China made a fresh call for a cease-fire and peace talks to end the war in Ukraine, seeking to cast itself as a neutral mediator in a one-year-old conflict during which Beijing has struggled to maintain its close partnership with Moscow while not further inflaming tensions with the West.
In a 12-point document issued Friday morning in Beijing, China’s Foreign Ministry outlined what it called “China’s Position on the Political Settlement of the Ukraine Crisis,” using its preferred label for the war that Russia launched a year ago.
The paper summarized a range of public positions that Chinese leader Xi Jinping and other officials have long taken on the war in Ukraine. Though it was short on details, it appeared to offer a veiled warning to Moscow not to escalate the conflict with nuclear weapons.
Beijing reiterated its calls for “abandoning the Cold War mentality” and “stopping unilateral sanctions,” language that Chinese officials have routinely used to criticize the U.S. and other Western powers for their response to Russia’s invasion—including the supply of arms to Ukraine and the use of wide-ranging economic tools to pressure Moscow.
The paper didn’t explicitly mention the U.S. or the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, but China appeared to criticize the alliance for pursuing “one’s own security at the cost of others’ security”—an argument it has used in apparent support for Russia’s reasoning for waging war.
China stopped short of calling for an immediate end to hostilities, and instead encouraged dialogue “so as to gradually deescalate the situation and ultimately reach a comprehensive ceasefire.” The document didn’t put forward a timetable for talks or offer to host negotiations. Beijing also didn’t make a proposal related to territory—an issue central to Kyiv’s peace plan, which calls on Russia to withdraw all troops from Ukraine.
The U.S. State Department didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment on China’s position on ending the conflict.
Beijing’s approach differs from that taken by the U.S. and other Western nations on Thursday in a resolution at the United Nations General Assembly. That nonbinding resolution, which called on Russia to immediately withdraw from Ukrainian territory, passed the assembly despite opposition from Russia and an abstention by China.
China’s top diplomat, Wang Yi, telegraphed the paper’s release last week, saying Beijing would issue a position document outlining its views on how to end the conflict. “China is willing to work with all parties to continue the efforts for realizing an early peace,” Mr. Wang said at the Munich Security Conference on Saturday, ahead of a trip this week to Moscow where he met Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Beijing has also accused the U.S. of prolonging the conflict, profiteering from the war and flooding third countries with weapons by mismanaging its arms shipments to Ukraine. “American military enterprises have made a lot of money from the war in Ukraine,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin told reporters this week.
The Biden administration, for its part, has looked at the possibility of releasing intelligence it believes shows that China is weighing whether to supply weapons to support Russia’s war in Ukraine. Western officials have urged Beijing against doing so, including through formal warnings delivered to Mr. Wang in Munich.
Chinese academics portrayed the paper as Beijing’s attempt to clarify its views on Ukraine and debunk Western smears about its intentions. “The U.S. has frequently spread rumors about China, saying that China wants to get involved and help Russia. This is pure nonsense,” Jin Canrong, a professor at Renmin University of China in Beijing, wrote on social media.
While China has sought to promote peace, “the U.S. on the other hand has continued to fan flames and add fuel to the fire, for its own selfish aims,” Mr. Jin said. “Therefore, on the first anniversary of the Russia-Ukraine conflict, it is necessary for the Chinese government to reiterate its position.”
Some Western experts say the paper marks China as a contributor to any resolution of the conflict, but the lack of details puts the onus on other parties to move the ball. “It’s a content-free diplomatic position to take,” said Michael Auslin, a historian at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution. “It says everything and commits to nothing.”
Notwithstanding its calls for an end to the fighting, China has abstained in five U.N. votes on Ukraine-related resolutions that called on Russia to cease hostilities, including the one on Thursday that passed 141 to seven, with 32 abstentions. Beijing voted against a sixth, last April, to remove Russia from the Human Rights Council over its Ukraine invasion.
Friday’s paper also included a restatement of basic principles in international relations, such as respecting sovereignty of all nations and protecting civilians and prisoners of war. It also urged efforts to facilitate grain exports from the conflict zone and keep nuclear power plants off-limits from military attacks.
China’s top diplomat, Wang Yi, meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow this week.PHOTO: ANTON NOVODEREZHKIN/VIA ASSOCIATED PRESS
China also said it “stands ready to provide assistance and play a constructive role” in promoting postconflict reconstruction, without elaborating.
Western officials have reacted cautiously to suggestions by Mr. Wang, China’s top diplomat, that Beijing wanted to take a more active role in promoting peace in Ukraine, noting China’s close ties with Moscow and unwillingness to condemn the invasion.
Dmytro Kuleba, the Ukrainian foreign minister, said on Tuesday that Mr. Wang had shared elements of China’s plan with him while traveling through Europe this past week. Mr. Kuleba said Ukraine agreed with China about the need to protect territorial integrity, but said at the time that he wanted to see the full document before drawing conclusions.
In some ways, China has benefited from the war, which diverted Western attention away from Beijing’s own moves toward Taiwan and allowed it to scoop up Russian oil at cut-rate prices. But Mr. Xi’s association with Mr. Putin has also dented Beijing’s reputation, particularly in European nations that China hopes will be more interested in doing business than in following Washington’s increasingly hard-line position on China.
Increased global economic stress from the war has also helped fuel inflation and made it tougher for some poor nations that borrowed heavily from Beijing to honor their obligations.
China’s calls for “respecting the sovereignty of all countries,” the first of the 12 points in its position paper, is a bedrock of Beijing’s foreign policy, but one that has been tested over the past year by Russia’s invasion. China had regarded Ukraine as a sovereign nation, as evidenced by a phone call between Mr. Xi and President Volodymyr Zelensky to mark 30 years of relations between the two nations just weeks before Russian troops attacked.
Mr. Xi isn’t known to have spoken with Mr. Zelensky since the hostilities broke out, though the Chinese leader has engaged with Mr. Putin through video calls and face to face as the war unfolded.
Mr. Xi is preparing to visit Russia for a summit with Mr. Putin sometime in the coming months, potentially in April or May, The Wall Street Journal reported this week.
Source : WSJ