Ukrainian soldiers prepare a US-supplied M777 howitzer to fire at Russian positions in Kherson region, Ukraine, Jan. 9, 2023. China’s foreign ministry has frequently lambasted Washington and its allies for providing arms and equipment to Ukraine, accusing them of reverting to Cold War-era proxy conflicts. Image Credit: AP file

BEIJING: China called for a ceasefire between Ukraine and Moscow and the opening of peace talks in a 12-point proposal to end the fighting that started one year ago.

Beijing claims to have a neutral stance in the war, but China has also said it has a “no limits friendship” with Russia and has refused to criticize its attacks on Ukraine. It has accused the West of provoking the conflict and “fanning the flames” by providing Ukraine with defensive arms.

The US has also said China may be preparing to provide Russia with military aid , something Beijing says lacks evidence. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin has called the allegation “nothing more than slander and smears.”

China and Russia have increasingly aligned their foreign policies to oppose the US-led liberal international order. Foreign Minister Wang Yi reaffirmed the strength of their bilateral ties when he met with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow this week.

Before the document, titled “China’s Position on the Political Settlement of the Ukraine Crisis,” was released, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky had called it an important first step to have China involved.

“I think that, in general, the fact that China started talking about peace in Ukraine, I think that it is not bad,” he said at a news conference with Spain’s prime minister.

The 12-point paper issued on Friday morning by China’s Foreign Ministry also urges the end of Western sanctions imposed on Russia and calls for measures to prevent attacks on civilians and civilian facilities, keep nuclear facilities safe, establish humanitarian corridors for civilians and ensure the export of grain after disruptions inflated global food prices.

It mainly reiterated long-held Chinese positions, including that all countries’ “sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity” be guaranteed.

“Dialogue and negotiation are the only viable way out to resolve the Ukraine crisis,” the proposal said. It offered no details on what form talks should take, any preconditions or which countries should be involved, but said “China is willing to continue to play a constructive role in this regard.”

UN nonbinding resolution

It also called for an end to “Cold War mentality” — China’s standard term for what it regards as US hegemony, and maintenance of alliances such as NATO.

“The security of a country should not be pursued at the expense of others. The security of a region should not be achieved by strengthening or expanding military blocs,” the proposal said. “The legitimate security interests and concerns of all countries must be taken seriously and addressed properly.”

China abstained on Thursday when the UN General Assembly approved a nonbinding resolution that calls for Russia to end hostilities in Ukraine and withdraw its forces. It is one of 16 countries that either voted against or abstained on almost all of five previous UN resolutions on Ukraine.

The resolution, drafted by Ukraine in consultation with its allies, passed 141-7 with 32 abstentions, sending a strong message on the eve of the first anniversary of the war that appears to leave Russia more isolated than ever.

'Conflict and war benefit no one'

China has said that the present conflict is “not something it wishes to see,” and has repeatedly said any use of nuclear weapons would be completely unacceptable, in an implied repudiation of Putin’s statement that Russia would use “all available means” to protect its territory.

“Conflict and war benefit no one,” the proposal said.

“All parties should maintain rationality and restraint ... support Russia and Ukraine to meet each other, resume direct dialogue as soon as possible, gradually promote the de-escalation and relaxation of the situation, and finally reach a comprehensive ceasefire,” it said.

Reiterating China’s position, it said, “Nuclear weapons must not be used and nuclear wars must not be fought.”

Shi Yinhong, a professor of international relations at Beijing’s Renmin University, said China’s proposal was necessary, but not novel.