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Can China broker peace between Russia and Ukraine?

Chinese President Xi
Jinping is expected to soon visit Russia’s Vladimir Putin and,
according to media, hold a virtual meeting with Ukrainian
President Volodymyr Zelenskyy weeks after China proposed a
12-point plan for peace in Ukraine.

China’s foreign ministry has said it is in communication
with both sides and, while it has not confirmed Xi’s plan for
talks with either Putin or Zelenskyy, there is speculation that
China may try to get the rivals to the negotiating table.

Following are some of the issues China and others are likely
to be taking into account as it considers prospects for peace in

Why would China try to mediate?

China has traditionally adhered to a principle of not interfering in other countries’ conflicts, especially the more distant ones.

But a peace deal struck in Beijing last week between Saudi Arabia and Iran highlights a Chinese aim to project itself as a responsible great power under Xi’s stewardship, analysts say.

“Xi would want to be seen on the global stage as a statesman whose influence at least equals that of the US leader,” said Wang Jiangyu, a law professor at City University of Hong Kong.

China is also eager to deflect criticism that when it comes to Ukraine, it has sided with the aggressor, Russia, which calls its attacks in February last year a “special military operation”.

Attempting to broker peace is a low-cost venture that can yield high returns for China, even if a quick breakthrough is highly unlikely, analysts say.

What is China’s proposal for peace?

China urged both sides to agree to a gradual de-escalation
leading to a comprehensive ceasefire in its 12-point paper on
the “political resolution of the Ukraine crisis”.

While the plan called for the protection of civilians and
that the sovereignty of all countries be respected, China has
refrained from condemning Russia for its invasion.

The plan got lukewarm welcomes in both Russia and Ukraine
while the United States and NATO were sceptical.

Ukraine, which says it will only consider peace settlements
after Russian troops leave Ukrainian territory, took issue with
the plan for not stating that Russia should withdraw behind
borders in place since the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, but
later said it was open to “parts of the plan”.

Russia said it would take a “nuanced study” of the plan but
did not see any sign for a peaceful resolution for now.

The US said China presented itself publicly as neutral and
seeking peace while at the same time reflected Russia’s “false
narrative” about the war, provided it with non-lethal assistance
and was considering lethal assistance. China denies that.

NATO said China did not have much credibility as a mediator
on Ukraine.

What role could China play?

Analysts say it will be hard for China to get Russia and
Ukraine to the negotiating table, unlike Saudi Arabia and Iran,
which presented an easier diplomatic win.

“Saudi Arabia and Iran actually want to talk and improve
relations, while Russia and Ukraine don’t, at least for now,”
said Yun Sun, director of the China Program at the
Washington-based Stimson Center.

However, Xi could act as a backchannel, Yun said, which
could start momentum towards talks that for now seem unlikely
with both sides hardening their stances in the grinding war.

An attempt by NATO member Türkiye to host dialogue
in Istanbul in the weeks after the Russian attack began last year
underscored the difficulty.

What leverage does China have?

China is Russia’s most important ally and has been buying
Russian oil and provided a market for Russian goods shunned by
Western countries.

China also has some leverage over Ukraine, which would not
want to torpedo the chances of Chinese support for its
reconstruction, said Samuel Ramani, a Russia expert at Oxford

China expanded trade with Ukraine after Russia invaded
Crimea in 2014 and did not recognise the annexed territory as
Russian, he said.

“Most importantly, Zelenskyy does not want to provoke China
so much that they start arming Russia,” Ramani said.

Can China be an honest broker?

China’s close ties with Russia mean its role will be viewed
with deep scepticism. Days before Russia invaded Ukraine, China
and Russia announced a “no-limits” partnership.

While China has called for peace since the beginning of the military attack, it has largely reflected the Russian position that NATO
threatened Russia with its eastward expansion while Ukraine’s
Western allies fanned the flames of war by supplying it with
tanks and missiles.

Andrew Small, senior fellow at the German Marshall Fund,
said China wants to be seen as doing its part for peace but is
not prepared to press Putin to stop the war and sacrifice its
relations with Russia.

“Beijing hasn’t thrown its weight around nor sought to coerce Russia into doing anything,” he said.

Will China arm Russia in the Ukraine conflict?

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