Western leaders have reacted nervously to a Chinese peace plan for Ukraine due to be revealed this week, but cautiously welcomed the move as a first sign that China recognises the war cannot be regarded solely as a European affair.
Speaking at the Munich Security Conference, China’s senior diplomat Wang Yi, one of the few external politicians able to influence Russia, announced that China would launch its peace initiative on the anniversary of the war, and has already been consulting Germany, Italy and France on its proposals. He said the peace plan would underscore the need to uphold the principles of sovereignty, territorial integrity and the UN Charter. But at the same time he said the legitimate security interests of Russia needed to be respected.
Diplomats who have been briefed by China are unclear how specific Beijing intends to be or whether the plan will lapse into vacuities about peaceful solutions that are sometimes a feature of Chinese diplomacy. A Chinese move to portray the west as warmongers could find echoes in the global south.
Annalena Baerbock, the German foreign minister, welcomed China’s move, saying: “As a permanent member of the UN security council, China has an obligation to use its influence to secure world peace.”
She said she had spoken intensively with Wang on Friday about “what a just peace means – not that you reward the aggressor, but that you stand up for international law and for those who have been attacked”.
The same message has been delivered to China by French and Italian diplomats.
Baerbock said a just peace presupposes “that the one who violated territorial integrity, namely Russia, withdraws its troops from the occupied country. World peace is based on the fact that we all recognise the territorial integrity and sovereignty of each country.” At the same time, however, it is also clear that “every chance” for peace must be used.
Without a complete withdrawal of all Russian troops from Ukraine, there is no chance of an end to the war, said Baerbock. “Even if it’s difficult”, all demands to end the war by ceding territory to Russia are unacceptable. “That would mean that we make the people prey to Russia. We will not do that.”
China knows there is a ready audience across the global south if it makes a call for dialogue and peace.
The Brazilian foreign minister Mauro Vieira insisted his country had condemned Russia’s aggression including at the UN, but added: “We have to try to make a solution possible. We cannot limit ourselves to talking about the war. I am not referring to immediate negotiations – we would have to go step by step, perhaps first create an environment that makes a negotiation possible.”
The prime minister of Namibia, Saara Kuugongelwa, said: “We want to solve the problem, we don’t want to find the culprit. It is of no use that Russia is spending money on weapons and the west is financing Ukraine to buy weapons.”
Some western powers are considering whether to press for a fresh UN general assembly resolution backing Ukraine, in the hope that an overwhelming vote in favour would highlight Russia’s lack of international support. But while a vote last year saw 141 nations back Ukraine, it is unclear how many fresh converts exist in the global south.
One source said Ukraine understandably wants specific hard wording in these resolutions, but the more specific the resolution the more likely it is that nations will retreat into neutrality.
At the Munich conference, a succession of European leaders, including the French president Emmanuel Macron, admitted the west should have done more to convince the south that its strong support for Ukraine was not born of double standards.
“I am struck by how we have lost the trust of the global south,” Macron said. He argued that the world’s response to the war showed the need to rebalance the global order and make its institutions more inclusive.
Macron called Russia’s invasion of Ukraine a “neocolonialist and imperialist” attack that “broke all taboos” and warned that bystanders were complicit in Russia’s aggression.
Rishi Sunak also admitted that the west should have done more to persuade the global south that food prices had rocketed due to Russia bombarding Ukrainian wheat fields, and not western sanctions. Kamala Harris, the US vice-president, who condemned Russia’s crimes against humanity, said the solution to the global south’s doubts was to treat them as partners.
Olaf Scholz, the German chancellor, who has travelled recently to Brazil and South Africa in a largely fruitless bid to extract clearer condemnations of Russia, told the Munich audience: “In order to be credible and achieve something as a European or North American in Jakarta, New Delhi, Pretoria, Santiago de Chile, Brasília or Singapore, it is not enough to invoke common values.”
The concerns about the south did not distract European leaders from discussing how to rapidly increase the production of ammunition through greater joint procurement and financial incentives to the European arms industry. The growing shortfall in weaponry will be discussed by the EU tomorrow.