China has called for a ceasefire and peace talks in Ukraine on the first anniversary of the Russian invasion.
Beijing’s foreign ministry urged all parties to “avoid fanning the flames and aggravating tensions” in the hope of preventing the crisis from “deteriorating further or spiralling out of control”.
A paper published by the ministry on Friday warned “conflict and war benefit no one” and said everyone involved must “stay rational and exercise restraint”.
But the proposal has been branded an “attempt at public relations” by China, which one year ago said it has a “no limits friendship” with Russia.
It has yet to condemn its ally or describe the war as an “invasion” – and has also criticised Western sanctions imposed on Moscow.
President Xi Jinping is expected to deliver a “peace speech” on Friday to mark the anniversary, when he is likely to call for peace while avoiding direct criticism of Vladimir Putin’s regime.
This week the US expressed concerns China was contemplating supplying “lethal weapons” to Russia which would have “serious consequences”.
However, a 12-point peace plan for Ukraine unveiled by Beijing demands:
• The sovereignty of all countries is respected
• Abandoning the Cold War mentality
• Ceasing hostilities
• Resuming peace talks
• Resolving the humanitarian crisis
• Protecting civilians and prisoners of war (PoWs)
• Keeping nuclear power plants safe
• Reducing strategic risks
• Facilitating grain exports
• Stopping unilateral sanctions
• Keeping industrial and supply chains stable
• Promoting post-conflict reconstruction
Nuclear wars must be avoided
In addition to the 12-point plan, the document said “nuclear weapons must not be used” and “nuclear wars must not be fought”.
“We oppose development, use of biological or chemical weapons by any country under any circumstances,” the paper said.
Earlier this week Vladimir Putin suspended participation in a key nuclear treaty – as he blamed the West for starting the Ukraine war and vowed to “resolve the objectives” of Russia’s “special military operation”.
Ukraine has repeatedly rejected calls for a ceasefire while its territory is occupied by Russian troops.
Analysis: Chinese pledge is typically vague and ambiguous
It hardly presents a dramatic diplomatic breakthrough or path to peace, but – importantly – neither does it suggest that Beijing is moving closer to Russia or preparing to provide Russia with weapons.
The first three points are the most interesting.
To respect the sovereignty of all countries: That’s directed at Russia and Putin’s decision to invade Ukraine but with a dig at America (“double standards must be rejected” – Iraq, Afghanistan etc).
Abandon the Cold War mentality: That’s directed at NATO – a demand that it stop expanding eastwards.
Ceasing hostilities: This is a call for the West to stop arming Ukraine, but also for Russia to cease fire.
This week, the Americans said they had concerns China was considering helping Russia militarily.
But – on the face of it – this latest set of words suggest no major shift in the Chinese position. It’s typically vague and ambiguous.
‘An attempt at public relations’
Kyiv has said a break in fighting would enable the Kremlin to regroup its forces.
The EU’s ambassador to China, Jorge Toledo, said the paper would be studied closely – but insisted it was not a peace proposal and did not mention an aggressor.
Charge d’affaires at the Ukrainian embassy in Beijing, Zhanna Leshchynska, called the paper a “good sign” but questioned China’s neutrality.
“If it is neutrality, then China should talk to both sides, Russia and Ukraine,” she said.
“Now we see the Chinese side mostly talking with Russia, but not Ukraine.
“We will not agree to anything that keeps Ukrainian territories occupied and puts our people at the aggressor’s mercy,” Ms Leshchynska said in an address at the EU mission to China.
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International security expert Li Mingjiang dismissed China’s proposal as an “attempt at public relations”, adding: “I’m not convinced that this policy is going to improve their credibility in being an honest broker.”
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Shi Yinhong, a professor of international relations at Beijing’s Renmin University, said neither side is likely to pay much attention to the proposal – but China needed to clarify its stance.
“China feels it necessary to repeat its self-perceived neutrality at this juncture, to save some international inference by not only criticising NATO but also distinguishing itself from Russia’s behaviour,” Shi said.