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Is the Chinese Plan for Ukraine Pro-Peace or Pro-Putin?

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President Xi Jinping of China, March 10, 2023. In examining his country’s recent “position paper” to end Russia’s war in Ukraine, the essayist writes that it “is not likely to achieve either peace or justice for Ukraine.” 

China launched its 12-point position paper to end the war in Ukraine on the first anniversary of Russia’s full invasion of Ukraine. Some, including the United States, the European Union and NATO have dismissed what they call China’s peace plan as pro-Russian. The US further claimed that “China is seriously exploring supplying arms to Russia.” China has categorically denied the US claims and consistently maintained that it “will continue firmly standing on the side of dialogue and the side of peace.”

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky reacted differently, saying that he “wanted to believe that Beijing was interested in a fair peace.” He cautiously welcomed the plan on the condition that it includes Russia’s withdrawal “from all occupied Ukrainian territory.”

With China’s recent success in brokering talks in the Middle East, can China’s push for a political settlement in Ukraine be viewed in a new light?

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s decision to invade Ukraine on Feb. 24, 2022, appears to be the result of many miscalculations. He thought that Kyiv would fall within days; that Zelensky would flee; and that the US and its NATO allies would fail to unite. Putin’s biggest miscalculation, however, may have been his expectation that Chinese President Xi Jinping would stand with him against the West. After all, shortly before his troops marched into Ukraine, Putin issued a joint statement with Xi announcing that their countries’ friendship had “no limits.” Nonetheless, while China has not explicitly condemned Russia’s aggression or boycotted its oil and natural gas, it has not directly supported Putin in his war in Ukraine — at least not yet.

To the contrary, China not only abstained on the Security Council’s Uniting for Peace resolution, which referred the invasion of Ukraine to the General Assembly, China has also abstained on five of the six resolutions adopted by the 11th emergency special session of the Assembly in the last year. The overwhelming majority of the 193 member-body has strongly deplored Russia’s aggression in Ukraine as well as its illegal annexation of parts of eastern Ukraine. In so doing, China has consistently stated that “the sovereignty and territorial integrity of all countries should be respected” and that “the purposes and principles of the Charter of the United Nations should be observed.”

Similarly, four of the most salient points of China’s 12-point plan are devoted to upholding international law and the UN Charter.

• Point 1 refers to the “sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity of all countries,” which by definition includes Ukraine in its internationally recognized borders.

• Point 6 calls for strict compliance with international humanitarian law; protection of women, children and other victims of the conflict; avoidance of collateral damage to civilians or civilian facilities; and respect for the basic rights of prisoners of war. While all parties to the conflict must respect international humanitarian law, the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Ukraine concluded in its October 2022 report that the “Russian armed forces are responsible for the vast majority of the violations identified.”

• Point 7 reaffirms the legal prohibition of attacks against nuclear power plants and other peaceful nuclear facilities; this may contain an implicit reprimand of Russia, whose forces attacked and seized the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant in October 2022.

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• Point 8 is unequivocal in its opposition to the use or threat of use of nuclear weapons and categorical in its imperative of preventing nuclear nonproliferation. China must be aware that as far as the conflict in Ukraine is concerned, only Putin “has raised the specter of using a nuclear weapon.” China must also have noted that two days before it issued its position paper, Putin announced that Russia was suspending its participation in the New START treaty with the US. Point 8 may therefore put China in opposition to Russia’s posture.

• On the military front, Point 3 calls for a “cessation of hostilities” and Point 4 states that “dialogue and negotiation are the only viable solution to the Ukraine crisis.” While the European Commission has dismissed these points as “blurring the role of aggressor and aggressed,” they could be China’s way of cautioning Russia to pursue political rather than military solutions to its political grievances and security concerns.

• On the political front, Point 2 calls on all parties to “abandon the Cold War mentality.” China could be telling Russia that its security “should not be pursued at the expense of others” (presumably a reference to the nation and people of Ukraine), while at the same time it could be reminding the US and its NATO allies that the “legitimate security interests and concerns of all countries must be taken seriously and addressed properly” (presumably a reference to Russia’s security concerns about NATO’s expansion).

• The only clear rebuke to the US and the EU is Point 10, where China reiterates its longstanding opposition to unilateral sanctions and “maximum pressure” strategies — a point that goes well beyond the conflict in Ukraine.

• The rest of China’s 12-point plan is largely devoted to humanitarian and economic concerns shared by the US and Europe, including Point 5, on easing the humanitarian crisis in Ukraine; Point 9, on implementing the Black Sea Grain Initiative to avert a global food crisis; Point 10, on maintaining stable supply chains to support a global economic recovery; and Point 12, on promoting post-conflict reconstruction in Ukraine.

In this light, China’s 12-point plan is not necessarily pro-Putin or pro-Russia. It can be viewed as a genuine call for peace and the rule of international law. Nonetheless, the plan lacks the practical steps on how to end the war and how to compel the withdrawal of Russian troops from Ukraine. It is also silent on accountability for all the war crimes that continue to be committed as well as compensation or other reparations for the Ukrainian civilians killed and injured and the civilian infrastructure destroyed in the aggression and occupation by Russia. As such, the Chinese plan is not likely to achieve either peace or justice for Ukraine.

