In China, Discussion, Hope, Jenny Clegg, Peace, Putin, Russia, Ukraine, United Nations Charter, United States, Vladimir Zelensky

Chinese President Xi Jinping, right, and Russian President Vladimir Putin pose for a photo prior to their talks in Beijing, China, Feb. 4, 2022.

Morning Star, China, Great power confrontation

We must disregard smears that it is siding with or even arming Russia, and genuinely engage with its role as a peacemaker — of all the great powers, a just and lasting political settlement is most in China’s interests, writes JENNY CLEGG

THE first anniversary of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine brought two significant proposals: one, a further UN general assembly resolution drafted by Ukraine in consultation with allies; the other, China’s 12-point peace plan.

Both call for a ceasefire, and both call for compliance with the UN sovereignty principle; beyond that the overlap is limited.

The UN resolution demands the immediate withdrawal of Russian troops but falls short of specifically calling for peace talks. A non-binding resolution, it was passed by 141, with 32 abstaining and seven against. As with previous UN votes on Ukraine, the large developing countries abstained — India, China, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Iran were joined by Cuba and most of the Central Asian states, with nearly half of the African states not giving their backing.

China’s plan warns of the danger of the conflict spiralling out of control, even risking the use of nuclear weapons and endangering nuclear power plants — surprisingly only one of the UN’s list of deep concerns given it is the most dangerous aspect of the conflict facing Ukraine. Recognising also that the legitimate concerns of all should be addressed, the plan calls on both sides to “work in the same direction” to resume peace talks as soon as possible.

The plan also seeks to end unilateral sanctions unauthorised by the UN security council, expressing opposition to the world economy being used as “a tool or weapon for political purposes.”

Whilst the one-sided approach of Ukraine’s UN resolution can only help to prolong a war, China’s proposal sets an international frame to guide talks towards a peaceful settlement.

China has no dispute with international law — its plan is entirely consistent with it — the problem lies in how it is used: it is up to the major powers to co-operate and help the conflicting parties “open the door to a political settlement.”

The anti-China media criticises the plan as vague — hollow even — and insincere, aimed only to project China’s image as a peaceful power to the global South, a concern with “face” seen by Sinophobes as a uniquely Chinese racial characteristic. But if the proposals are light on detail, it is not for China nor indeed any other power to make concrete prescriptions and preset solutions.

Western warmongers now try to undermine China’s credibility as a peacemaker with a chorus of loud, but completely unsubstantiated, accusations that China intends to supply Russia with military equipment. “If anyone has any doubts about supplying arms to Ukraine,” warned Boris Johnson in Parliament last week, “just see how China is preparing to arm the Russians.”

The question of China’s neutrality

China does not explicitly condemn Russia’s invasion, adhering to the “no limits friendship” agreed upon earlier in February 2022: its declared neutrality may then be open to question.

However, from the outset, China has stated very clearly that the current situation of war is “not what we want to see.” On day two of the invasion, certain financial restrictions were imposed, and Wang Yi, then-foreign minister, made phone calls to counterparts in France, Britain and the EU to explain China’s view.

His points, now elaborated in the 12-point proposal, were that the sovereignty and territorial integrity of all countries should be respected and protected; that, given Nato’s five consecutive rounds of eastward expansion, Russia’s legitimate security demands ought to be properly addressed; and that large-scale humanitarian crises must be prevented. The top priority was for all parties to exercise restraint, with Wang Yi stating that China would welcome the earliest possible direct dialogue and negotiation between Russia and Ukraine.

Putin’s actions have put China in an awkward position, not least in its relations with Europe. China has put huge effort into building a partnership with Europe as a buffer against the US’s intensifying economic warfare. Now the Europeans want China to take a stand on the Ukraine war, their absolute priority issue.

At the same time, China has its own good reasons not to antagonise Russia, such as a 4,300km border, along with certain past experiences of Russian aggression with China the far weaker power — the 1904 Russo-Japanese war fought on Chinese soil, and the 1969 Sino-Soviet border conflict. Again, much effort went into restoring normal relations by 1989 and subsequently to strengthening the two countries’ partnership.

At the same time, bordering both Afghanistan and North Korea, China sets great store in co-operation with Russia which shares its concerns about destabilisation spreading in both the Central and north-east Asian regions.

Certainly, US hostility draws the two sides together. China now sees a Russia-Ukraine solution as urgent as the US attempts to replicate a similar confrontation in the Asia-Pacific region, with even greater impact than that happening on the European continent.

But while both Russia and China agree on the need for a multipolar world, China’s approach here is quite different. Where Russia felt compelled to resist Nato expansion with force, the Chinese way of thinking — that of the ancient strategist, Sun Tzu — is to avoid it.

Rather than forming a Sino-Russian block, which would surely aggravate the US further, China aims to avoid confrontation through diplomacy, seeking instead to bring the UN back to the centre of international relations.

The peace plan serves to demonstrate how China sees its role as a major power — to support consultation, facilitate peace talks, and offer its good offices for mediation. As much as it is a serious proposal to end the conflict, the plan seeks to rally the global South and win over Europe just as Nato swerves towards direct conflict with Russia, threatening the very basis of international co-operation and the UN.

Winning international support for peace

The US-led Cold War division has hit a stumbling block as countries in the global South resist choosing sides. A year of lobbying has produced little change in the UN abstentions.

To appeal to developing countries, Volodymyr Zelensky acts as defender of the UN’s fundamental principle of sovereignty, calling for them to donate arms. What he forgets is the UN commitment to resolving disputes through dialogue. Turning the organisation into a battleground of “democracies against autocracies” dangerously derails its basis — the equality of all states regardless of their political systems.

China’s plan may find greater resonance within the global South, taking into account the interests of development in calls for joint efforts to mitigate the wider impact of the conflict which is undermining global economic recovery after Covid, disrupting supplies of energy, finance and food trade.

At the same time, whilst suggesting Europe own a portion of the blame in its failure to establish an inclusive security framework, China also seeks to strike a common chord, supporting EU-Russia relations for indivisible security in line with the OSCE’s original focus.

China is the first major power to get involved in the quest for peace; it potentially brings huge influence to bear with leverage on both sides. Up until the war, with China being Ukraine’s largest trading partner, relations have been good.

Zelensky has now cautiously welcomed China’s involvement, indicating his willingness to meet with Xi Jinping. It may be that China’s pragmatism will not suit his appetite for Russia’s punishment — however, Putin, too, would have to concede territory.

No peace is possible until both sides face up to the fact that to get what they want they have to be prepared to give something in return. Peace and anti-war movements should welcome and support the initiative and not assume that China is just in the game of bloc politics or underrate its role as peacemaker. World peace now calls for international solidarity.


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