China occupied international headlines on February 24, 2023 by calling for a cease-fire and peace talks between Russia and Ukraine. This announcement came on the one-year anniversary of Russia’s “Special Military Operation”, a military incursion that has witnessed Russia make slow yet grinding gains in Eastern Ukraine.
China has maintained a neutral stance on Russia’s military incursion in Ukraine. It has not only refused to criticize Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, but it has bolstered relations with Russia, making several geopolitical commentators believe the two countries are on the verge of forging an alliance.
While Ukrainian forces have taken heavy losses, they have held out longer than expected, when many expert projections from the US’s Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) predicted that Ukraine would completely fall within a matter of days. As the war rages on, many analysts believe such a conflict could go on for years without a definitive end. Well, unless a third party like China came into the picture and offered a peace plan that both parties can agree to.
At first, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy tentatively welcomed China’s desire to move towards peace. However, he qualified his praise by saying that China’s actions, not rhetoric, is what matters most. “I believe that the fact that China started talking about Ukraine is not bad,” Zelenskyy said at a news conference on February 24. “But the question is what follows the words. The question is in the steps and where they will lead to.”
Throughout the Russo-Ukrainian conflict, China has blamed the West, specifically NATO expansion, as the primary catalyst behind the conflict. Chinese authorities have accused NATO member nations of escalating tensions in Ukraine by supplying it with a seemingly ceaseless supply of weapons.
China’s peace plan listed 12 of the following points:
1. Respecting the sovereignty of all countries
2. Abandoning the Cold War mentality
3. Ceasing hostilities
4. Resuming peace talks
5. Resolving the humanitarian crisis
6. Protecting civilians and prisoners of war (POWs)
7. Keeping nuclear power plants safe
8. Reducing strategic risks
9. Facilitating grain exports
10. Stopping unilateral sanctions
11. Keeping industrial and supply chains stable
12. Promoting post-conflict reconstruction
Many international pundits largely dismissed this peace plan noting that it largely reiterated positions that China has long maintained about the conflict. However, there are concerns among several analysts believe that Ukraine and its strategic partners must proceed with caution. There is a general belief that if China’s peace proposal is rejected it will likely lead to the Asian giant being compelled to provide military aid to Russia. Rumors have recently surfaced from US intelligence sources that China is preparing to supply Russia with military aid, which Chinese authorities have resoundingly denied. The rumored aid consisted of a small Chinese drone manufacturer providing the Russian military several components and knowledge to produce roughly 100 suicide drones monthly.
One way or the other, all eyes will be on China as it either establishes a peace plan or gives Russia a critical injection of military aid to help push it over the top in its war of attrition against Ukraine, and by extension, the Collective West.
All told, what China’s peace plans shows is that it’s proactive about taking bold diplomatic measures that could reshape the geopolitical order. Should China be able to broker a peace between Russia and Ukraine while pushing the US and broader West out of the process, it will show to the world that there is another competing geopolitical pole that’s capable of settling international disputes.
Moreover, due to China’s relatively peaceful nature on the world stage, given the last time it conducted a full-blown military invasion was against Vietnam in 1979, more nations will begin gravitating towards it as it starts exuding an image of stability and tranquility. By contrast, countries like the US have embarked on numerous military expeditions throughout the past 30 years — Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Serbia, Somalia, Syria, and Yemen — looking like the posterboys of geopolitical instability. Not to mention, the US’s volatile domestic politics doesn’t help its case either.
A fundamental reshaping of the world order is happening before our very eyes in real time. What China does next in the upcoming fateful months will ultimately mold the landscape of international affairs for years to come.