China called for a cease-fire between Russia and Ukraine in a 12-point proposal for ending the war that appeared to offer some reprieve to Moscow and little chance of winning broad support as the conflict enters its second year.
Several of the measures outlined by China in a position paper issued Friday would, if carried out, offer clear benefits to Russian President Vladimir Putin. That includes a cease-fire measure, which would freeze Russian troops in place on Ukrainian territory, as well as a call to immediately end all sanctions not endorsed by the U.N. Security Council, where Russia holds veto power.
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The proposal “will be a non-starter with the U.S. and most European countries,” said Neil Thomas, a senior analyst at the Eurasia Group, a political risk advisory and consulting firm.
U.S. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan, speaking on CNN, said China’s proposal should have ended after the first bulletpoint, which calls for “respecting the sovereignty of all countries.”
“This war could end tomorrow, if Russia stopped attacking Ukraine and withdrew its forces,” Sullivan said. “Ukraine wasn’t attacking Russia. NATO wasn’t attacking Russia. The United States wasn’t attacking Russia. This was a war of choice by Putin, waged upon Ukraine.”
China’s recommendations 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 U.N. resolution included a demand for the withdrawal of Russian troops from Ukraine’s territory.
“We do have a peace plan right here in front of us. It’s called – the Charter of the United Nations,” German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock said Thursday at the U.N. General Assembly. “That’s why the road to peace is also very clear: Russia must withdraw its troops from Ukraine. Russia must stop the bombing. Russia must return to the UN Charter.”
That echoes demands from President Volodymyr Zelenskiy’s government, which says it will 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 faux referendums on annexation.
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.”
Skepticism from the U.S. and Europe before the peace proposal was even announced highlighted how, in many capitals, China isn’t seen as an impartial mediator in a conflict that has killed tens of thousands of people and driven millions in Ukraine from their homes.
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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.
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” and able to “stand the test of international risks.” Chinese President Xi Jinping, meanwhile, hasn’t spoken to Zelenskiy 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 US 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.”
Soon after its release, another European diplomat said China had failed to engage in the intense shuttle diplomacy that typically occurs before hammering out an acceptable agreement. The diplomat called the Chinese proposal dead on arrival.
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.”
The Chinese move came soon after Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva appeared to be intensifying his campaign to mediate an end to the war, signaling some of the frustration felt in many middle and lower-income nations about the toll the conflict has taken on the global economy.
Even in Washington, there is some wariness in Congress about how long the U.S. can continue to back Ukraine with little end to the conflict in sight, though that is a minority view. President Joe Biden told Zelenskiy on a surprise trip to Kyiv this week that the U.S. had “unwavering support” for Ukraine.
As the war drags on, however, 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 US 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.
The White House earlier warned Beijing against providing lethal aid to Russia after US officials revealed concerns about intelligence that China is considering doing so. Officials have not said what the consequences would be for Beijing but that they consider it a red line that must not be crossed.
After the president left Kyiv, the U.S. Department of Defense detailed a $460 million aid package, which includes artillery ammunition, anti-armor systems, and air surveillance radars, in-line with previous assistance.
Sullivan, the U.S. national security adviser, said during his interview on CNN that another $2 billion will be on the way, adding that Zelenskiy and Biden had discussed the possibility of Ukraine acquiring F-16 jets.
“F-16s are not a question for the short-term fight,” Sullivan said. “F-16s are a question for the-long term defense of Ukraine, and that’s a conversation that President Biden and President Zelenskiy had.”
–With assistance from Jennifer Jacobs.
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