Russia Ukraine conflict

China calls for Russia-Ukraine ceasefire, peace talks

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China called for a ceasefire and peace talks between Ukraine and Russia, in a vaguely worded proposal released Friday that analysts said was unlikely to deliver results.

Beijing claims to have a neutral stance in the war that began one year ago, but China has also said it has a “no limits friendship” with Russia and has refused to criticize its invasion of Ukraine, or even refer to it as an invasion. It has accused the West of provoking the conflict and “fanning the flames” by providing Ukraine with defensive arms.

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The plan released by China’s Foreign Ministry mainly reiterated long-held positions and neither Ukraine nor Russia is likely to agree to have Beijing play a mediating role.

It calls for the “sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity of all countries” to be respected, but does not say what will happen to the territory Russia has occupied since invading Ukraine. It also calls for an end to “unilateral” sanctions on Russia, indirectly criticizes NATO expansion, and condemns threats of nuclear force.

The proposal is “an attempt for public relations on the part of China,” said Li Mingjiang, a professor and international security expert at Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University.

“I’m not convinced that this policy is going to improve their credibility in being an honest broker,” Li said.

Speaking after China issued the paper, but without referring to it, Zhanna Leshchynska, charge d’affaires at the Ukrainian embassy in Beijing, said her country does not want peace at any price.

“We will not agree to anything that keeps Ukrainian territories occupied and puts our people at the aggressor’s mercy,” Leshchynska said in an address at the EU mission to China.

In addition to calling for sovereignty to be respected and sanctions against Russia to end, the 12-point paper urges measures to prevent attacks on civilians and civilian facilities, keep nuclear facilities safe, establish humanitarian corridors for civilians and ensure the export of grain after disruptions inflated global food prices.

It also called for an end to “Cold War mentality” — China’s standard term for what it regards as US hegemony, and maintenance of alliances such as NATO.

“Dialogue and negotiation are the only viable solution to the Ukraine crisis.” the proposal said. It offered no details on what form talks should take but said “China will continue to play a constructive role in this regard.”

China abstained Thursday when the UN General Assembly approved a nonbinding resolution that calls for Russia to end hostilities in Ukraine and withdraw its forces.

Responding Friday to questions about the proposal, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said China’s actions show it is “committed to peace talks,” and faulted Beijing’s critics for doing too little encourage negotiations.

State Department spokesman Ned Price had said earlier Thursday that the US 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.

Shi Yinhong, a professor of international relations at Beijing’s Renmin University, said that while neither side is likely to 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 US recently said that China may be preparing to provide Russia with military aid, an allegation that Beijing says lacks evidence.

Wang has called the allegation “nothing more than slander and smears,” and on Friday he referred to a “massive disinformation in this respect against China.”

The spokesperson was responding to a report in German magazine Der Spiegel that Russia’s military was negotiating with a small Chinese drone manufacturer for the “components and know-how” to allow the country to manufacture about 100 suicide drones a month.

The proposal comes as US-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.

US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said on CNN Thursday that his first reaction to the proposal was that “it could stop at point one, which is: Respect the sovereignty of all nations.”

Sullivan also noted China’s abstaining in the UN 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.”

“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.”

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