Prof. ST Hsieh
Director, US-China Energy Industry Forum
January 29, 2024
It is easy to recognize that the proxy war in Ukraine should end as soon as possible. But “peace” depends on warring parties, rather than any third party. Because of conditions or terms for peace are set by the warring parties, if both sides of the warring parties could agree with each other, there is no need for any war: disputes could be settled amicably. In a proxy war such as the current war in Ukraine, the war is essentially financed by the US and allies with the obvious strategic goal of degrading Russia’s national strength.
Thus, a clear and reasonable question for ending the war in Ukraine must be: Is Ukraine sincere about Peace in Ukraine? If so, Zelenskyy and Putin have lines of communication to settle the scores overnight. Of course, Zelenskyy must first get the approval from NATO and the US. This is a major challenge for the Ukraine peace process because the US and NATO would demand direct roles in settling the scores. However, US and NATO are war partners against Russia so US and NATO are not impartial peace makers at all.
Here comes China, the only major power in the world still maintains a reasonably neutral position, has the unique potential of a peace maker. Of course, China can reach out to Russia, but the US and allies are uncomfortable especially for China to conduct any peace meeting at the head table between Russia and Ukraine. Rather than being participants of any peace conference, the US would insist on being the judge and arbitrator.
Because the US desires to control the outcome of any peace deal in Ukraine, being an empire and a player at the same time, peace in Ukraine is in the hands of the US alone. It does not matter at all whether China is sincere or not, it also does not matter how much China will do or not do, peace in Ukraine is in the hands of the US.
As of now, Zelenskyy is asking for military support nonstop for keeping the bloody war going, so what can Chinese do to help ending the war? A similar metaphor is: Ukraine is sick but refuses to take any medicine, how can any doctor be of any help?
This author makes some unreasonable requests to China which are not helpful for any impartial peace maker. If China is “openly pro Ukrainian,” it would backfire for Chinese peace efforts because Russia will not take the Chinese peace efforts seriously.
Is China Sincere About Peace in Ukraine?
Beijing has done very little to help—but it could.
By Vita Golod, a junior fellow at the A. Krymskyi Institute of Oriental Studies, NAS of Ukraine, and the chair of the Board of the Ukrainian Association of Sinologists.
ARGUMENT An expert’s point of view on a current event.
JANUARY 29, 2024, 12:31 PM
As the invasion of Ukraine heads into its third year, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has been working nonstop to ensure diplomatic and military support amid increasing war fatigue. Russia’s influence in Europe is still visible, taking advantage of the uncertainty of European elites. A year of elections may change the geopolitical map in the same way that Slovakia turned away from its previous support for Kyiv after the 2023 election.
China is watching and learning from these processes; building its peacemaking image; and benefiting from the chaos on the international markets, buying cheap gas and oil and helping Russia’s economy with what was lost due to Western sanctions. The United States and European Union have both pressured China to play a more positive role. But how much does China’s stance matter, and is it bad news for Ukraine?
In 2023, Chinese President Xi Jinping made some gestures toward Ukraine, speaking with Zelensky on April 26 and appointing diplomat Li Hui as a representative to Kyiv, Moscow, and Europe in May. Yet China’s official rhetoric hasn’t changed, accusing NATO and the United States of “providing weapons and triggering proxy wars.” Li attended the second Ukrainian peace summit in Jeddah, but he refused to come to the third such peace summit in Malta and has been virtually invisible since.
And despite Ukrainian and Western efforts, Russia and China continued to grow ever closer in 2023. But Ukraine believes that this friendship still has some limits, since China does not supply lethal aid for Russia’s war. Rhetorically, though, there is still no room to be openly pro-Ukrainian in China. In 2023, Chinese officials and scholars have been more active in public than they were a year ago. However, none of them still dare to call the attack on Ukraine a war.
Experts from well-known Chinese universities and think tanks have published numerous articles and essays on “the Ukraine crisis,” claiming that the Russia-Ukraine conflict is forcing the countries to choose sides in the international system (Gu Wei), strengthening the Japanese-U.S. alliance (Lu Hao), increasing the risk of a Russian-U.S. nuclear war (Zhao Huasheng), and intensifying conflicts between Russia and the West (Zhang Hong). They do not call Russia the aggressor and avoid mentioning China in the context of “the Ukraine crisis,” except when referring to China’s peacemaking role.
The Global Security Initiative (GSI), announced by Xi at the Boao Forum for Asia just a few months after the start of the full-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine, “advocates respecting and safeguarding the security of every country … respecting the sovereignty and territorial integrity of all countries.” From the Ukrainian perspective, this initiative means that China should play a bigger role as a responsible global leader, but so far, it has had no effect.
Zhao Minghao, another scholar, also agreed that China’s influence on the so-called Ukraine crisis is limited. Beijing rather wants to foster an international order supporting only its own security, prosperity, and sovereignty interests. The GSI is intended as a response to Western alliances such as the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue and AUKUS, creating a space where Russia can add strategic balance to the Chinese side. That’s why Beijing needs Russia by its side, advocating Moscow’s security concern on NATO expansion and stressing Russia’s leadership position in the international system as well as on the regional level.
Chinese-Russian relations are mostly about the personal relations between Xi and Putin. China seems like the only country that could push Russia to stop the invasion, and the GSI could serve as a tool for getting a practical result “for the common good of the world,” as Chinese officials have described. At the 10th Beijing Xiangshan Forum in October 2023, China declared that it was “committed to … de-escalation” … and would “work persistently for peace” in Ukraine. It’s a beautiful expression—not a solution.
China is actively promoting peace talks between Ukraine and Russia as the only way to end the conflict, and it sees itself holding a mediating role when both sides are ready for that dialogue. Chinese analyst Zhou Bo argued that this moment will come when Kyiv and Moscow won’t be able to continue military actions. While Beijing has never proposed an exact scenario for Ukraine-Russia peace talks, it persistently pushes for a negotiation that will placate both sides—meaning, in practice, that Russia will be rewarded for its aggression. Since the war has affected the Chinese economy, one reason why Xi seems eager for some kind of mediation is to meet his goal of “ensuring the stability of global industrial and supply chains.”
There’s one deal that could potentially provide a way for Beijing to take a meaningful role. In 1994, China and Ukraine signed a joint declaration guaranteeing the nonapplication of nuclear weapons toward Ukraine and nonparticipation in any military actions with a third party, which might harm the state sovereignty of the other. Yet nowadays, China never mentions this declaration, and it instead advocates “respecting and safeguarding the sovereignty and territorial integrity of all countries.”