How can China mediate the Ukrainian crisis? | By Sultan M Hali


How can China mediate the Ukrainian crisis?

NEARLY 15 months have elapsed since the outbreak of the conflict in Ukraine but despite the heavy loss of life or mass exodus of Ukrainians in neighbouring countries, neither the UN nor any world power has been able to bring an end to hostilities. In this grim scenario, one country offers a ray of hope and has shown its willingness to mediate between Russia and Ukraine to resolve the crisis. The success in bringing about a rapprochement between long time hostiles — Saudi Arabia and Iran — has raised expectations that China may be a suitable candidate for arbitration between the warring states of Russia and Ukraine. Last month’s meeting between Russian President Putin and Chinese Supreme Leader Xi Jinping and this week’s detailed phone call between the Chinese President and his Ukrainian counterpart, Volodymyr Zelensky has enhanced the prospects  of a settlement of issues between Kiev and Moscow.

The telephonic conference between the Ukrainian and Chinese Presidents highlighted President Xi’s reiteration of China’s core position on promoting peace talks between Ukraine and Russia, and declaring Beijing’s decision to dispatch a special representative on Eurasian affairs to visit Ukraine and other countries to conduct in-depth communication with all parties on the political settlement of the crisis. Beijing’s accomplishment in not only bringing Riyadh and Tehran to the negotiating table but also coaxing them to bury the hatchet, resume diplomatic and trade ties has been hailed widely but resolving the Ukrainian crisis is a hard nut to crack and necessitates fine diplomatic jugglery.

What makes China an appropriate candidate as peacemaker in this complicated conflict? Hope springs eternal in the human breast and the hostile nations are experiencing battle fatigue and war weariness. Fortunately, sane voices for peace and rationality are building. More people are waking up to the fact that a protracted crisis to some extent is detrimental to everyone in the world, and dialogue is the sole viable way out. In every conflict there are some spoilers, who refuse to endorse peace and insist on adding fuel to the fire, being possessed by their mindset of bloc confrontation, they are more intent on feathering their own nest, deriving profits from the human tragedy. Other nations have unsuccessfully tried to use their influence to bring about a compromise but China’s emergence as a responsible member of the international community, has motivated it to accelerate its efforts to ease tensions and promote peace talks since the start of the crisis.

Cognizance must be taken of the Chinese Foreign Ministry’s February 2023 paper elucidating Beijing’s position on the Ukraine crisis, putting forward a 12-point proposal to end the conflict by addressing both the symptoms and the root causes of the crisis, and reiterating the necessity to end the conflict through dialogue and negotiations. The first of the 12 points expounded in the paper states: “The sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity of all countries must be effectively upheld.” The scarlet thread of the Chinese Paper strongly recommends that “All parties must stay rational and exercise restraint, avoid fanning the flames and aggravating tensions, and prevent the crisis from deteriorating further or even spiralling out of control.”

The paper also said “nuclear weapons must not be used” and called for civilians to be “effectively” protected. Released by the Chinese Foreign Ministry, the plan urges an end to Western sanctions against Russia, the establishment of humanitarian corridors for the evacuation of civilians and steps to ensure the export of grain after disruptions caused global food prices to spike last year. The Chinese Foreign Ministry also called for humanitarian corridors to be established for the evacuation of civilians from conflict zones.” China’s peace plan calls for an end to the “Cold War mentality” which alludes to Beijing’s slant towards global dominance by the United States and its interference in affairs of other states.

Contrarily, one of Beijing’s harshest critics, Jens Stoltenberg, the NATO Secretary General, during a news conference in Tallinn, Estonia rejected the paper, claiming that  “China doesn’t have much credibility, because they have not been able to condemn the illegal invasion of Ukraine” while promising an enduring friendship with Russia. As mentioned earlier, Xi Jinping’s state visit to Russia in March 2023, resulted in his holding an in-depth exchange of views on the Ukraine issue with his Russian counterpart, President Vladimir Putin and pledging that China would continue to play a constructive role in promoting the political settlement of the crisis.

President Xi Jinping has the unique position of enjoying the confidence of both his Russian and Ukrainian counterparts. While some influencers may be biased in their approach to the crisis, China has been nudging the two sides into the restoration of peace by upholding a balanced and impartial stance. From the very outset, Beijing has been exhorting the resolution of the conflict through peaceful means. Some detractors of China accuse Beijing of providing weapons to Moscow, the fact is that besides pledging to send a special envoy to Kiev, China has also vowed to keep providing help to Ukraine. No wonder then that the Ukrainian President seized the opportunity to express his war-ravaged country’s gratitude to China for providing humanitarian assistance and welcoming China’s important role in restoring peace and seeking a diplomatic solution to the crisis.

China’s unique positioning also stems from the fact that both Beijing and Moscow have blazed a path of major-country relations featuring strategic trust and good neighbourliness. Meanwhile, China-Ukraine relations have also gone through 31 years of development and reached the level of strategic partnership. Moreover, China is not the creator of the crisis, nor a party directly concerned, which gives Beijing the diplomatic room and qualification to give a full ear to the demands and concerns of both Russia and Ukraine and play a responsible role in the settlement of the crisis. As for all other parties who truly expect an early end to the crisis and restoration of peace, they should join China’s efforts and build up favourable conditions for the political settlement of the crisis.

—The writer is a Retired Group Captain of PAF, who has written several books on China.

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