China’s Unique Position Toward Facilitating Peace Between Russia And Ukraine

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is of central concern on the global stage, placing China in a difficult position as its ally. Only a month ago, President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia and President Xi Jinping of China declared their vision for a new international order, placing Moscow and Beijing as its centre and distancing from American power. Both countries have aligned their foreign policy increasingly against the liberal Western order. The problem is that President Xi’s public statements of his friendship with Putin and deep investments in their allyship have limited how China can respond to Russia’s ongoing invasion of Ukraine.

The international community has responded primarily by condemning Russia’s decision to invade Ukraine. The United Nations General Assembly has passed a resolution, supported by 100 of the 193 member states, affirming their commitment to the territorial integrity of Ukraine. China chose to abstain, and only 11 countries voted against the resolution. The overwhelming response in support of Ukraine’s independence is to be expected as Russia is brazenly violating the sovereignty of Ukraine. Respecting and recognizing sovereignty is a norm within the international community, and when norms are broken, they are expected to be met with backlash. China has publicly blamed the United States for not considering Russia’s security concerns. Now China is moving away ever so slightly from Russia by expressing grief over civilian causalities and trying to manage its image as an impartial party calling for peace talks.

The problem facing China right now is that their continued allied relationship with Russia means lowering their reputation within the international community and jeopardizing their commercial relationship with the West. The problem continues to persist as China, specifically Foreign Minister Wang Yi, states their relationship with Russia is “rock solid” during President Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. Their allied relationship “is not subject to third-party interference.” China’s response to Russia’s invasion fails to address the importance of sovereignty within the international system. China’s refusal to call the actions of Russia an “invasion” has consequences for the principle of sovereignty as it undermines the independence of Ukraine. Not respecting the sovereignty of one nation poses a threat to every other sovereign nation as the respect for sovereignty as a whole diminishes. If one nation can successfully violate the sovereignty of another, then others may feel inspired to do the same. For these reasons, the recognition of sovereignty is so heavily guarded within the international community.

China is attempting to appear neutral by abstaining from the UN General Assembly vote, however it is contradicted by their open statements about their continued allied relationship with Russia. Distinctly, China lacks any statements that outright condemn the actions of Russia. China also attempts to further place partial responsibility off Russia by shifting it to the West, specifically the United States, for not considering Russia’s security demands and blaming NATO for instigating the conflict.

China has offered no support for Ukrainian civilians beyond showing sympathy for the causalities. This is despite China being considered Ukraine’s most significant trading partner, importing Ukrainian barley, corn, and arms. Ukraine is facing great conflict, but China, their greatest trading partner, is busy attempting to appear “neutral” whilst openly stating that their alliance with Russia will not be impacted by the invasion of Ukraine.

The Russian economy is suffering from sanctions, the reputation of Russia is sinking further, and the number of human causalities continues to increase – this combination does not make for an optimal partner for China to achieve their foreign policy goals. Rather than attempting to play a neutral third party, China’s condemnation of Russia’s action presents a unique opportunity for China to actively improve their image. China’s reputation is being tainted just by being allies with Russia, with the question on many minds being whether China knew of the invasion prior to it taking place. Officials of the Biden administration said that a Western intelligence report indicated that China requested the Russians to delay their invasion of Ukraine until after the Closing Ceremonies of the 2022 Beijing Olympics. China denies this claim.

Many nations are now calling on China to help mediate peace since they are in a unique position as Russia’s ally. In an interview, Borrell, the European Union’s foreign policy chief, has stated that “it must be China” to mediate a peace deal. Foreign Minister Yi has stated that “China is willing to continue playing a constructive role in urging peace talks and is willing when necessary to work together with the international community to launch required mediation.” The use of the word “continued” seems misused, as China has shown no signs of active diplomacy in mediating peace talks beyond saying that these peace talks should occur. The idea of China being a mediator is correct, in any case. China is in a unique position to facilitate peace diplomatically. It is time for China to put their “rock solid” alliance with Russia to the test. If the two countries are as good of allies as they lead the public to believe, then China should be playing an active role in diplomatic peace talks. Numerous nations have condemned Russia’s invasion, but this has yet to be effective in stopping the conflict. However, an ally like China condemning their actions and mediating peace could be an effective solution as Russia does not want to risk their alliance with China. Russia has built some trust with China, meaning that Russia would be more likely to believe that China is acting in their best interest within these diplomatic peace talks.

The benefit of China acting as a mediator is both for the country itself and the rest of humanity. There is the potential that China’s mediation can lead to the end of the conflict, stopping the growing number of civilian causalities and bombings. Helping to facilitate peace would be a win for the diplomatic relations of Beijing as it would improve its image within the international community. Helping facilitate peace also gives China room to promote their image of international order, with Beijing at the center and American power distant, building its foundations on successful peaceful international relations.

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Rather than provide an exhaustive history of the decade long conflict between the West and Russia in Ukraine, this report serves to orient the reader as to why this conflagration no longer serves the purposes of democracy, human rights or freedom if it ever did. The greatest interests served by the continuing tragedy in Ukraine are the interests of the defense industries, investment firms and US hegemony. Ironically, as the United States becomes more entangled in Ukraine, governance under President Zelensky becomes increasingly less democratic and the United States becomes less and less powerful as a global hegemon. 

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