Just in time for the anniversary of the Russian attack on Ukraine, the Chinese Foreign Ministry published its initiative for a political solution to the conflict.1 With its skilfully formulated and launched peace proposal, Beijing has staked its claim to a say in important issues of world politics and continues to promote its vision of a multipolar world in which Russia must also find its own place. Far from letting its Russian partner drag it into a conflict at an inopportune time, however, China is not prepared to drop it either.
In the first two paragraphs, Beijing establishes an interpretative order of the conflict by pointing out the conflicting norms invoked by the parties to the conflict. Ukraine has been complaining for years about the violation of its territorial integrity by the Russian Federation’s annexation of Crimea and now also of the four oblasts of Donetsk, Luhansk, Zaporizhzhia and Kherson. But when the People’s Republic of China speaks of territorial integrity, it usually has its own in mind, that is, its claim to the Island of Taiwan and to territorial waters in the East and South China Seas.
To avoid the impression that China is allowing itself to be taken over by the West, the Chinese Foreign Ministry also packed into the first paragraph a reference to the sovereign equality of states as well as its criticism of double standards. A violation of the former principle is criticised by those states that see Western support for so-called “colour revolutions” as interference in their internal affairs. The accusation of applying double standards is a traditional one made by Russia and China against the collective West. The latter allows itself things that it would never accept from its opponents, freely according to the motto quod licet Iovi, non licet bovi2. This is, of course, a frontal attack on those circles in the West, namely in the USA, that grant themselves a leading role in world politics and claim the primacy of democratic states over all others.3
On the other hand, China is also addressing the complaints of Russia, which has been complaining about the violation of the principle of indivisibility of security for many years. Moscow sees this principle violated by the various steps of NATO’s eastward enlargement, which would have led to the former member countries of the Warsaw Treaty Organisation and new members of NATO guaranteeing their security at Russia’s expense.
Beijing’s sense of reality
The Chinese Foreign Ministry apparently understands that the causes of the current war in Ukraine are too complex to be solved quickly by a peace agreement. The years of war have also created other problems over the past nine years. The call for a comprehensive ceasefire agreement is much more realistic in comparison. Of course, the accusation was immediately made that Russia was only exploiting a ceasefire to improve its military position. But the Ukrainians and their European allies are also familiar with such approaches: At the very least, accusations that France, Germany and Ukraine only concluded the Minsk agreements to buy time for the preparation of a military solution to the conflict have not yet been convincingly dispelled.4 Beijing will also be aware of the problematic nature of the Minsk agreements of 2014 and 2015, which mixed pure ceasefire provisions with political provisions. On the other hand, it is to be expected that a stable ceasefire on any ceasefire line will lead to the cementing of the de facto state, in which Ukraine in particular cannot have any interest. The call for the resumption of political talks in point 4 of the Chinese proposal reaffirms Beijing’s sense of reality.
No role for the West
The direct dialogue between Ukraine and Russia demanded by Beijing has so far been rejected above all by Ukraine. With the corresponding demand in point 3 of the Chinese proposal, Beijing also makes it clear at once who it does not grant a role in the peace process, namely the collective West. Ukrainian President Zelensky obviously understood this quickly, and he immediately declared his readiness for talks with China’s strong man, President Xi Jinping5.
A new problem added by the long-standing war is the humanitarian one. Of course, Ukraine and its European allies will try to use this point of the Chinese peace plan to pillory Russia, but it is not to be expected that China will allow itself to be instrumentalised here. Beijing will be aware that Russia will also use this point to put its accusations against Ukraine on the table.
By linking its rejection of the threat of nuclear weapons use with its opposition to the development of biological and chemical weapons in point 8 of its proposal, China shows that it will not allow itself to be unilaterally captured by either side here either.
Open paths for all
The reference to the Black Sea Grain Initiative to maintain grain supplies from Ukraine probably indicates that Beijing consulted with Ankara before initiating its peace plan. The Chinese leadership is probably also using this point to score points with African and Asian states.
