At the end of February 2023 China announced a 12 Point Peace Plan to help bring Russia and the Ukraine to the negotiating table. It was the subject of discussion on President Xi’s visit to Putin at the end of March. It has been welcomed by Moscow but not in the Ukraine, or by Kyiv’s allies in the West. This blog looks at its provisions.
The discussion which follows takes the 12 Points in logical order of the sequence in which they apply rather than the sequence in which they appear. This makes their logic clearer.
Reduction of escalation risks
Points 7 and 8 of the Peace Plan address the risk of escalation if the conflict were to continue. There is probably widespread agreement around the world on these points other than in North Korea and Iran.
7. Keeping nuclear power plants safe. China opposes armed attacks against nuclear power plants or other peaceful nuclear facilities, and calls on all parties to comply with international law including the Convention on Nuclear Safety (CNS) and resolutely avoid man-made nuclear accidents. China supports the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in playing a constructive role in promoting the safety and security of peaceful nuclear facilities.
8. Reducing strategic risks. Nuclear weapons must not be used and nuclear wars must not be fought. The threat or use of nuclear weapons should be opposed. Nuclear proliferation must be prevented and nuclear crisis avoided. China opposes the research, development and use of chemical and biological weapons by any country under any circumstances.
The next step in the logic is for the calling for ceasefire (Points 3 & 4 in the Peace Plan). Point 3 seems to call for a ceasefire in place wherever the line of conflict is, but to lead towards a ‘comprehensive ceasefire’ that would require a settlement of political differences between the protagonists (Point 4). This suggests border changes might be agreed as part of settling political differences.
The Points are silent on how a ceasefire might be enforced or how peace talks might be structured. China promises itself to play a ‘constructive role’, having set an example with its recent mediation between Saudi Arabia and Iran. Nevertheless, there are obvious lacunae to be filled around who hosts, who sits at, or behind, the table and the role of the UN, if any, in relation to the talks, and the Security Council.
3. Ceasing hostilities. Conflict and war benefit no one. All parties must stay rational and exercise restraint, avoid fanning the flames and aggravating tensions, and prevent the crisis from deteriorating further or even spiraling out of control. All parties should support Russia and Ukraine in working in the same direction and resuming direct dialogue as quickly as possible, so as to gradually deescalate the situation and ultimately reach a comprehensive ceasefire.
4. Resuming peace talks. Dialogue and negotiation are the only viable solution to the Ukraine crisis. All efforts conducive to the peaceful settlement of the crisis must be encouraged and supported. The international community should stay committed to the right approach of promoting talks for peace, help parties to the conflict open the door to a political settlement as soon as possible, and create conditions and platforms for the resumption of negotiation. China will continue to play a constructive role in this regard.
If a ceasefire can be agreed, talks will take place in an atmosphere of the deepest mistrust and mutual suspicion. Confidence building measures will be important. They are the subject of Points 5, 6 and 9 in the Peace Plan. There would probably be general international agreement on these points.
5. Resolving the humanitarian crisis. All measures conducive to easing the humanitarian crisis must be encouraged and supported. Humanitarian operations should follow the principles of neutrality and impartiality, and humanitarian issues should not be politicized. The safety of civilians must be effectively protected, and humanitarian corridors should be set up for the evacuation of civilians from conflict zones. Efforts are needed to increase humanitarian assistance to relevant areas, improve humanitarian conditions, and provide rapid, safe and unimpeded humanitarian access, with a view to preventing a humanitarian crisis on a larger scale. The UN should be supported in playing a coordinating role in channeling humanitarian aid to conflict zones.
6. Protecting civilians and prisoners of war (POWs). Parties to the conflict should strictly abide by international humanitarian law, avoid attacking civilians or civilian facilities, protect women, children and other victims of the conflict, and respect the basic rights of POWs. China supports the exchange of POWs between Russia and Ukraine, and calls on all parties to create more favorable conditions for this purpose.
