Wednesday, April 24th 2024

Can China broker peace between Russia and Ukraine?



(On Tuesday, Chinese President Xi Jinping expressed concerns about the war in Ukraine and said the priority should be preventing the conflict from ‘spinning out of control’)

Deutsche Welle/ Dhaka Tribune

March 10, 2022 9:34 PM

As the war in Ukraine continues, the international community is desperately trying to find a way to facilitate peace talks between Russia and Ukraine. The two sides have held three rounds of talks so far, but no long-term results have come out of these negotiations so far.

Many countries have repeatedly looked to China to help facilitate more meaningful negotiations between Moscow and Kyiv, but Beijing hasn't offered any clear signal about whether it is willing to get more involved in the unfolding crisis in Ukraine or not.

In an interview with Spanish newspaper El Mundo last week, the European Union's foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said he was in favour of China mediating the peace talks. "There is no alternative," he said. "We can't be the mediators, that is clear… And it cannot be the US either. Who else? It has to be China."

Then on Monday, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi called on both sides to settle disputes by peaceful means, through dialogue and negotiation, and "respect and protect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of all countries." He also described Russia as China's "most important strategic partner" while refusing to condemn Moscow's invasion of Ukraine despite growing international pressure.

"No matter how perilous the international landscape, we will maintain our strategic focus and promote the development of a comprehensive China-Russia partnership in the new era," Wang said during a press conference on the sidelines of the annual meeting of China's rubber-stamp parliament.

Will China volunteer to be the mediator?

On Tuesday, Chinese President Xi Jinping expressed concerns about the war in Ukraine and said the priority should be preventing the conflict from "spinning out of control." The comments came following Xi's virtual meeting with French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz.

In the readout released by the Chinese government, Xi called for "maximum restraint" and that "the sovereignty and territorial integrity of all countries must be respected, the legitimate security concerns of all countries must be taken seriously, and all efforts that are conducive to the peaceful settlement of the crisis must be supported."

A German government spokesperson said on Tuesday that Chancellor Scholz, French President Macron, and Chinese President Xi agreed to fully support all efforts aimed at seeking a diplomatic solution to the war.

Danil Bochkov, an expert at the Russian International Affairs Council in Moscow, said it is unlikely that China will agree to voluntarily play the role of mediator between Ukraine and Russia as it could put Beijing at the center of international scrutiny.

"I don't think China is willing to throw itself into the confrontation by acting as a mediator, which unavoidably will place it on the front stage of this crisis with all the parties scrutinizing its very step," he told DW.

Andrew Small, a senior fellow at the German Marshall Fund, pointed out that China seems unwilling to take any steps beyond expressing the desire for peace, as it wants to avoid directly interfering with what Russia wants to do. "I think the sense is still they would give Russia the space to do what it wants," he said.

According to Small, in cases where China had been willing to take on the role of mediator, it is often dealing with "little brother" type of countries like North Korea and Pakistan, where it is able to call the shots and where it felt comfortable to lean on those countries a little bit. "China is not comfortable leaning on Russia, and I think they would question whether it would be successful," he told DW.

Close ties between China and Russia

In recent months, China and Russia have been building closer ties.

Following the in-person meeting between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi last month, both leaders vowed that the two countries' friendship had "no limits."

Some analysts point to the Chinese foreign minister's affirmation of the bilateral ties between China and Russia on Monday and the joint statement issued last month as signs that Beijing won't be willing to jeopardize its relationship with Moscow despite the difficult situation that Russia is facing.

"Taking into account Putin's strong militant will, desperate need to realize his 'minimum war aims,' and China's dependence on a strategic and military partnership with him in general, one can seriously doubt that Beijing is able or willing to play a role of substantial restraint on Putin," said Shi Yinhong, a professor of international relations at Renmin University in Beijing.

Others think maintaining close ties with Russia can be useful for China in a number of ways.

Sari Arho Havrén, a European-China Policy Fellow at the Berlin-based Mercator Institute for China Studies (MERICS), said that the partnership can help advance China's geopolitical goals while shaping the global order. Additionally, the deteriorating economic situation in Russia could open up potential investment opportunities for Beijing.

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