China put forward a plan for peace in Ukraine on the one-year anniversary of the embattled nation’s grueling war with Russia, but Western leaders were initially cool to the proposal, which includes likely concessions to Moscow and a retreat by NATO.
The proposal, in the form of a 12-point position paper from China’s foreign ministry, called for a ceasefire and peace talks. China has claimed neutrality in the war, which began when Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24, 2022, but Chinese President Xi Jinping has met with Russian President Vladimir Putin and Beijing has sent non-lethal aid to Russia.
“There are no winners in conflict wars,” the proposal stated. “All parties should maintain rationality and restraint [and] 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.”
The plan called for an end to the West’s crippling sanctions on Russia and suggested negotiations which observers said seemed aimed at Ukraine conceding land to Russia, most likely Crimea and in the Donbas region. The proposal also suggested NATO pull back from Russia’s borders, an issue that Putin has cited as a threat to his nation. Ukraine is not a NATO member, although it seeks to be.
Here are the dozen points in China’s proposal:
Respecting the sovereignty of all countries
Abandoning the Cold War mentality
Resuming peace talks
Resolving the humanitarian crisis
Protecting civilians and prisoners of war
Keeping nuclear power plants safe
Reducing strategic risks
Facilitating grain exports
Stopping unilateral sanctions
Keeping industrial and supply chains stable
Promoting post-conflict reconstruction
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said Beijing is not a neutral party in the conflict and seemed skeptical of its role as a peacemaker.
“China doesn’t have much credibility because they have not been able to condemn the illegal invasion of Ukraine,” he told reporters in Tallinn.
Last week, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the West believes China is poised to begin supplying arms to Russia. Given that the West, led by the U.S., is sending lethal aid to Ukraine, that would raise the specter of a proxy war between the world’s most powerful nations and stoke fears the U.S., Europe, and China could all be further drawn in.
President Joe Biden, during a surprise visit to Kyiv earlier this week, said the U.S. would support Ukraine for “as long as it takes.” The U.S. has so far pledged between $130 billion and $200 billion in aid to Ukraine, with Biden even pledging to shore up the beleaguered nation’s pension system. Some polls show Americans’ support for the war is flagging.
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The war is increasingly unpopular in Russia, where Putin has emptied prisons to bolster troops and sanctions have hurt poor citizens and billionaire oligarchs alike. While China has not condemned the invasion, it has warned that any use of nuclear weapons would be “unacceptable.”
Putin and Xi are set to meet in Moscow in April, according to The Wall Street Journal.
“We await a visit of the President of the People’s Republic of China to Russia, we have agreed on this,” Putin told top Chinese diplomat Wang Yi Wednesday during their meeting at the Kremlin, according to Reuters. “Everything is progressing, developing. We are reaching new frontiers.”
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, who warned last week that if China allied with Russia there would be a “world war,” said before the proposal was released that he welcomed input from China.
“I think that, in general, the fact that China started talking about peace in Ukraine, I think that it is not bad,” he said Friday. “It is important for us that all states are on our side, on the side of justice.”
State Department spokesman Ned Price, speaking Thursday before the proposal was released, said the U.S. would reserve judgment but questioned China’s standing to broker peace.
“We would like to see nothing more than a just and durable peace,” he said. “But we are skeptical that reports of a proposal like this will be a constructive path forward.”
The war has ravaged Ukraine’s infrastructure and killed as many as 100,000 Ukrainian soldiers, according to Gen. Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. At least 8,000 civilians have been killed millions have fled the country. An estimated 60,000 Russian soldiers have been killed.