China’s Peacemaker Plan for Ukraine

Chinese leader Xi Jinping was in Moscow for a three-day state visit with Russian President Vladimir Putin. The two statesmen’s summit took place days after the International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant for the Russian President over war crimes in Ukraine.

China emerged from the meeting as a potential peacemaker in Ukraine, days after China brokered the Iran-Saudi rapprochement that left many surprised. China flexes diplomatic muscle, this time in Eastern Europe. But calling these moves a “new world order”, as many have, is an exaggeration.

If the US was often dubbed “the global policeman” in a unipolar world, China is trying to earn its label as the global peacemaker.

China’s endgame is the rubber-stamp of a chief global peacemaker and Washington is rightly worried, as the US sees itself replaced, displaced and off-balance, just watching from the sidelines.

China’s role can be that of an honest broker in the Russia-Ukraine war. A 12-point plan was issued by the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs earlier in February this year under the title: “China’s Position on the Political Settlement of the Ukraine Crisis”. It was reported that Russian President Vladimir Putin welcomed the plan. European leaders will also consider China’s proposal. Chinese military experts have predicted that the war can end before summer.

Various Western media, including The Guardian, have called the Chinese plan “controversial”. A concern is that China would favor Russia in an unjust peace sought to legitimize Russia’s spoils of war. But what exactly is the Chinese peace plan and is it really controversial and one-sided?

The Chinese position on the war in Ukraine covers the following 12 aspects:

“1. 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.”

There isn’t much controversy in the plan’s point number one. The fabric of international relations is based on the principle of state sovereignty. China is often quoted as an enemy to “the rules-based order”, which often is just a euphemism. Evoking the equality of states before international law and respect for the UN Charter is actually a point in Ukraine’s defense, and not a fig-leaf for Russia.

“2. 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.”

China talks about a new security architecture. China’s view of European security and push away from the Cold-War mentality in Europe goes contrary to NATO’s raison d’etre. If taken to an extreme that assertion means the end of NATO. China having a say on what European security should look like is where the US rightly feels threatened. Leaving bloc confrontation in the past sounds dovish and even a little bit naïve.

“3. 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.”

Ceasefire is a very reasonable proposition. Again, there is hardly anything controversial about proposing the cease of hostilities. China is asking for de-escalation and mentions both sides – Russia and Ukraine – who are supposed to work together.

China’s position that “conflict and war benefit no one”, however, is another dovish assertion on behalf of the Chinese. On the contrary, there is a whole industry that benefits from war. Conflict is a very lucrative endeavor.  The US war machine benefits from conflict in regular cycles. “Fanning the flames and aggrieving tensions” here refer to the US efforts to keep the war ongoing.

“4. 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.” 

China will seek a central role in diplomatic negotiations. If done right, China is actually capable of bringing peace and serving as an honest broker, as long as it maintains neutrality.

“5. 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.”

What’s implied under “increasing humanitarian assistance” here is that China would finance humanitarian assistance. Again, the role of the UN is reiterated. The emphasis on safeguarding civilians and humanitarian corridors is in Ukraine’s defense, against the backdrop of Russia’s widespread attacks on civilians. Again, there isn’t much controversy here in asserting humanitarian assistance and the concern for civilians. This point is in Ukraine’s defense.

“6. 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.”

Just like point five, the protection of civilians is a core tenant of international humanitarian law, and this point is in Ukraine’s favor in times when Russia targets civilian and protected areas on a daily basis.

China is capable of facilitating the proposed exchange of prisoners. This could be a starting negotiation point. Again, there is nothing one-sided or controversial in the practice of exchange of prisoners.

“7. 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) 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.”

A widespread and widely shared concern has been the nuclear plant in the Zaporizhzia. This has been a point of concern shared by most in the international community and the IAEA has been very active in trying to ensure the safety of the nuclear plant. The point is right on spot. There isn’t much controversy around nuclear safety. The proposal reaffirms the UN agency’s role.

“8. 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.”

In calling for nuclear non-proliferation and opposing chemical and biological weapons, China is simply reiterating and referring to international law. Chemical and biological weapons are red-lines which Russia shouldn’t cross. There were concerns that Russia might use chemical weapons on Ukraine, so this point is in favor of Ukraine and for restraint of Russia.

“9. 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.”

China affirms the UN grain initiative in trying to establish food security. This is a point on which all parties seem to agree, and there isn’t much controversy in maintaining the deal alive.

“10. 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’ 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.”

Where the Chinese plan finally gets controversial is China’s opposition to sanctions which European and other countries have imposed on Russia in several rounds. Whether unilateral sanctions work or not is a long discussion, but it has to be mentioned that with Russia a member of the UN Security Council P5, UN sanctions – which are the standard suggested by the Chinese – are not possible. Sanctions on Russia could be eased in exchange for Russia gradually leaving Ukrainian territories.

“11. 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.”

There is not much controversy in point 11 either. The inevitable effects of war are the disruption of all kinds of relations. Here, the Chinese emphasis is on preventing the undermining of economic relations which realistically speaking will suffer for a long time.

“12. 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.”

China is very experienced in financing development across the Global South. This is where the economic giant can really have a positive impact in helping Ukraine recover in exchange for accepting a ceasefire and China-brokered peace. Post-conflict reconstruction happens to be down the US’s alley. There is a whole industry engaged in rebuilding countries that the US bombs, and the US industry is probably rubbing hands at the prospect of post-conflict reconstruction in Ukraine. This industry moves in as soon as the hostilities are over, and even as they go on. In the case of China, the country is likely to offer to rebuild Ukraine charge-free.

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez, is visiting Xi in Beijing this week, looking at China as the potential peacemaker. The rest of the world is also looking at China for a peaceful resolution of the conflict. The US is standing on the sidelines, watching China gradually take its place.

[Photo by, via Wikimedia Commons]

*Iveta Cherneva is an Amazon best-selling author and political analyst. The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author.

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