At the Munich Security Conference on February 18, Wang Yi (Member of the Political Bureau of the CPC Central Committee and Director of the Office of the Central Commission for Foreign Affairs) emphasized that “Human Society must not repeat the old path of antagonism and must not fall into the trap of Zero-sum game, war and conflict”. Therein he announced that the Chinese side would propose its position on the political settlement of the Ukraine crisis. On February 24, the Chinese Foreign Ministry released its 12-point peace plan.
The political settlement plan is theoretical in nature without having specifics on resolving the dispute. The abstractness of the peace plan is characterized by its rhetorical placement under International Law, which according to some experts itself, is questionable and subject to varied interpretations.
The 12 headers of the peace plan are: Respecting the sovereignty of all countries; Abandoning the Cold War mentality; Ceasing hostilities; Resuming peace talks; Resolving the humanitarian crisis; Protecting civilians and prisoners of war (POWs); Keeping nuclear power plants safe; Reducing strategic risks; Facilitating grain exports; Stopping unilateral sanctions; Keeping industrial and supply chains stable; Promoting post-conflict reconstruction.
It would not be futile to trace these 12 Points of the Chinese peace plan in the light of the source from where it derives legitimacy, i.e. International Law, notwithstanding its criticism or appreciation globally
International Law Rhetoric
Article 2(4) of the UN charter refrains members from the use of force against the territorial integrity of any state. The UN charter principle of “sovereign equality” is criticized by Sorokin as being unequal to small states in reality as well as legally. Further, even if there is legal equality at all, Oppenheim goes on to state that legal equality must not be confused with political equality. In these already established exceptions to sovereign equality, China calls for the “Equal and uniform” application of international law and eschewing double standards.
The second point stressed that the security of the country should not be pursued at the expense of others. The theory of Auto-limitation implies that states follow international law because they themselves have restricted their powers. The paper in third and fourth points calls to exercise restraint and resume peace talks, respectively. It calls on the international community to promote peace talks and emphasise the adherence to principles of the UN Charter.
Under the Pacific means of settlement of disputes, dialogues are established through negotiations, conciliation, good offices, or inquiry apart from arbitration and other peaceful means. The “1970 Declaration on Principles of International Law Concerning Friendly Relations and Cooperation Among States in Accordance with the Charter of the U.N.” emphasized that it is the state’s duty to refrain from using force and resort to other peaceful means of settlement of disputes. It added principles envisaged in this declaration constitute the basic principles of international law.
The four Geneva Conventions of 1949 form the basis of international humanitarian law and can be traced in Beijing’s rhetoric of Peace through peaceful means. The Geneva Conventions apply in armed conflict between nations even if the nation is completely occupied by the soldiers of another nation. Article 12 of the first Geneva Convention calls for the protection of the wounded and sick.
Articles 13 – 14 of the Second Geneva Convention protect prisoners of war (PoWs) against violence. According to Article 118, all POWs shall be repatriated when the conflict ends. The fourth Geneva Convention pertains to civilians in areas of armed conflict, which must be protected and must not be discriminated against.
On Nuclear Security
China claims to support International Atomic Energy Association (IAEA) in its efforts to promote the safety and security of Nuclear Facilities. IAEA is a non-subsidiary body under the aegis of the United Nations and is based on the statute which entered into force in 1957. China joined IAEA in 1984.
Ukraine’s five nuclear plants, as well as other facilities, have come under direct shelling during the course of the war. The Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant (ZNPP) has been under Russian control since February 2022. The emergency session resolution four ( A/RES/ES-11/4) of the UN adopted in October 2022, titled “ Territorial integrity of Ukraine: defending the principles of the Charter of the United Nations”. In line with resolution A/RES/ES-11/4, the IAEA continues to regard the Zaporizhzhia plant as a Ukrainian plant, notwithstanding the Russian claim of a Moscow-based company operating the ZNPP.
In the context of the Russia-Ukraine war, IAEA formulated the seven pillars for the safety assessment in Ukraine: – Physical integrity; Safety and security systems and equipment; Operating staff; Off-site power supply; Logistical supply chain; Radiation monitoring and emergency preparedness and response; Communication. Its one-year review report titled “Nuclear Safety, Security and Safeguards in Ukraine” was released in February 2023. The report noted that despite shelling and compromise of its seven indispensable pillars, no incident has had radiological consequences.
