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China urges Russia-Ukraine cease-fire and peace talks

February 24, 2023

The 12-point position paper on the war in Ukraine comes amid Western accusations Beijing is considering supplying arms to Russia.

Vladimir Putin and Wang Yi shaking hands
China's top diplomat, Wang Yi visited Moscow recently and met with Russian President Vladimir PutinImage: Anton Novoderezhkin/ITAR-TASS/IMAGO

China on Friday called for a cease-fire in Ukraine and the start of peace talks between Kyiv and Moscow.

It was part of a 12-point peace plan to resolve the war through political means.

Beijing has presented a neutral stance in the war. However, China has also said it has a "no limits friendship" with Russia and has refused to condemn the invasion of Ukraine.

What's in China's 12-point plan?

Dialogue and negotiations are the "only feasible solution to the Ukraine crisis," according to the proposal released by the Foreign Ministry.

Beijing also said unilateral sanctions and maximum pressure could not solve the issue and "they only create new problems."

"China opposes unilateral sanctions unauthorized by the UN Security Council. Relevant countries should stop abusing 'long-arm jurisdiction' against other countries," the document said.

While Russian President Vladimir Putin has talked up Moscow's nuclear arsenal, China's peace plan said, "nuclear weapons cannot be used, and nuclear war cannot be fought. The threat or use of nuclear weapons should be opposed."

"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," the document added.

Other points call for protection for prisoners of war and stopping attacks on civilians, keeping nuclear power plants safe and facilitating grain exports.

As Ukraine war anniversary nears, Putin issues rallying call

Ukraine says peace plan a good sign,

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy gave qualified support to the plan saying that Beijing's interest is "not bad" and might be useful in isolating Russia.

"Our task is to gather everyone to isolate the one,'' Zelenskyy told a news conference on the first anniversary of the Russian invasion.

"China has shown its thoughts. I believe that the fact that China started talking about Ukraine is not bad," he added. "But the question is what follows the words. The question is in the steps and where they will lead to."

Germany, US express hesitance 

Germany and Europe have been more reserved about the outcome of the plan.

German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock said it was important that the Chinese proposal restated the imperative to avoid nuclear war. 

"But: there is a peace plan, which 141 countries supported yesterday," Baerbock said, in reference to Thursday's UN General Assembly resolution that China abstained on calling for a "just and lasting" peace in Ukraine. "Stop the Russian aggression, withdrawal of Russian troops, protection for civilian populations." 

Baerbock said China could use its influence as a permanent member of the Security Council to exert pressure on Russia to accede to this proposal. 

"Whoever speaks of peace should not confuse it with subjugation," Baerbock said. "Whoever ranks aggressor and victim the same does not create peace, but rather rewards violence." She said this was the path to a different world order, "where the rights of the strong apply." 

German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier questioned Beijing's willingness to mediate as well. "Every constructive suggestion that brings us closer on the path to a just peace is highly welcome," he said. "Whether global power China wants to play such a constructive role is still doubtful," he said. 

German Chancellor Scholz: 'It is important that China use its influence on Russia'

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the international community should not be fooled by calls for a temporary or unconditional cease-fire in Ukraine. He added that a "just and durable" peace cannot allow Russia to rest and rearm.

"Any peace that legitimizes Russia's seizure of land by force will weaken the (UN) Charter and send a message to would-be aggressors everywhere that they can invade countries and get away with it," Blinken said during a meeting of the UN Security Council.

China's position on the war known from beginning, say EU diplomats

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said "it is not a peace plan, it is a position paper... where China has put together all their positions expressed since the beginning." 

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen also pointed out Beijing's close ties with Moscow. "You have to see them against a specific backdrop, and that is the backdrop that China has already taken sides by signing, for example, an unlimited friendship right before the invasion," she said.

"So we will look at the principles, of course, but we will look at them against the backdrop that China has taken sides," she added.

"China doesn't have much credibility because they have not been able to condemn the illegal invasion of Ukraine," NATO Secretary-General Stoltenberg told reporters in Tallinn, noting that China had signed an agreement with Russia just days before the invasion.

The United States criticized the paper. The US national security advisor said the war "could end tomorrow if Russia stopped attacking Ukraine and withdrew its forces."  

How analysts see China's proposal

Ian Chong, a political scientist at the National University of Singapore, told DW that Beijing's proposal does not pressure Russia to change its action toward Ukraine.

"What struck me in particular is the fact that there are no proposals to incentivize or leverage Moscow to change its behavior," he said. "There is no pressure and there is no offer that might benefit Russia should it comply."

Blake Herzinger, a nonresident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute focusing on Indo-Pacific defense policy, said China's statement reflected its own interests

"This global security idea reflects effectively Beijing's interest. They want to shape up an order that's in their interest," he told DW.  

Beijing has blamed NATO's expansion for the conflict, he noted, but "not once in the statement did they refer to the invasion or anything else. It's all the 'Ukraine crisis.'"

"In Beijing's actions, we see where they really stand, which is they feel that as a large power, they get special consideration and it's effectively their way or the high way," Herzinger added.

China's relations with Russia

The position paper was released by China at a time when Beijing is being accused of considering supplying arms to Russia but has dismissed the allegations.

China's Foreign Ministry on Friday said it was unaware of discussions between Moscow and a Chinese company on arms supplies. A day earlier, German magazine Der Spiegel reported that Russia was in talks with a Chinese manufacturer about buying 100 drones.

"There has been a large volume, too much disinformation spread about China on this point. We should be vigilant about the intentions behind this," ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin told a news briefing.

"I also want to emphasize that China on the export of military products has always held a cautious and responsible attitude, not selling military products to conflict areas or warring parties."

China is maintaining a close relationship with Russia while also trying to position itself as a neutral party to the conflict.

On Wednesday, China's top diplomat, Wang Yi visited Moscow and met with Putin and Russia's Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.

The statement released after their meeting quoted Wang saying China was willing to "deepen political trust" and "strengthen strategic coordination" with Russia.

Growing concerns that China may send weapons to Russia

rm, fb, mf/sms (AP, AFP)