China has reiterated its calls for a political settlement to the Ukraine conflict on the one-year anniversary of Russia’s invasion, as Beijing comes under increasing pressure from the United States and its allies over its growing partnership with Moscow.
In a newly released position paper Friday, China’s Foreign Ministry called for a resumption of peace talks, an end to unilateral sanctions, and stressed its opposition to the use of nuclear weapons – a stance Chinese leader Xi Jinping communicated to Western leaders last year.
The 12-point document is part of Beijing’s latest efforts to present itself as a neutral peace broker, as it struggles to balance its “no-limits” relationship with Moscow and fraying ties with the West as the war drags on.
“Conflict and war benefit no one. All parties must stay rational and exercise restraint, avoid fanning the flames and aggravating tensions, and prevent the crisis from deteriorating further or even spiraling out of control,” the paper said.
Beijing’s claim to neutrality has been severely undermined by its refusal to acknowledge the nature of the conflict – it has so far avoided calling it an “invasion” – and its diplomatic and economic support for Moscow.
Western officials have also raised concerns that China may be considering providing Russia with lethal military assistance, an accusation denied by Beijing.
The policy document reiterates many of China’s standard talking points, which include urging both sides to resume peace talks. “Dialogue and negotiation are the only viable solution to the Ukraine crisis,” it said, adding that China will play a “constructive role,” without offering details.
And despite claiming the “sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity of all countries must be effectively upheld,” the document fails to acknowledge Russia’s violation of Ukrainian sovereignty.
Much of the language used in the document appears targeted at the West. In a thinly veiled criticism of the United States, the paper said, “Cold War mentality” should be abandoned.
“The security of a region should not be achieved by strengthening or expanding military blocs. The legitimate security interests and concerns of all countries must be taken seriously and addressed properly,” it said, apparently echoing Moscow’s view the West provoked the war through the expansion of NATO.
It also appears to criticize the wide-ranging economic sanctions imposed by the US and other Western countries on Russia. “Unilateral sanctions and maximum pressure cannot solve the issue; they only create new problems,” it said. “Relevant countries should stop abusing unilateral sanctions and ‘long-arm jurisdiction’ against other countries, so as to do their share in deescalating the Ukraine crisis.”
The paper was swiftly criticized by American officials, with US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan saying the war “could end tomorrow if Russia stopped attacking Ukraine and withdrew its forces.”
“My first reaction to it is that it could stop at point one, which is to respect the sovereignty of all nations,” Sullivan told CNN. “Ukraine wasn’t attacking Russia. NATO wasn’t attacking Russia. The United States wasn’t attacking Russia. This was a war of choice waged by Putin.”
In Beijing, the ambassador of the European Union to China, Jorge Toledo, told reporters at a briefing that China’s position paper was not a peace proposal, adding that the EU is “studying the paper closely,” according to Reuters.
Ukraine, meanwhile, called the position paper “a good sign” but urged China to do more.
“China should do everything in its power to stop the war and restore peace in Ukraine and urge Russia to withdraw its troops,” Ukraine’s Chargé d’Affaires to China Zhanna Leshchynska said at the same briefing in Beijing.
“In neutrality, China should talk to both sides: Russia and Ukraine, and now we can see China is not talking to Ukraine,” she said, noting that Kyiv was not consulted before the release of the paper.
The position paper was first discussed last week by top diplomat Wang Yi at a security conference in Munich, as he attempted to cast Beijing as a responsible negotiator for peace during a diplomatic charm offensive in Europe.
Wang visited Moscow as the final stop of his European tour, and met with Putin on Wednesday.
Putin, who welcomed Wang with outstretched arms as the Chinese diplomat entered the meeting room, said relations between Russia and China were “reaching new milestones.”
“Russian-Chinese relations are developing as we planned in previous years. Everything is moving forward and developing,” Putin told reporters as he sat beside Wang. “Cooperation in the international arena between the Russian Federation and the People’s Republic of China, as we have repeatedly said, is very important for stabilizing the international situation.”
Wang said the two countries “often face crisis and chaos, but there are always opportunities in a crisis.”
“This requires us to identify changes more voluntarily and respond to the changes more actively to further strengthen our comprehensive strategic partnership,” Wang said.