The rejection of unilateral sanctions in point 10 is to be interpreted as a very clear criticism of the collective West and at the same time represents a bitter pill for Ukraine, which, for lack of other options for action, would prefer to maintain sanctions against Russia that are as harsh as possible in the long term.6 However, Ukraine has neither at present nor in the foreseeable future the political and economic weight to motivate other states to do so, let alone force them to do so. In Kiev, one must realistically expect that the economic interests of many states will at some point lead to them only formally maintaining the economic sanctions against Russia, but in fact undermining them in substance. Finally, Beijing is promoting its own economic interests, namely its Belt and Road Initiative, in the full knowledge that it is also serving Russian interests, because Russia attaches great importance to its international North-South transport corridor and has no interest in blockades of any kind.
The reflexively expressed rejection of China’s allegedly questionable peace plan will probably soon have to give way to a more realistic assessment.7 US Secretary of State Blinken is apparently already preparing for a hard slog that will take him to several Asian states where he will have to court support in favour of his own plans.8 The Americans and Europeans will probably be made to pay the price for political support.9 Foreign policy makers from the West will no longer be able to appear as rich uncles with a well-filled chequebook: Those days are over. Now they appear in the role of annoying supplicants. On the other hand, Beijing is apparently also prepared to apply military pressure to help its peace plan achieve a breakthrough, as the various speculations about the delivery of drones and ammunition to Russia show.10 Questionable or not: Beijing will help its peace plan, which serves its interests, to succeed, and Ukrainian sensitivities will not stop it in this.
Kiev, Brussels and Washington will probably not be able to avoid thoroughly examining the Chinese proposals, especially since they have already found the support of important actors in world politics and may have been agreed upon with another important actor, Turkey. The West, which until now believed that it was a driver of development by supplying arms to Ukraine, is becoming one actor among several through the Chinese initiative, because Beijing obviously does not want to allow its proposals to be so easily wiped off the table. With the Chinese peace proposal, a door is now also open for saving face in a change of course in Western policy towards starting talks with the unloved Vladimir Putin in the Moscow Kremlin. •
1 see “China’s Position on the Political Settlement of the Ukraine Crisis”, 24 February 2023, on the homepage of the Chinese Foreign Ministry, online at https://www.fmprc.gov.cn/eng/zxxx_662805/202302/t20230224_11030713.html?spm=C98846262907.PT3RXyzGyJv6.0.0. A comment to this: “China calls for resuming peace talks to resolve Ukraine crisis“, in: The New Times of 25 February 2023, online at https://www.newtimes.co.rw/article/5333/news/international/china-calls-for-resuming-peace-talks-to-resolve-ukraine-crisis
2 translated: “Gods may do what cattle may not.”
3 A “League of Democracies” was first proposed by US journalists Ivo Daalder and James Lindsay in the “Washington Post”. See: „Democracies of the World, Unite“, in: The American Interest Online, Januar-Februar 2007, online at https://web.archive.org/web/20110521230314/http://www.the-american-interest.com/article.cfm?piece=220. The Biden administration’s democracy summit is to be understood in this tradition. See “The Summit for Democracy” on the homepage of the United States Department of State, online at https://www.state.gov/summit-for-democracy/. On the criticism of this: The Heritage Foundation. “The Summit for Democracy – American Leadership or Photo Op?”, online at https://www.heritage.org/global-politics/event/the-summit-democracy-american-leadership-or-photo-op
4 cf. Bosshard, Ralph, “Ein schlechter Friede ist besser als ein guter Krieg” (A bad peace is better than a good war), in: Global Bridge of 21 December 2022, online at https://globalbridge.ch/ein-schlechter-friede-ist-besser-als-ein-guter-krieg/
5 See Hirwani, Peony, “Zelensky wants to meet Xi Jinping after Beijing peace plan”, in: The Independent of 25 February 2023, online at https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/zelensky-xi-jinping-beijing-peace-plan-b2289365.html.. Ghazanchyan Siranush, “Zelensky to meet Xi Jinping to discuss China’s peace plan”, in Public Radio of Armenia of 25 February 2023, https://en.armradio.am/2023/02/25/zelensky-wants-xi-jinping-meeting-to-discuss-chinas-peace-plan/
