China calls for Russia-Ukraine ceasefire and peace talks
ITV News Asia Correspondent Debi Edward reports on China's ceasefire proposal for Ukraine
China has called for a ceasefire between Kyiv and Moscow and the opening of peace talks – setting out a 12-point proposal to bring a conflict to a close.
Beijing claims to have a neutral stance in the war, but this has been questioned after it claimed to have a “no limits friendship” with Russia.
It has refused to criticise Vladimir Putin’s invasion – launched exactly one year ago today – and won’t even refer to it as a war.
China has accused the West of provoking the conflict and “fanning the flames” by providing Ukraine with defensive arms.
The US has also said Beijing may be preparing to provide Russia with military aid, but Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin called the claim “nothing more than slander and smears”.
Yesterday China abstained when the UN General Assembly approved a non-binding resolution calling for Russia to end hostilities and withdraw from Ukraine.
It was supported by 141 countries, with seven voting against and 32 abstaining, demonstrating how increasingly isolated Russia is becoming in the international community.
In light of its close ties with Moscow, there are doubts over whether Beijing can be seen as an honest broker.
US State Department spokesman Ned Price had said yesterday that Washington would reserve judgement on China’s proposal but that it was not a neutral mediator.
“We would like to see nothing more than a just and durable peace ... but we are sceptical that reports of a proposal like this will be a constructive path forward,” he said.
Ukraine's leader Volodymyr Zelenskyy says it is "not bad" that Beijing has shown an interest in peace.
“China has shown its thoughts. I believe that the fact that China started talking about Ukraine is not bad,” he said at a news conference. “But the question is what follows the words.”
He chose his words carefully when reporters asked him if Beijing's proposal was dead in the water, being careful not to criticise the People's Republic.
The president said there were some points in China's declaration which are "understandable" and others that he disagrees with, adding: "But it's something."
He added: "I think it’s correct to think that if there are thoughts that, in one way or another, correspond with respect for international law, to territorial integrity... let’s work with China on this point. Why not?"
On Friday morning Beijing released its 12-point paper, titled "China’s Position on the Political Settlement of the Ukraine Crisis,” which urges the end of Western sanctions imposed on Russia.
It calls for measures to prevent attacks on civilians and civilian facilities, keep nuclear facilities safe, establish humanitarian corridors for civilians and ensure the export of grain after disruptions inflated global food prices.
It mainly reiterated long-held Chinese positions, including that all countries’ “sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity” be guaranteed.
“Dialogue and negotiation are the only viable way out to resolve the Ukraine crisis,” the proposal said.
It offered no details on what form talks should take, any preconditions or which countries should be involved, but said: “China is willing to continue to play a constructive role in this regard”.
It also called for an end to “Cold War mentality” — China’s standard term for what it regards as US hegemony, and maintenance of alliances such as Nato.
“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 blocs,” the proposal said.
China has said that the present conflict is “not something it wishes to see,” and has repeatedly said any use of nuclear weapons would be completely unacceptable”.
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This could be seen as a repudiation of Putin’s statement that Russia would use “all available means” to protect its territory.
Beijing’s proposal calls for the resumption of “direct dialogue” between Russia and Ukraine “as soon as possible” to “gradually promote the de-escalation” of the conflict and “finally reach a comprehensive ceasefire”.
Shi Yinhong, a professor of international relations at Beijing’s Renmin University, said China’s proposal was necessary, but nothing new.
“China feels it necessary to repeat its self-perceived neutrality at this juncture, to save some international inference by not only criticising Nato but also distinguishing itself from Russia’s behaviour,” he said.
Beijing’s position “always falls far short of Russia’s preference but still meets with criticism from the West and its allies,” Shi added.
While neither side is likely to agree to China playing a mediating role, or even pay much heed to its proposal, Beijing needed to clarify its stance, he added.
The proposal comes as US-China relations have hit a historic low over Taiwan, disputes over trade and technology, human rights and China’s aggressive actions in the South China Sea.
Most recently, the sides tangled over the US shooting down an alleged Chinese spy balloon that had floated over the continental United States.
US national security adviser Jake Sullivan told CNN on Thursday that his first reaction to Beijing’s proposal was that “it could stop at point one, which is: Respect the sovereignty of all nations”.
Mr Sullivan claimed China had “not taken off the table the possibility of providing military assistance to Ukraine, although we haven’t seen them do it yet”.
He added: “I cannot predict the future. What I can tell you is that the United States is not going to dictate to Ukraine how this war ends.”