By Steven van Hoogstraten
While the war in Ukraine continues, and both sides are not showing any signs of stepping back from the conflict, China has launched a Peace Plan.
China considers itself as an independent party, ready to offer its good offices to bring the warring parties to the table. This Chinese plan consists of 12 rather generally formulated points. It is reported that the plan was discussed at length during the visit of the Chinese President Xi Jinpin to President Putin of Russia (13-14 March) . At the conclusion of the visit, Putin stated somewhat frugally that the Chinese plan could serve as the basis for a solution in the current conflict. He was ready to talk “once Kyiv and its western partners were ready to do the same”.
That in itself might be an interesting development, although in the camp of Ukraine nothing much has been said about the efforts by China. Comments are that there can be no peace talks as long as Russia has not withdrawn or been pushed back from Ukraine.
Any peace talks at this point in time would merely serve to sort of “ratify” the Russian conquests so far achieved. How could one start thinking about peace when Ukraine has not signalled that it is ready? And Ukraine wants all Russian troops out of its territory, nothing less.
I looked carefully at the Chinese document of one page (available on the Internet) and found one or two good reasons to take some time to reflect on its content, and not push it off the table because it comes from a friend of Russia. The first of these good reasons is that the Chinese position on the political settlement for Ukraine is written fully in line with the Charter of the UN. As a starting point it mentions that “universally recognized international law, including the purposes and principles of the United Nations Charter, must be strictly observed”. This is the first element of the text under the heading “Respecting the sovereignty of all countries”. So respect for international law, and for the UN is at its basis.
We all know that the Russian invasion of Ukraine was against the fundamental principle of the UN of non-aggression (or as it is called in art 2-4 of the UN Charter, the prohibition to use force), so this sentence makes an important statement. A statement coming from a powerful permanent member of the Security Council, which could have leverage over Russia.. The sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity of all countries must be effectively upheld, is the next phrase. Seems to work well for Ukraine, which has pleaded strongly that the attack violated its territorial integrity. Most if not all of the comments we have heard or seen went in the same direction. The invasion was and is a blatant violation of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine.
The second point in the 12-point Chinese plan sounds a bit like a press conference by the Russian foreign minister Lavrov: the security of a country should not be pursued at the expense of others. The security of a region should not be achieved by strengthening or expanding military blocks. Clearly, the idea of Ukraine becoming part of NATO is not embedded in this concept. On the contrary, in this view Ukraine must never be part of NATO. And that sounds logical to me. It follows a bit later “all parties should oppose the pursuit of one’s own security at the cost of other’s security, prevent bloc confrontation, and work together for peace and stability on the Eurasian Continent”. Here we have the Russian concerns about the threats from the West. Threats that we find difficult to imagine – as all we do is helping a country to defend itself against an aggressor. But we know such is not the assessment of the situation in Moscow, we heard this language many times.
The plan calls for a cease fire (point 3: Ceasing hostilities) and that is where the criticism is most obvious. A cease fire now would leave Russia for the time being with the territorial gains so far, and allows for a rebuilding of its military strength. But which peace plan would ever leave the element of a cease fire aside? The Chinese text calls for all parties to support Russia and Ukraine in working in the same direction and resuming direct dialogue as quickly as possible, so as to gradually deescalate the situation and ultimately reach a comprehensive ceasefire. China says that it wants to play a constructive role in the conduct of such peace talks.
This article cannot be a full commentary on the total plan, which contains several more elements like solving the humanitarian crisis, keeping nuclear power-plants safe, facilitating grain exports, and stopping unilateral sanctions: China opposes unilateral sanctions unauthorized by the UN Security Council (point 10) . I just wanted to highlight some elements that should be taken seriously. A permanent member of the UN, seeking a solution to this horrifying conflict, a solution which is expressly in conformity with the letter and spirit of the Charter of the UN. Looks like rather helpful to me.