Beijing Must First Urge Moscow to Withdraw from Ukraine

If China is serious about aiming to resolve the Ukraine crisis, it must first urge Russia to withdraw its military forces from that country. Without doing so, China will certainly not gain the understanding of the international community.

On the one-year anniversary of the start of the Russian invasion, China released a document stating its position on the issue.

At first glance, the document appears to be a peace proposal, presenting 12 items, including respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity, ceasing hostilities and starting peace talks. The document also clearly states Beijing’s opposition to the use of nuclear weapons and attacks on nuclear power plants, as Moscow continues to make nuclear threats.

China has so far supported Russia through such measures as increasing imports of Russian oil and not criticized the invasion of Ukraine. If the situation continues, however, it will delay China’s economic recovery and its improvement of relations with Europe, so it is desirable for China that the crisis be resolved as soon as possible.

Beijing’s release of its proposal appears to be a tactic aimed at giving the international community the impression that China is neutral and proactive about peace building.

The problem is that the peace proposal does not mention specific measures to achieve a ceasefire. Encouraging a ceasefire or negotiations without Russian troops withdrawing from Ukraine would ultimately legitimize Russian rules in the invaded areas.

Chinese President Xi Jinping has met with Russian President Vladimir Putin four times in the past year, but has not held talks with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. How can peace be achieved without listening directly to the Ukrainian side’s arguments?

The United States has expressed strong concern that China is considering providing Russia with lethal weapons, which it has so far refrained from doing. It has also been reported that Chinese companies are negotiating with Russia to sell or help manufacture self-destructing drones.

If China intends to cross the line with arms support in order to lead Russia to an early victory, it would be extremely dangerous.

Providing such support to Russia would make China directly complicit in Russia’s violation of sovereignty and territorial integrity. China’s isolation will surely deepen as the international community intensifies its pressure on Beijing. If China has no intention of providing arms to Russia, it should clearly say so.

In his meeting with a senior Chinese official, Putin stressed that he is looking forward to Xi’s visit to Russia. This is a sign of Moscow’s growing dependence on Beijing as the invasion has bogged down.

China’s influence over Russia has increased. Given these circumstances, Xi should convince Putin that the only path to peace is the withdrawal of Russian troops.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Feb. 28, 2023)