BEIJING (AP) — China, a firm Russian ally, called for a cease-fire between Ukraine and Moscow and the opening of peace talks in a 12-point proposal to end the fighting that started one year ago and to reinforce its claim to be neutral over the conflict.
While saying it has a neutral stance, China has also said it has a “no limits” relationship with Russia and has refused to criticize its invasion of Ukraine or even refer to it as such. It has accused the West of provoking the conflict and “fanning the flames” by providing Ukraine with defensive arms. The U.S. has also said China may be preparing to provide Russia with military aid, something Beijing says lacks evidence.
Given China’s positions, there are doubts over whether its proposal has any chance — and whether China can be seen as an honest broker.
China and Russia have increasingly aligned their foreign policies to oppose the U.S.-led liberal international order. Foreign Minister Wang Yi reaffirmed the strength of their bilateral ties when he met with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow this week.
State Department spokesman Ned Price had said earlier Thursday that the U.S. would reserve judgment on the proposal but that China’s allegiance with Russia meant it was not a neutral mediator. “We would like to see nothing more than a just and durable peace … but we are skeptical that reports of a proposal like this will be a constructive path forward,” he said.
Price added that the U.S. hopes “all countries that have a relationship with Russia unlike the one that we have will use that leverage, will use that influence to push Russia meaningfully and usefully to end this brutal war of aggression. (China) is in a position to do that in ways that we just aren’t.”
Before the proposal was released, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy had called it an important first step to have China involved.
“I think that, in general, the fact that China started talking about peace in Ukraine, I think that it is not bad. It is important for us that all states are on our side, on the side of justice,” he said at a news conference Thursday with Spain’s prime minister.
The 12-point plan issued Friday morning by China’s Foreign Ministry also urges the end of Western sanctions imposed on Russia and includes measures to keep nuclear facilities safe, establish humanitarian corridors for civilians and ensure the export of grain after disruptions inflated global food prices.
It mainly elaborated on long-held Chinese positions, including that all countries’ “sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity” be guaranteed.
“Dialogue and negotiation are the only viable way out to resolve the Ukraine crisis,” the proposal said. It offered no details on what form talks should take, any preconditions or which countries should be involved, but said “China is willing to continue to play a constructive role in this regard.”
It also called an end to the “Cold War mentality” — China’s standard term for what it regards as U.S. hegemony, interference in other countries’ affairs and maintenance of alliances such as NATO.
“A country’s security cannot be at the expense of other countries’ security, and regional security cannot be guaranteed by strengthening or even expanding military blocs,” the proposal said. “The legitimate security interests and concerns of all countries should be taken seriously and properly addressed.”
China abstained Thursday when the U.N. General Assembly approved a nonbinding resolution that calls for Russia to end hostilities in Ukraine and withdraw its forces. It is one of 16 countries that either voted against or abstained on almost all of five previous resolutions on Ukraine.
The resolution, drafted by Ukraine in consultation with its allies, passed 141-7 with 32 abstentions, sending a strong message on the eve of the first anniversary of the invasion that appears to leave Russia more isolated than ever.
While China has not been openly critical of Moscow, it has said that the present conflict is “not something it wishes to see,” and has repeatedly said any use of nuclear weapons would be completely unacceptable, in an implied repudiation of Putin’s statement that Russia would use “all available means” to protect its territory.
“There are no winners in conflict wars,” the proposal said.
“All parties should maintain rationality and restraint … support Russia and Ukraine to meet each other, resume direct dialogue as soon as possible, gradually promote the de-escalation and relaxation of the situation, and finally reach a comprehensive ceasefire,” it said.
Reiterating China’s position, it said, “Nuclear weapons cannot be used, and nuclear war cannot be fought.”
Shi Yinhong, a professor of international relations at Beijing’s Renmin University, said China’s proposal was necessary.
“China’s peace proposal does not change but combines its comprehensive positions on the crisis and war in Ukraine,” Shi said.
China’s position “always falls far short of Russia’s preference but still meet with criticism from the West and its allies, Shi said.
While neither side is likely to agree to China playing a mediating role, or even pay much heed to the Chinese proposal, Beijing needed to clarify its stance, he said.
“China feels it necessary to repeat its self-perceived neutrality at this juncture, to save some international inference by not only criticizing NATO but also distinguishing itself from Russia’s behavior,” Shi said.
The proposal comes as U.S.-China relations have hit a historic low over Taiwan, disputes over trade and technology, human rights and China’s aggressive actions in the South China Sea.
Most recently, the sides tangled over the U.S. shooting down of an alleged Chinese spy balloon that had floated over the continental United States. China responded furiously to the action, saying it was merely an airship for meteorological research and accused the U.S. of “indiscriminate use of force.”
Further drawing Beijing’s ire, in an interview that aired Sunday, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said American intelligence suggests China is considering providing arms and ammunition to Russia, an involvement in the Kremlin’s war that he said would be a “serious problem.”
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin has called the allegations “nothing more than slander and smear against China.”
U.S. National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said on CNN Thursday that China had “not taken off the table the possibility of providing military assistance to Ukraine, although we haven’t seen them do it yet.”
Sullivan also noted China’s abstaining in the U.N. vote and that Wang Yi visited other European nations during his recent visit to the continent, “trying to sell the idea that China’s not all-in with Russia.”
Sullivan said his first reaction to the proposal was that “it could stop at point one, which is: Respect the sovereignty of all nations.”
“I cannot predict the future,” he told CNN. “What I can tell you is that the United States is not going to dictate to Ukraine how this war ends.”