A 12-point position paper released on the anniversary of Russia’s invasion has been greeted cautiously by Ukraine.
China’s government has called for peace talks between Ukraine and Russia, while urging all parties to avoid nuclear escalation and end attacks on civilians, in a statement which appeared to maintain Beijing’s stance that the west is fuelling the conflict and was dismissed as anodyne by analysts.
The 12-point position paper on Ukraine was released on Friday morning, on the one year anniversary of Russia’s invasion, and ahead of an expected speech by Xi Jinping.
The paper, for which Ukraine was not consulted, was cautiously welcomed by Kyiv, but criticised by US officials and some analysts who noted the growing ties between China and Russia. On Thursday China’s top diplomat visited Moscowand pledged a deeper partnership.
The paper stated that the international community should “create conditions and platforms” for negotiations to resume, and claimed that China would continue to “play a constructive role in this regard”.
It did not offer specific steps but included strong language opposing the “threat or use” of nuclear weapons.
“Nuclear proliferation must be prevented and nuclear crisis avoided. China opposes the research, development and use of chemical and biological weapons by any country under any circumstances.”
The paper did not address its suggestions to a particular side in the conflict, instead calling for all parties to “stay rational and exercise restraint”, and to “strictly abide by international humanitarian law, avoid attacking civilians or civilian facilities, protect women, children and other victims of the conflict”.
Some of the language appeared to be 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 officials have repeatedly used to criticise the US’s support of Ukraine.
Ukraine’s charge d’affaires to China, Zhanna Leshchynska, called the position paper “a good sign” and said she expects China to be more active in its support of her country.
“We hope they also urge Russia to stop the war and withdraw its troops,” she said, adding that she did not at the moment see China as supporting Ukrainian efforts.
China’s government has presented itself as a neutral party, one capable of easing tensions between Russia and Ukraine. However it has refused to condemn Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, instead blaming the west for inflaming tensions, and some senior officials have repeatedly voiced explicit support for Russia’s aims.
This week the US government said it has intelligence suggesting Beijing is considering supplying weapons to Russia, and on Friday a report by Der Spiegel claimed Moscow was in negotiations with a Chinese company about supplying large quantities of strike drones. On Friday Beijing also abstained – for the fourth time – from a UN vote demanding Russia withdraw from Ukraine.
Chinese officials have rejected the US claims as baseless smears and are yet to comment on the Der Spiegel report.
Friday’s paper also emphasised positions Beijing has promoted in the past, including a demand for respect of national sovereignty and “territorial integrity”, and for the end of economic sanctions.
Speaking to CNN, the US national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, dismissed much of the paper’s contents.
“My first reaction to it is that it could stop at point one, which is to respect the sovereignty of all nations,” he said.
“Ukraine wasn’t attacking Russia. Nato wasn’t attacking Russia. The United States wasn’t attacking Russia … Russia’s aims in the war were to wipe Ukraine off the map, to absorb it into Russia.”
Bonnie Glaser, a China expert at the US-based German Marshall Fund, said the paper was largely a summary of its previously stated positions and statements, which were “replete with contradictions”.
“Beijing claims to support Ukraine’s sovereignty, but it has not criticised Russia’s annexations of Ukrainian territory,” Glaser said.
Glaser also noted the last of the 12 points, which states China stood ready to help in post-conflict reconstruction, “sounds like China is keen to get its [state-owned enterprises] into Ukraine, both to make a profit and promote Chinese influence via commercial and economic means”.
Drew Thompson, a scholar with the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy and former US defence department official, said the statement lacked credibility.
“Without… specifying a the need to return territory that Russia is attempting to annex, Beijing’s statement is not a plan, but a statement of anodyne principals that China itself does not follow, such as opposition to economic coercion in cases of political differences,” he said.