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China cease-fire proposal for Ukraine falls flat with US, allies

China's President Xi Jinping, left, shakes hands with Russian President Vladimir Putin. (Mikhail Metzel/Tass/Abaca Press/TNS)

China called for a cease-fire between Russia and Ukraine in a position paper on ending the war that offered some reprieve to Moscow but was quickly dismissed by Kyiv’s allies as the conflict enters its second year.

Several of the 12 points outlined by China in the document issued Friday would, if carried out, offer clear benefits to Russian President Vladimir Putin. That includes a cease-fire, which would freeze Russian troops in place on Ukrainian territory, as well as a call to immediately end all sanctions not endorsed by the UN Security Council, where Russia holds veto power.

National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan, speaking on CNN, brushed off the Chinese proposal, saying it should have ended after the first bullet point, which calls for “respecting the sovereignty of all countries.”

“This war could end tomorrow, if Russia stopped attacking Ukraine and withdrew its forces,” he said.

Asked about the proposal, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said, “China doesn’t have much credibility” in light of its failure to condemn Putin’s war.

But U.S. and European officials worry that the Chinese proposal may get some traction in the global South, which has largely resisted calls to join sanctions against Russia.

The Chinese announcement came a day after the country abstained from a United Nations resolution calling for an end to the war. The measure passed 141-7, with 32 abstentions. The UN resolution included a demand for the withdrawal of Russian troops from Ukraine’s territory.

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has vowed to continue fighting until Russian troops depart. Moscow has shown no sign of stopping its attacks and continues to claim portions of eastern Ukraine and Crimea as its territory after holding illegal referendums on annexation.

The Chinese initiative “is nothing that Ukraine could accept,” Latvian President Egils Levits said on Bloomberg Television.

The criticism was more muted from Ukraine, which has tried to avoid alienating Beijing since the start of the war.

“Of course Ukraine would like to see China on its side,” said Zhanna Leshchynska, Kyiv’s top diplomat in Beijing. “At the moment, we see that China is not supporting Ukrainian efforts,” but “we hope that they also urge the Russian Federation to stop the war and to withdraw its troops from the territory of Ukraine.”

There was no immediate official comment on the Chinese plan from Russia, which was observing a public holiday Friday.

Beijing has repeatedly defended a few of Russia’s justifications for going to war — most prominently to resist the expansion of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization — while insisting it doesn’t support the invasion itself.

The Chinese initiative is a diplomatic boost for Russia, said Alexander Gabuev, senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. “Russia can say publicly it’s not against it, thank its Chinese colleagues and that it’s ready to sit down at the negotiating table.”

“It’s clear no one would seriously agree to this but it will score political points for China and make the West look bloodthirsty and like obstacles to peace,” he said.

Days before releasing the proposal, China’s top diplomat, Wang Yi, met with President Putin in Moscow and called ties between the nations “solid as a mountain.” Chinese President Xi Jinping, meanwhile, hasn’t spoken to Zelenskyy since the war started, despite speaking with Putin at least four times.

Much of China’s proposal on Friday reiterated long-held foreign policy positions in dealing with the U.S. on issues like Taiwan.

“It’s not a peace proposal,” said Jorge Toledo, the European Union’s ambassador to China. “It’s a position paper.”

Wang Wenbin, China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman, hit back at the criticism on Friday, saying the proposal showed that “China is committed to peace talks.”

As the war drags on, there’s rising concern that China may be playing a more active role to help Moscow.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Thursday that Beijing probably approved of Chinese firms providing Russia non-lethal, “dual-use” support for its war in Ukraine, remarks that underscore growing U.S. concern that Beijing may help arm Putin’s forces. China has rejected the allegations and accused the U.S. of fanning the conflict by providing weapons to Ukraine.


©2023 Bloomberg L.P.

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