9. Facilitating grain exports. All parties need to implement the Black Sea Grain Initiative signed by Russia, Türkiye, Ukraine and the UN fully and effectively in a balanced manner, and support the UN in playing an important role in this regard. The cooperation initiative on global food security proposed by China provides a feasible solution to the global food crisis.
Post war reconstruction Measures
Reconstruction measures in the Ukraine can probably start ahead of any peace settlement and there is a well-trodden financial reconstruction path to be followed by the World Bank, IMF, EBRD, and the EIB as well as by official bilateral lenders. Point 12 is thus not particularly controversial. The question is how far China will want to be part of this established framework or do its own thing.
However, going beyond this to the removal of sanctions (Point 10) and stabilising international supply chains (Point 11) raise much wider issues. In particular private investors and businesses have been forced to reconsider the risk/reward calculation of doing business in both Russia and China. Nor does this recalculation depend just or even mainly on the Ukraine /Russia conflict. It is about the risks of doing business in autocratic countries where the law cannot be depended on to resolve contract disputes, where the rule of law in the sense of government under the law is not observed, and where the line between the public sector and private is indivisible in autocratic countries and exists at the pleasure of the government. The long arm of an autocratic state means that trade issues become security issues and investments in supply chains become human rights issues. The wider decoupling that is going on in the world economy by both businesses and governments is unlikely to lose momentum.
12. Promoting post-conflict reconstruction. The international community needs to take measures to support post-conflict reconstruction in conflict zones. China stands ready to provide assistance and play a constructive role in this endeavour.
10. Stopping unilateral sanctions. Unilateral sanctions and maximum pressure cannot solve the issue; they only create new problems. China opposes unilateral sanctions unauthorized by the UN Security Council. Relevant countries should stop abusing unilateral sanctions and “long-arm jurisdiction” against other countries, so as to do their share in deescalating the Ukraine crisis and create conditions for developing countries to grow their economies and better the lives of their people.
11. Keeping industrial and supply chains stable. All parties should earnestly maintain the existing world economic system and oppose using the world economy as a tool or weapon for political purposes. Joint efforts are needed to mitigate the spillovers of the crisis and prevent it from disrupting international cooperation in energy, finance, food trade and transportation and undermining the global economic recovery.
Only 2 Points of the 12 address the possible content of any agreement. However, respecting the sovereignty of all countries (point 1) is deceptive. China no doubt interprets it to include all its territorial claims, (including Taiwan and the South China Sea) and Russia theirs (including parts of the Ukraine). Point 2 (abandoning cold war mentality) is aimed against Ukraine eventually joining NATO. Neither appears to provide a starting point with any attraction to Ukraine as formulated.
1. Respecting the sovereignty of all countries. Universally recognized international law, including the purposes and principles of the United Nations Charter, must be strictly observed. The sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity of all countries must be effectively upheld. All countries, big or small, strong or weak, rich or poor, are equal members of the international community. All parties should jointly uphold the basic norms governing international relations and defend international fairness and justice. Equal and uniform application of international law should be promoted, while double standards must be rejected.
2. Abandoning the Cold War mentality. 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 legitimate security interests and concerns of all countries must be taken seriously and addressed properly. There is no simple solution to a complex issue. All parties should, following the vision of common, comprehensive, cooperative and sustainable security and bearing in mind the long-term peace and stability of the world, help forge a balanced, effective and sustainable European security architecture. All parties should oppose the pursuit of one’s own security at the cost of others’ security, prevent bloc confrontation, and work together for peace and stability on the Eurasian Continent.
Although Ukraine’s President has been careful not to dismiss China’s peace plan, the reaction from Kyiv and NATO allies, including the US, has been negative. What is unsettling about the Peace Plan is that it hardly touches on the specifics of the Russia/Ukraine conflict but places a global wrapper around it reflecting China’s view of the world. When negotiations do eventually start, the bilateral specifics of the conflict will be extraordinarily difficult to deal with. Remodelling the Global Order to China’s liking is a different subject entirely.