Pic credits: AP
Pic credits: AP

China’s Ukraine peace plan doomed to fail

Russian President Vladimir Putin welcomed the plan, and Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said he would be ready to meet with Chinese President Xi Jinping to discuss the details.

While the United States and NATO countries have been heavily arming Ukraine against Russia and the war taking an escalatory life of its own, there have been no visible efforts to end the year-long conflict. The United Nations, the go-to arbiter in international conflicts, has failed to lay down even a preliminary framework for a peace process. Into that vacuum enters the Dragon. China, a self-declared contender for global leadership, has stepped forward with a 12-point peace plan to secure a ceasefire between Ukraine and Russia.

The plan calls for all parties to “stay rational and exercise restraint” and to abide by international humanitarian law strictly, avoid attacking civilians or civilian facilities, and protect women, children and other victims of the conflict. Some of the languages appear directed at the West. The paper warned against “expanding military blocs”, an apparent reference to NATO, and urged all parties to “avoid fanning the flames and aggravating tensions”, mirroring language that Beijing has repeatedly used to criticise US support for Ukraine.

The paper calls on the international community to “create conditions and platforms” for negotiations to resume, and promises to continue to “play a constructive role in this regard”. Beijing does not offer specific steps but strongly opposes the “threat or use” of nuclear weapons. It is silent on the fate of the Ukrainian territory Russia has occupied.

Russian President Vladimir Putin welcomed the plan, and Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said he would be ready to meet with Chinese President Xi Jinping to discuss the details. “Putin is applauding it, so how can it be any good?” was US President Joe Biden’s brusque reaction.

It is unsurprising that the US and its allies are dismissive of the Chinese initiative. They argue that Beijing lacks international credibility to act as a mediator in the Russia-Ukraine conflict. China’s seeming closeness to Russia also raises questions about its impartiality as a mediator. There are also ideological differences—an autocratic China being the antithesis of what the democratic and liberal West stands for.

Although Western support for Ukraine against Russia is often portrayed as a good versus evil enterprise, there are many layers to the plot, including, among others, that the war is a milch cow for the West’s weapons industry and the invaluable intelligence from the battlefield Ukraine offers the West.

Into the second year, Europe’s bloodiest conflict since World War II has become one of attrition, with Russia’s military potential being gradually chipped away by Ukraine without the hands-on involvement of the US or NATO. The thinking in the West is that the longer the war goes on, with Ukraine putting up a spirited fight with the help of advanced weapons from the West, Russia’s military gets degraded.

A defeat for Moscow in Ukraine means Russia would no longer figure in the list of the world’s superpowers. It would also take many years for Russia to rebuild its military. Accomplishing such a scenario—without committing any of its soldiers or sustaining any casualties—would be a strategic victory for the West.

“The way to avoid confrontation with Russia in the future is to help Ukraine push back the invader now. This is the lesson of history that should guide us, and it lends urgency to the actions that must be taken, before it is too late,” wrote former US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and former US Secretary of Defence Robert Gates recently in The Washington Post.

Western support for Ukraine offers various advantages in return, especially in the vital area of intelligence. “While Ukraine’s Western partners provide Ukraine with vital battlefield intelligence, Ukraine returns the favour by offering equally valuable intelligence on the quality and effectiveness of Russian troops, military equipment, and tactics. ... Thanks to Ukraine’s unique experience and insights, Western military planners now have a far more credible picture of Moscow’s true military capabilities,” says Taras Kuzio, professor of political science at the National University of Kyiv.

The US, its European allies and Canada have now sent some $120 billion in weapons and other aid to Ukraine, with new, more advanced military supplies on the way. The war has helped drive international demand for weapons to new highs. Western weapons manufacturers have experienced the largest boost in arms trade since the war broke out. Countries beyond NATO, such as South Korea and Turkey, too, have benefited from the increased demand for weapons. In other words, the Ukraine conflict has led to a sudden proliferation of arms production globally, and the manufacturers are laughing all the way to the bank.

In the grand scheme of things, Ukraine has now become the West’s own war without any American or NATO soldiers fighting and dying on Ukrainian soil. Importantly, this war will not decide just the fate of Europe alone, as a victory for Russia will undermine American credibility on the global stage and raise questions about the future of the Western alliance.

“Beijing is watching closely to see the price Russia pays or the reward it receives for its aggression. What is happening in Europe today can happen in Asia tomorrow,” said NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg during the Munich Security Conference late last month, implying China’s designs on Taiwan.

For the West, arch-rival China mediating a European war and succeeding is simply unthinkable, for it will lead to a tectonic shift in global leadership. It is no secret that Beijing is striving for an alternative to the current Washington-led world order. Besides, the longer the war goes on, the more degraded the Russian military gets, allowing the West to focus better on China, its principal enemy.

For all these reasons and more, the Chinese peace plan seems dead in the water for now, and the war in Ukraine is unlikely to end anytime soon.

E D Mathew

Former UN Spokesperson

(Tweets @edmathew)

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