Mona Ali Khalil is an internationally recognized public international lawyer with 25 years of UN and other experience, including as a former senior legal officer in the UN and in the IAEA, with expertise in peacekeeping, peace enforcement, disarmament and counterterrorism. She holds a B.A. and an M.A. in international relations from Harvard University and a master’s in foreign service and a J.D. from Georgetown University. She is an affiliate of the Harvard Law School Program on International Law and Armed Conflict. She is the founder and director of MAK LAW INTERNATIONAL, an advisory and strategic consulting service assisting governments and intergovernmental organizations in the service of “We the Peoples.”

 

 

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Is the Chinese Plan for Ukraine Pro-Peace or Pro-Putin?
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Frank Makumbi
Frank Makumbi
8 months ago

In assessing the potential success of China’s plan, it is crucial to closely examine the practical steps, accountability mechanisms, international cooperation, and Russia’s willingness to engage constructively. Without addressing these critical aspects, it remains uncertain whether China’s plan can effectively bring about a lasting peace and justice for Ukraine.

Ulla Hipkin
Ulla Hipkin
11 months ago

How to stop the war in Ukraine before it escalates into a world war, this situation we find ourselves locked into is too dangerous and it requires serious negotiations now; and China’s input should be welcomed to be worked on, as well as other potential peace proposals presented at the United Nations. We need to cooperate against climate change – not war. Hate and military adventurism and the necessity of winning (although millions die and the earth is scorched) will destroy life on earth. Peace first, then justice, then democracy.

Vidvuds Beldavs
Vidvuds Beldavs
11 months ago

https://documents-dds-ny.un.org/doc/UNDOC/GEN/N91/491/00/PDF/N9149100.pdf
Link to copy of agreements creating sovereign states from former republics of the USSR.

Vidvuds Beldavs
Vidvuds Beldavs
11 months ago

The Chinese plan is very clear that Russia will need to withdraw its forces from Ukraine when this matter is finally settled. The points about security interests of all countries is relevant to the matter but NATO expansion had nothing to do with Russia’s attack and dismemberment of Ukraine in 2014. Prior to Russia’s attack the constitution of Ukraine stated that Ukraine was a neutral country. This language was changed as a result of Russian aggression. In 2022 the application of Finland and Sweden to join NATO was not to threaten Russia but to join and strengthen the alliance against Russian Aggression.
Point 10 about unilateral sanctions appears to be an attempt by China to recognize the views of Russia to create the possibility of China serving as a peacemaker. China needs to recognize that the imposition sanctions by the US, European and other states against Russia’s actions that violate the UN Charter had the implicit approval of the 141 states that condemned Russia’s aggression and territory grab in multiple votes of UNGA. Perhaps such an overwhelming majority of UN member states could authorize the use of sanctions in such a case?
China has been on the sidelines of the war benefiting from cheap commodities from Russia as well as from the withdrawal of much of Western business from Russia opening the market to its producers. If China wants to act as the champion of the UN and multilateral solutions to problems including conflicts among states it must recognize that Russia’s aggression against is no different than the aggression of ISIS against Syria and Iraq and other Muslim lands by appealing to the myth of past greatness. Russia pledged to honor the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Ukraine including Crimea The crucial difference is that the newly independent Russian Federation signed binding agreements with Ukraine, Belarus and other newly independent states to dissolve the former USSR and to declare their sovereignty in December 1991. In these interlinked agreements Russia committed to respect the territorial integrity of Ukraine as of the time of signing and to refrain from economic and political pressure and the use of force.
A key element of the agreements that created a sovereign Russian state in December 1991 is that the other newly independent states agreed that Russia would hold the seat of the former USSR in the UN. Clearly, Ukraine and the other newly independent states would not have granted Russia the right to hold the seat of the former USSR if they had expected Russia to violate the agreement. By violating the agreement that created its sovereign existence Russia has destroyed the legal basis for it to hold the seat of the USSR in the UN.
China needs to insist on this point. If Russia wants to hold onto any Ukrainian territory that it has illegally grabbed, it must lose the right to hold the seat of the former USSR in the UN.

Bill Buchanan
Bill Buchanan
11 months ago

Re China’s 12-point plan for peace between Russia and Ukraine – It can be viewed as a genuine call for peace and the rule of international law.
I would say that this is the most intelligent statement by a world leader on the Russia-Ukraine war. Take it from there as Phase 1 and place the comment “Nonetheless, the plan lacks the practical steps on how to end the war and how to compel the withdrawal of Russian troops from Ukraine.” in phase 2. Accountability for war crimes can only really be addressed after the various troops are withdrawn and it is not intelligent to delay the cessation of war on the basis that war crimes on both sides are examined.
Let us ignore any sub-texts for the time being and focus on stopping the Russia-Ukraine war.

Vidvuds Beldavs
Vidvuds Beldavs
11 months ago
Reply to  Bill Buchanan

The war must be stopped but not at the price of weakening the UN and the Security Council and damaging the international order.
Russia as an aggressor illegally occupies the seat of the former USSR. If it refuses to withdraw its forces, then China must lead in demanding that Russia loses the seat of the former USSR. Russia holding the seat with veto powers is like ISIS holding such power.

Billatwa
Billatwa
11 months ago

The war must be stopped. Period! The issues of Russia’s aggression and Security Council can still be dealt with but not at the price of people dying when the carnage can be stopped.

Eugene Berkovich
Eugene Berkovich
11 months ago
Reply to  Billatwa

Just stopping the war will only lead to freezing the conflict. Something that already happened in 2014.

Billatwa
Billatwa
11 months ago

If we do not stop the war now the probability is that Russia will win. ‘freezing the conflict’ would at least provide opportunities for a diplomatic solution.

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