On Friday, China called for a ceasefire and peace talks between Ukraine and Russia. President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelensky cautiously welcomed Beijing’s involvement, but said that success would depend on actions, not words.
Beijing claims to be neutral in the war that began a year ago, but has also said it has “boundless friendship” with Russia and has refused to criticize Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine or even call it an invasion. He accused the West of provoking conflict and fanning the fire by providing Ukraine with defensive weapons.
“I think that China talking about Ukraine is not bad,” Zelensky said at a press conference on Friday. “But the question is what follows the words. The question is in the steps and where they will lead.
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The plan, released by China’s foreign ministry, largely reiterates longstanding positions, and analysts say Beijing is unlikely to mediate.
But some observers have warned that Ukraine and its allies must tread carefully, saying that abandoning what China sees as its peace initiative could nudge Beijing into arms sales to Russia instead.
Volodymyr Fesenko, head of Kyiv-based independent think tank Penta Center, believes that Zelensky will “try to play with China … to keep China and Russia from getting closer.”
“As long as China comes up with peacekeeping initiatives, it will be forced to remain neutral and refrain from supplying weapons and direct military assistance to Russia,” Fesenko told The Associated Press.
Ukraine could also see “a scenario in which, at the very least, China puts pressure on Russia to deter the use of nuclear weapons and establish a mechanism to control nuclear power plants in Ukraine,” he said.
Beijing needs to clarify its position whether Kyiv and Moscow are paying attention to this, said Shi Yinhong, a professor of international relations at Peking Renmin University.
“China finds it necessary to repeat its apparent neutrality at this juncture in order to maintain some international influence, not only by criticizing NATO, but also by differing from Russia’s behavior,” Shi said.
Chinese proposal calls to respect the territorial integrity of all countries, but does not say what will happen to the regions occupied by Russia after the invasion. He also calls for an end to “unilateral” sanctions against Russia, implicitly criticizes the expansion of the NATO alliance, and denounces threats to use nuclear force.
The proposal is “China’s attempt at public relations,” said Li Mingjiang, a professor and international security expert at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore. “I’m not sure this policy will increase their credibility as an honest broker.”
The Russian Foreign Ministry welcomed the proposal and said it shared China’s message, including lifting Western sanctions. At the same time, ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova reaffirmed Moscow’s demand for Ukraine to recognize Russia’s land acquisition, abandon its bid to join NATO, and accept neutral status, among other conditions for peace.
Ukraine has declared that it will not agree to any peace without the return of its entire territory.
Zelensky’s adviser Mykhailo Podolyak tweeted that any peace plan that only provides for a ceasefire and allows Russia to continue its occupation of any part of Ukraine is “not about peace, but about freezing the war, defeating Ukraine, the next stages of Russian genocide.”
Ukraine’s allies have also expressed skepticism. US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan told CNN that his first reaction to the proposal was that “it could stop at the first point, which is to respect the sovereignty of all nations.”
He added: “This war could end tomorrow if Russia stops attacking Ukraine and withdraws its troops… It was a war of choice.”
German government spokesman Wolfgang Buechner said that the Chinese proposal contains several important points, but does not contain the key one: “first of all, the withdrawal of Russian troops from Ukraine.”
China abstained on Thursday when United Nations General Assembly adopted a non-binding resolution calling on Russia to end hostilities in Ukraine and withdraw its troops.
His 12-point peace proposal also calls for action to prevent attacks on civilians, secure nuclear sites, establish humanitarian corridors, and secure grain exports. He called for an end to the “Cold War mentality” – China’s standard term for what he sees as US hegemony and the maintenance of alliances such as NATO.
“Dialogue and negotiations are the only viable solution to the Ukrainian crisis.” the proposal says. He did not give details on what form the talks should take, but said “China will continue to play a constructive role in this regard.”
On Friday, Zelensky said his main goal is to make sure China does not supply weapons to Russia. And he expressed the hope that China’s involvement could be helpful in isolating Russia. “Our task is to gather everyone in order to isolate one,” he said.
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He also said that he would like to meet with Chinese President Xi Jinping: “I believe that this will benefit our countries and the security of the world.”
China’s proposal comes as US-China relations hit historic lows over Taiwan, disputes over trade and technology, human rights, and China’s aggressive actions in the South China Sea.
The US recently said that China may be preparing to provide military assistance to Russia, a statement that Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin called “nothing more than slander and slander.”
On Friday, he cited “massive disinformation in this regard against China.”
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Wang responded to a report in German magazine Der Spiegel that the Russian military was in talks with a small Chinese drone maker about “components and know-how” to enable the country to produce about 100 suicide drones a month.