China appears to be reinforcing its position vis-à-vis the US. The unintended peace plan is more about its global brandishing as a responsible and impartial state. The target audience of this peace plan is not in the US or Russia but is intended for states to whom it soothes, backed by the narrative of breaking the cold war bloc mentality imagining a bipolar world and the economic interests autonomous of the US’s stipulation. Hence, the question of the utility or futility of the peace plan does not arise for those states.
Recently, during his visit to the Netherlands, Emmanuel Macron reaffirmed and repeated his older statement, “Being a US ally did not mean being a vassal”, he further called Europe to act more ‘independently’ of the US. According to Eurostats, Between 2011 and 2021, the trade deficit between the EU and China increased from €129 billion in 2011 to €249 billion in 2021. Hence Beijing continues to hold significance for the EU.
Also, the Chinese position paper posits Beijing as a state proposing peace through peaceful means, which is again in stark contrast to the US approach to military involvement. Hence, posing a question to the very relevance of the US’s hegemonic intervention on global issues and juxtaposing itself as a legitimate alternative.
This narrative was further played as a prelude to the 12-point peace plan by Wang Yi at the Munich Security Conference announcing China’s “Global Security Initiative Concept Paper”. The increase in Chinese strength was advertised as an increase in the hope of world peace.
Phone Call and the Way Forward
The first phone conversation between Xi Jinping and Volodymyr Zelensky took place on April 26 which started with the greetings of China-Ukraine relations reaching a level of “Strategic Partnership” in the 31 years of its development. Xi emphasized “talks and negotiations” as the only way out of the war without condemning Russia and calling all parties to exercise restraint on the nuclear front.
Zelensky, during the call, affirmed Ukraine’s commitment to the one-China policy. President Xi also highlighted that China will send a “Special Representative” of the Chinese Government on Eurasian Affairs to Ukraine and other countries in order to establish in-depth communication and facilitate the political settlement of the crisis.
Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the People’s Republic of China. March 22, 2023. President Xi Jinping Pays a State Visit to Russia. Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the People’s Republic of China. https://www.fmprc.gov.cn/mfa_eng/topics_665678/xjpdelsjxgsfw/202303/t20230322_11046088.html
Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the People’s Republic of China. February 24, 2023. China’s Position on the Political Settlement of the Ukraine Crisis. Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the People’s Republic of China. https://www.fmprc.gov.cn/mfa_eng/zxxx_662805/202302/t20230224_11030713.html
Chris Devonshire-Ellis. March 17, 2023. China’s Peace Plan For Ukraine, Russia, the European Union and United States. China Briefing. https://www.china-briefing.com/news/chinas-peace-plan-for-ukraine-russia-the-european-union-and-united-states/
Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the People’s Republic of China. February 18, 2023. Wang Yi Attends the 59th Munich Security Conference and Delivers a Keynote Speech. Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the People’s Republic of China. https://www.fmprc.gov.cn/mfa_eng/zxxx_662805/202302/t20230220_11027395.html
United Nations Digital Library. October 12, 2022. Territorial integrity of Ukraine : defending the Charter of the United Nations principles: resolution / adopted by the General Assembly. United Nations. https://digitallibrary.un.org/record/3990673/files/A_RES_ES-11_4-EN.pdf
International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). Report: Nuclear Safety, Security, And Safeguards In Ukraine (February 2022–February 2023). February 23, 2023. IAEA. https://www.iaea.org/sites/default/files/23/02/nuclear-safety-security-and-safeguards-in-ukraine-feb-2023.pdf
Eurostat. April 1, 2022. Significant increase in EU imports from China. Eurostat. https://ec.europa.eu/eurostat/web/products-eurostat-news/-/edn-20220401-1
Ministry of the Foreign Affairs of the People’s Republic of China. April 26, 2023. President Xi Jinping speaks with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on the Phone. Ministry of the Foreign Affairs of the People’s Republic of China. https://www.fmprc.gov.cn/mfa_eng/zxxx_662805/202304/t20230426_11066785.html
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