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Why does China suddenly seem to want to broker peace in Ukraine?

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A composite image of Vladimir Putin, Xi Jinping, and Volodymyr Zelenskyy

Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine began just over a year ago. Could China help broker peace? Source: EPA, DPA, ABACA

  • The Chinese government has released a 12-point plan to end Russia’s full scale invasion of Ukraine.
  • Experts say Beijing has a lot to gain from playing a role in ending the conflict.
  • The leaders of both Ukraine and Russia are expected to meet with China’s president in the near future.
The Chinese government last week released a 12-point plan it devised to bring about an end to the conflict between Russia and Ukraine.
So what’s China’s agenda?
Sow Keat Tok, from the University of Melbourne’s Asia Institute, said one reason China is pushing for an end to the conflict is its own strategic concerns.
“Given this current confrontation that China has with the United States and the West in general, it helps to have Russia on its side,” he told SBS News.
“Since Russia is not doing well on the battlefield, increasing sanctions [on Moscow] and increasing support from the West [for Ukraine] actually could potentially set its strategic goals back.”
Mr Tok said China’s involvement in the peace process could help to “ease” Russia out of the conflict while “saving face”.
Associate Professor Ben Hillman, from ANU’s Australian Centre on China in the World, said there are also financial reasons behind Beijing’s desire for the conflict to end.
“China’s leaders are concerned about the impact of protracted war on global stability and the global economy while they are trying to restore dynamism in China’s post-COVID economy,” he told SBS News.
Beijing’s concerns about the economic impact of the conflict is highlighted by calls for the facilitation of grain exports and the protection of supply chains being included in its peace plan, Associate Professor Hillman said.
“It is also possible that China’s leaders are feeling Russian pressure to provide assistance to the Russian war effort – the US has accused Beijing of considering requests to provide lethal aid – and are thus seeking to clarify to the world the Chinese position,” he said.
Shortly before Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine last February, the Chinese government declared a “no limits” partnership with Moscow.
“Peace in Ukraine would prevent the war from expanding and potentially dragging China into the war on the side of Russia, which would be a devastating scenario,” Associate Professor Hillman said.
A damaged building

Mr Tok said if China were able to hold a special role as intermediary between Russia and Ukraine, it could help to bolster the nation’s strategic position, as well as showing Beijing as “a responsible stakeholder” and “peacemaker”.

“The United States and Europe are not actually helping in bringing the two parties to talk to each other at this stage, so China could potentially play that role,” he said.
“Whatever is China’s gain could be the West’s loss.”
Associate Professor Ben Hillman said China’s plan “sends positive signals”, but it’s unlikely to be used as a “roadmap for peace”.
“It’s easy to call for a cessation of hostilities, but the plan does not present a viable means of achieving it,” he said.
“For one, it calls for an end to sanctions, which will be unacceptable to Ukraine, the US, and Europe while Russian forces are on Ukrainian soil.”
Mr Tok said Beijing also needs to clarify exactly what some points in its peace plan mean, especially around “protecting sovereignty”.
“Whose sovereignty are we talking about? Is it Ukrainian sovereignty? Or is it Russia’s sovereignty?,” he said.
“We really need to see what the real terms are, in particular, I think, what kind of international borders are they going to draw post-conflict.”
But despite believing it’s “too optimistic to predict success at this stage”, Mr Tok said he is hopeful that China will at least be able to bring Ukraine and Russia to the negotiation table.
“At this stage, Ukraine and Russia refuse to back down. They both have a very high threshold for negotiation,” he said.
“Will China’s involvement actually lower that threshold, and get them to at least talk to each other – I think that is the important part of it to focus on at the moment,” he said.
“As long as they start talking, less people die.”
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said he planned to meet with his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping, although has not disclosed when.
Mr Xi is expected to visited Moscow next week for a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

President Putin and President Xi Jinping standing next to one another

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and a man in army fatigue

A man in a suit claps his hands

Ukraine's president after a press conference

President Putin sitting looking serious

A US MQ-9 surveillance drone

A woman speaking.

Man is smoking.

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