China wants to negotiate a peace agreement with Ukraine that does not hurt Russia


Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping during a signing ceremony after their talks at the Kremlin in Moscow on March 21, 2023.

Vladimir Astapkovich | AFP | Getty Images

China faces a ‘tall’ challenge when it comes to trying to broker a peace deal between Ukraine and Russia, political analysts say, with the country walking a diplomatic tightrope between appearing sufficiently neutral to gain Kiev’s trust and ensure that any deal does no harm. its allies in Moscow.

Beijing – which sent representatives to Ukraine, Russia and several European countries this week in a bid to lay the groundwork for peace talks – has a vested interest that Moscow does not appear to have been “defeated” in any settlement. as it could backfire on Beijing, analysts note.

“A total defeat of Russia does not serve Chinese interests, especially if it leads to [President Vladimir] Putin’s disappearance,” Bonnie Glaser, Asia program director at the German Marshall Fund (GMF) of the United States, told CNBC on Tuesday.

“Russia is an increasingly important partner for [Chinese President] Xi Jinping. No other country can help weaken American leadership in the world and revise the international order.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping leave after a reception following their talks at the Kremlin in Moscow on March 21, 2023.

Pavel Byrkin | AFP | Getty Images

China is stepping up efforts to bring Russia and Ukraine to the negotiating table with China’s Special Representative for Eurasian Affairs Li Hui visiting Europe this week for talks “on a political settlement of the crisis Ukrainian,” the Chinese Foreign Ministry said.

Russia launched its unprovoked invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 and after months of attrition, the conflict is about to enter a new phase, with Western-backed Ukraine set to launch a massive counter-offensive to retake occupied territories to the east and south. from the country.

China is widely seen as having supported Russia during the war, refusing to condemn the invasion and pledging to deepen its strategic cooperation with the country, although Moscow is seen by most analysts as the subordinate and subordinate partner in the relationship.

One of the main factors that binds China and Moscow is a shared and deep-seated antipathy and distrust of the West, both critics of US dominance in global affairs.

Against this backdrop, Moscow and Beijing have remained remarkably close throughout the war, with Xi and Putin holding numerous calls and a state visit in March. In contrast, Xi only called his Ukrainian counterpart Volodymyr Zelenskyy for the first time in April.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky speaks with Chinese President Xi Jinping by phone in kyiv on April 26, 2023.

Ukrainian Presidential Press Service | Reuters

There is no doubt that China wants the war to end, viewing it as an unwelcome crisis affecting the global economy. But it also contains the potential for political danger for China, with a defeated Russia seen as highly vulnerable to political instability, disorder and even regime change.

As such, China’s decision to broker peace between Russia and Ukraine is not seen as altruistic but driven by self-interest. This interest extends to ensuring that its neighbor and ally, Russia, does not appear to have been humiliated and “defeated” in any peace deal with Ukraine. By managing the negotiation process, China can see that this is not the case, analysts note.

“There will certainly be a significant face-saving element to any Chinese peace-brokering effort,” Etienne Soula, research analyst at the GMF’s Alliance for Securing Democracy, which focuses on research, told CNBC. China, adding that “Beijing will probably try to help Russia give in.” as little as possible while convincing the Ukrainians and their Western supporters to bury the hatchet.”

Crucially for China, a humiliated Russia would reflect poorly on its own ambitions to challenge perceived Western hegemony.

“China’s narrative of its own rise to the center of global governance hinges on the corresponding idea that Western democracies, and the United States in particular, are irreversibly declining,” Soula said.

“Having these countries defeat one of the largest autocracies in the world, a nuclear-armed member of the Security Council, by proxy, without even having boots on the ground, would be a great setback for the history that China is trying to tell the world about the future. .”

CNBC contacted the Chinese Foreign Ministry for a response to the comments and has yet to receive a response.

“Tall Challenge”

A view of the cemetery where fallen Ukrainian soldiers, including Gennady Kovshyk, a soldier from the 92nd Separate Mechanized Brigade, are buried in Kharkiv, Ukraine, February 16, 2023.

Sophie Bobok | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images

Ukraine has said that any settlement of the war must center on the withdrawal of Russian troops from occupied areas and the restoration of its territorial sovereignty, including the return of four regions that Russia declared to have annexed last September, as well as Crimea, which was annexed in 2014. .

Russia, meanwhile, demands that kyiv recognize Russian sovereignty over the annexed areas and accept independence from pro-Russian separatist “republics” in Lugansk and Donetsk in eastern Ukraine. Moscow also wants to see a “demilitarized” Ukraine, including guarantees that it will never join NATO.

Although there may be some wiggle room for negotiations; Ukraine has said it could consider security guarantees from Western allies instead of NATO membership, for example; the two parties have little appetite for concessions, particularly territorial ones.

After all, Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial existence depend on the outcome of the war, while Putin has arguably staked his entire regime, and Russia’s self-esteem, on defeating the Ukraine and its Western backers, who he says want to “destroy” Russia.

“China’s recent success in mediating between Iran and Saudi Arabia shows that it has the ability to navigate long-time enemies. But, mediating between Ukraine and Russia will be a challenge a lot more formidable,” said Cheng Chen, a political science professor at the university. University at Albany, State University of New York, told CNBC.

“Since Xi specifically mentioned the importance of sovereignty in his phone call with Zelenskyy, China is unlikely to side with Russia in demanding outright territorial concessions from Ukraine. obviously,” she added.

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