctions that were not authorized by the UN Security Council, referring to the sanctions imposed by Western countries.
Lily McElwee, a China expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said the position paper aims to convince Europe that Beijing can play a constructive role in the conflict while maintaining its partnership with Russia. A third goal might be to court the countries of the “Global South,” many of which do not share the Western view on war.
“China fears that it will spoil the international environment because of its global goals and sees the global south as a useful partner,” McElwee said.
The proposal follows allegations from the United States that China is considering sending lethal weapons and other aid to Russia. Stoltenberg said there is no evidence that she has done so yet.
Wang Wenbin, a spokesperson for China’s foreign minister, said that China “does not offer any arms deals in any conflict areas or to parties involved in war. What we have been doing is encouraging peace talks.”
Hu Xijin, former editor of the nationalist Chinese newspaper Global Times, defended Beijing’s reluctance to provide direct military assistance.
Hu said this week that China has already provided the “biggest support for a crippled Russian economy” by increasing energy and food imports and keeping the flow of Chinese “electronics, cars and microprocessors”. Chinese customs data shows that imports from its neighbor rose 43 percent last year to $114 billion.
Additional reporting by Maiky Ding and Nian Liu in Beijing
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