China has called for a cease-fire in the war in Ukraine and a return to negotiations as Beijing tries to position itself as peacemaker in the conflict on the first anniversary of Russia’s all-out invasion.
However, Western leaders immediately questioned China’s motives, accusing Beijing of having already taken Russia’s side in the war.
On Friday, China’s Foreign Ministry released a 12-point paper outlining its position on a “political settlement” of the war, though many of the measures echoed Beijing’s previous talking points.
Chinese diplomats have engaged in a difficult balancing act over the war, seeking to appear neutral despite Beijing’s close ties to Moscow while blaming Washington and NATO for provoking the conflict.
“Dialogue and negotiation are the only viable solution to the Ukrainian crisis,” the Foreign Ministry said in the document, which it did not directly describe as war. All efforts conducive to a peaceful settlement of the crisis should be encouraged.
The heads of NATO and the European Commission said the proposal was marred by Beijing’s failure to condemn the Russian invasion.
“We will look at the principles, of course, but we will look at them against the background of China taking one side,” said Ursula von der Leyen, the chair of the Commission. “It is not a peace plan.”
“China does not have much credibility because it was not able to condemn the illegal invasion of Ukraine,” said Jens Stoltenberg, Secretary General of NATO.
But German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier said: “We very much welcome any constructive proposal that brings us closer to a just and just peace.” He called on Beijing to communicate with Kiev and Moscow.
It is also unlikely that Beijing’s cease-fire plan will gain support in Kiev until Russia withdraws from occupied territories, an issue not addressed in the 12-point position paper.
Zhanna Leshinska, chargé d’affaires at Ukraine’s embassy in Beijing, has ruled out a ceasefire that would freeze the conflict along the current front line.
“We have seen that Russia should unconditionally withdraw all its forces from the territory of Ukraine,” she told reporters in Beijing on Friday, adding that that meant the country’s internationally recognized borders, which included Crimea.
Leschinska said China should show its neutrality by pushing Russia to withdraw its forces and increase its engagement with Ukraine. Chinese leader Xi Jinping has not contacted Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky since the Russian invasion, but he has spoken with Russian President Vladimir Putin several times.
Shi Yinhong, a professor at Renmin University, said Beijing may have known that neither side would heed her proposal. China feels [it] It is necessary to reiterate its neutrality on the war at this point to salvage some international leverage by not only criticizing NATO but also by distinguishing itself from Russia’s behavior.
And Wang Yi, China’s top diplomat, appeared to be making little headway in pushing the proposals when he met Putin on Wednesday.
The Beijing paper also warned against the use of nuclear weapons in war and called for the protection of Ukrainian nuclear power plants. He also demanded the cessation of sanctions that were not authorized by the UN Security Council, referring to the sanctions imposed by Western countries.
Lily McElwee, a China expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said the position paper aims to convince Europe that Beijing can play a constructive role in the conflict while maintaining its partnership with Russia. A third goal might be to court the countries of the “Global South,” many of which do not share the Western view on war.
“China fears that it will spoil the international environment because of its global goals and sees the global south as a useful partner,” McElwee said.
The peace proposal follows allegations from Washington that Beijing is considering sending lethal weapons and other aid to Russia.
Stoltenberg said there were “indications and indications that China may be planning and considering providing military aid to Russia” but there is no evidence that it has done so yet.
Wang Wenbin, a spokesperson for the Chinese Foreign Ministry, said that Beijing “does not offer any arms deals in any conflict areas or to parties involved in the war. What we have been doing is encouraging peace talks.”
Hu Xijin, former editor of the nationalist Chinese newspaper Global Times, defended Beijing’s reluctance to provide direct military assistance.
Hu said this week that China has already provided the “biggest support for a crippled Russian economy” by increasing energy and food imports and keeping the flow of Chinese “electronics, cars and microprocessors”.
Chinese customs data shows that imports from its neighbor rose 43 percent last year to $114 billion, while exports rose 13 percent to $76 billion.
Additional reporting by Maiky Ding and Nian Liu in Beijing