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China should take a more proactive role in Russia-Ukraine negotiation

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Hoyu Huang

As the world closely watches the development of the Russian-Ukraine war and the further escalation seems possible,  other international parties have also attempted to mediate between Moscow and Kyiv to reach for a cease-fire.  Russia and Ukraine haveagreed to start the negotiation in Belarus recently, giving some hope for future talks.

Even before the total war, the attempt to seek a peaceful solution to the crisis has started.  While President Biden previously spoke with President Putin on the phone to discuss the situation, President Macron of France also visited Moscow to negotiate with the Russians directly while proposing a bilateral meeting between the US and Russian leaders.

However, Beijing remained in relative silence while the world still wondered the exact position of Beijing in this war.  Even after Russia entered Eastern Ukraine and waged a full-front war, the Chinese ambassador to the United Nations still calls for peace and de-escalation.  There is still no clear sign of the official position of China in the ongoing war.

China, at this moment, may be the last resort to serve as a mediator between Russia and Ukraine.  The lack of trust between the parties and the dire security situation calls for a new party to participate in the peace talks.  By playing a proactive role in mediating the crisis between Ukraine and Russia, Beijing will also gain vital political and economic benefits in the long run.  As China becomes more active in global affairs, These benefits in participating in the negotiation may become critical for the Chinese interests.

The lack of trust between the participating parties will doom the negotiation.  The previous mediation effort from European countries failed when Russia moved troops into Eastern Ukraine.  Before that, the Minsk Protocol, an agreement mandated by Germany and France, was never fully effective.  With the new sanctions imposed on Russia and the escalation of Moscow to put the nuclear forces on high alert, the last remaining trust between Russia and the West is gone.  As Putin mentioned in the phone call with President Xi Jinping, Russia feels betrayed and cheated by Ukraine and the West.  Russia will not accept the other European countries to mediate the negotiation.

Currently, Belarus seems like the country that will offer the common ground for future negotiations.  Russia offered to negotiate in Belarus, while Belarus has previously provided the mediation for the talks.  The Minsk Protocol negotiation was a production of that mediation.  However, Belarus has also lost Ukrainian trust for mandating negotiations as the war develops.  The Russian military launched the attack through Belarus territory.  There is also information indicating that Belarus will send troops into Ukraine directly alongside Russia.  Ukraine cannot trust Belarus as a fair and just mediator.

With the massive lack of trust between all parties, seeking a new mediator to lead the negotiation and a peaceful solution in this crisis is imminent.  China can be a trustworthy partner in mediating this negotiation.  China remains neutral stands in the issue despite the close relationship with Moscow.  From the regular press conference of the China Foreign Ministry to the speech at the emergency meeting at the UN Security Council, Beijing expressed its neutrality repeatedly.  China believes that the current crisis is created by “many complex factors.”  Meanwhile, China remained neutral during the Crimea crisis.  This consistent neutrality gives China credibility for future negotiations, which is vital for being a qualified mediator in the future.

Even with the close relationship with Moscow, China’s previous statement and the consistent stands meet Ukrainian interest.  China is a consistent supporter of the Minsk Protocol, which includes the critical recognition of Ukrainian sovereignty in the Dumbas and Luhansk region and the control of its borders.  Even in recent Foreign Ministry press conference, Beijing still calls for “make full use of multilateral platforms including the Normandy format, and seek a comprehensive settlement of the Ukraine issue through dialogue and consultation.”

China also has the crucial leverage to bring Kyiv and Moscow to negotiations as China has significant political and economic investments in these two countries.  China maintained a cooperative relationship with both Russia and Ukraine in recent years.  Economically, China plays a vital role in Russia and Ukraine with a growing trade relationship.  China also cooperates closely with Ukraine in defense technology as China still purchases essential military equipment, such as high-performance jet engines, from Ukraine.  Politically, China and Ukraine remained a close strategic partnership while the China-Russia relationship needs no further description.

The Chinese participation in the mediation between Kyiv and Moscow could also bring China significant benefits in the long run.  Economically, Ukraine and Russia participate in the Belt and Road Initiative.  As both countries actively participate in BRI, Russia is a key transfer point for the China-Europe Rail.  The conflict and the harsh sanctions will harm Chinese economic interests at home and abroad.  China has the necessary financial incentives to be proactive in the negotiation process in the future.

At the same time, the active participation in peace talks also allows China to promote its idea further in the Community of Common Destiny and its vision as a responsible world power.  As the world is now at a crossroads and facing one of the direst moments after World War II, China has to deliver to honor its vision.  China should take the opportunity to lead the negotiation and fulfill its dream for the Community of Common Destiny.  Meanwhile, direct participation in the talks could provide vital political benefits to China.  As China further develops BRI, the political capital will be necessary for the flourishment of BRI.

While Moscow expressed their interest in negotiation with Ukraine in the recent phone call with President Xi Jinping, the Kyiv government and the Kremlin talks have also started.  There is still a gleam of hope for a peaceful solution to this issue.  While China remains neutral in all official communication, the Chinese still have the great asset in its hands to be proactive in the crisis.  While China has the mutual trust of all parties and critical interest in the ongoing warfare, China should actively participate in the talks between Kyiv and Moscow.