6 See “Kuleba on China’s peace plan: We disagree with at least one point”, in: Interfax Ukraine, Ukrainian News Agency of 25 February 2023, online at https://en.interfax.com.ua/news/general/893977.html
7 see Hlushchenko, Olha, “China’s peace plan beneficial only for Russia – Biden”, in: Ukrainska Pravda of 23 February 2023, online under https://www.pravda.com.ua/eng/news/2023/02/25/7390952/ and Ash, Timothy, “China PR Peace Plan – Pros and Cons In a Nutshell”, in: Kyiv Post of 25 February 2023, online under https://www.kyivpost.com/post/13524
8 see Lee, Matthew, “Anthony Blinken heads to Asia for key G20 talks as tensions mount with Russia and China”, in: Independent.ie of 25 February 2023, online under https://www.independent.ie/world-news/north-america/anthony-blinken-heads-to-asia-for-key-g20-talks-as-tensions-mount-with-russia-and-china-42358841.html
9 India and Kazakhstan have already signalled support for the Chinese plan. See “Willing to join ‘any peace process’ to solve Ukraine war: PM Modi”, in: The Hindu of 25 February 2023, online under https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/willing-to-join-any-peace-process-to-solve-ukraine-war-pm-modi/article66552455.ece and “Kazakhstan supports China’s peace plan for Ukraine crisis”, in: AKIpress of 25 February 2023, online under https://akipress.com/news:695791:Kazakhstan_supports_China_s_peace_plan_for_Ukraine_crisis/
10.see Bertrand, Natasha, Cohen, Zachary, “Intelligence suggests China is considering sending drones and ammunition to Russia, sources familiar say”, in: CNN Politics of 24 February 2023, online under https://edition.cnn.com/2023/02/24/politics/us-intelligence-china-drones-russia-ukraine/index.html#:~:text=CNN%20Store-,Intelligence%20suggests%20China%20is%20considering%20sending%20drones,to%20Russia%2C%20sources%20familiar%20say&text=The%20US%20has%20intelligence%20that,with%20the%20intelligence%20told%20CNN, and “Chinese company discusses selling drones to Russia, Der Spiegel reports”, in: Reuters of 24 February 2023, online under https://www.reuters.com/business/aerospace-defense/chinese-company-discusses-sending-russia-drones-der-spiegel-2023-02-23/
First published: https://globalbridge.ch/peking-ergreift-die-initiative-im-ukraine-konflikt/ (peking-takes-the-initiative-in-the-ukraine-conflict) from 27 February 2023; reprinted with kind permission of the author.
(Translation Current Concerns)
* Ralph Bosshard studied General History, Eastern European History and Military History, graduated from the Military Command School of the ETH Zurich as well as from the General Staff Training of the Swiss Army. This was followed by language training in Russian at Moscow State University and training at the Military Academy of the General Staff of the Russian Army. He is familiar with the situation in Eastern Europe and Central Asia from his six years at the OSCE, where he served, among other things, as Special Advisor to the Swiss Permanent Representative.
Respecting the sovereignty of all countries. Universally recognized international law, including the purposes and principles of the United Nations Charter, must be strictly observed. The sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity of all countries must be effectively upheld. All countries, big or small, strong or weak, rich or poor, are equal members of the international community. All parties should jointly uphold the basic norms governing international relations and defend international fairness and justice. Equal and uniform application of international law should be promoted, while double standards must be rejected.
Abandoning the Cold War mentality. The security of a country should not be pursued at the expense of others. The security of a region should not be achieved by strengthening or expanding military blocs. The legitimate security interests and concerns of all countries must be taken seriously and addressed properly. There is no simple solution to a complex issue. All parties should, following the vision of common, comprehensive, cooperative and sustainable security and bearing in mind the long-term peace and stability of the world, help forge a balanced, effective and sustainable European security architecture. All parties should oppose the pursuit of one’s own security at the cost of others’ security, prevent bloc confrontation, and work together for peace and stability on the Eurasian Continent.
Ceasing hostilities. Conflict and war benefit no one. All parties must stay rational and exercise restraint, avoid fanning the flames and aggravating tensions, and prevent the crisis from deteriorating further or even spiraling out of control. All parties should support Russia and Ukraine in working in the same direction and resuming direct dialogue as quickly as possible, so as to gradually deescalate the situation and ultimately reach a comprehensive ceasefire.
Resuming peace talks. Dialogue and negotiation are the only viable solution to the Ukraine crisis. All efforts conducive to the peaceful settlement of the crisis must be encouraged and supported. The international community should stay committed to the right approach of promoting talks for peace, help parties to the conflict open the door to a political settlement as soon as possible, and create conditions and platforms for the resumption of negotiation. China will continue to play a constructive role in this regard.
Resolving the humanitarian crisis. All measures conducive to easing the humanitarian crisis must be encouraged and supported. Humanitarian operations should follow the principles of neutrality and impartiality, and humanitarian issues should not be politicized. The safety of civilians must be effectively protected, and humanitarian corridors should be set up for the evacuation of civilians from conflict zones. Efforts are needed to increase humanitarian assistance to relevant areas, improve humanitarian conditions, and provide rapid, safe and unimpeded humanitarian access, with a view to preventing a humanitarian crisis on a larger scale. The UN should be supported in playing a coordinating role in channeling humanitarian aid to conflict zones.
Protecting civilians and prisoners of war (POWs). Parties to the conflict should strictly abide by international humanitarian law, avoid attacking civilians or civilian facilities, protect women, children and other victims of the conflict, and respect the basic rights of POWs. China supports the exchange of POWs between Russia and Ukraine, and calls on all parties to create more favorable conditions for this purpose.
Keeping nuclear power plants safe. China opposes armed attacks against nuclear power plants or other peaceful nuclear facilities, and calls on all parties to comply with international law including the Convention on Nuclear Safety (CNS)1 and resolutely avoid man-made nuclear accidents. China supports the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in playing a constructive role in promoting the safety and security of peaceful nuclear facilities.
Reducing strategic risks. Nuclear weapons must not be used and nuclear wars must not be fought. The threat or use of nuclear weapons should be opposed. Nuclear proliferation must be prevented and nuclear crisis avoided. China opposes the research, development and use of chemical and biological weapons by any country under any circumstances.
Facilitating grain exports. All parties need to implement the Black Sea Grain Initiative signed by Russia, Türkiye, Ukraine and the UN fully and effectively in a balanced manner, and support the UN in playing an important role in this regard. The cooperation initiative on global food security proposed by China provides a feasible solution to the global food crisis.
Stopping unilateral sanctions. Unilateral sanctions and maximum pressure cannot solve the issue; they only create new problems. China opposes unilateral sanctions unauthorized by the UN Security Council. Relevant countries should stop abusing unilateral sanctions and “long-arm jurisdiction”2 against other countries, so as to do their share in deescalating the Ukraine crisis and create conditions for developing countries to grow their economies and better the lives of their people.
Keeping industrial and supply chains stable. All parties should earnestly maintain the existing world economic system and oppose using the world economy as a tool or weapon for political purposes. Joint efforts are needed to mitigate the spillovers of the crisis and prevent it from disrupting international cooperation in energy, finance, food trade and transportation and undermining the global economic recovery.
Promoting post-conflict reconstruction. The international community needs to take measures to support post-conflict reconstruction in conflict zones. China stands ready to provide assistance and play a constructive role in this endeavor.
1 The Convention on Nuclear Safety (CNS) is a multilateral agreement to increase the safety of civilian nuclear power plants worldwide. The Convention was developed in several rounds of experts between 1992 and 1994 and adopted in Vienna on 17 June 1994. (ed. note)
2 “Long-arm jurisdiction” is the ability of local courts to exercise jurisdiction over foreign defendants (“foreign” means outside the jurisdiction of a state). This jurisdiction allows a court to hear a case against a defendant and to issue a binding judgment against a defendant who resides outside the jurisdiction in question. (ed. note)
of 24 February 2023
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