China’s 12-point plan offers a good pathway for ending the Ukraine conflict
Ukrainian bystanders look on to residential buildings that were destroyed during an attack, in Borodyanka on Feb 23, 2023. (PHOTO / AFP)
Give peace a chance is one of the world’s most iconic anti-war songs. Written by John Lennon and released in 1969, it quickly became the anthem of the anti-Vietnam War movement.
The song raised international awareness of the tragic futility of the Vietnam War, which exacted an enormous human cost — estimates of the death toll range from 1.4 million to 3.8 million. US troops withdrew from South Vietnam after peace talks in 1973, but the war did not end until 1975.
Unfortunately, in the 21st century, Lennon’s song remains as topical as ever. The first 22 years of the new millennium have seen an astonishing raft of armed conflicts.
Wars are often triggered by historical grievances and the perception that one’s own legitimate security interests have been breached.
Able leaders try their utmost to avoid and prevent the outbreak of war by detecting powder kegs waiting for a spark, proactively taking remedial action and accepting the fact that politics is pragmatic. This idea was expressed by German statesman Otto von Bismarck (1815-98), who said that “politics is the art of the possible, the attainable — the art of the next best.”
China’s military theorist Sun Tzu (544-496 BC) noted that war drains resources and, consequently, should be minimized as much as possible.
This is one more reason that the fighting in Ukraine should be swiftly brought to an end, as the conflict that led to Russia’s “special military operation”, which started a year ago, actually goes back to 2014.
China formally announced its “Position on the Political Settlement of the Ukraine Crisis” on Feb 24, coinciding with the first anniversary of Moscow’s “special military operation”.
The 12-point position paper is a reasonable effort to give peace through its recommendations: 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, keeping nuclear power plants safe, reducing strategic risks, facilitating grain exports, stopping unilateral sanctions, keeping industrial and supply chains stable and promoting post-conflict reconstruction.
The paper stresses, quite rightly, that “the legitimate security interests and concerns of all countries must be taken seriously and addressed properly”. It also emphasizes that “nuclear weapons must not be used and nuclear wars must not be fought”, and reaffirms that China opposes unilateral sanctions not authorized by the United Nations Security Council.
Unlike some Western leaders’ cool response, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky cautiously welcomed Beijing’s 12-point peace plan. “I am planning to meet with (President) Xi Jinping,” Zelensky said. “This will be important for world security.”
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres also welcomed China’s position paper through his spokesman, Stephane Dujarric.
“I think the plan put forward by the Chinese government is an important contribution,” Dujarric told a regular media briefing on Feb 24, adding, “I think the call on the need to avoid the use of nuclear weapons is particularly important.”
Let us hope that the West — in particular Washington and Brussels (where both the European Union and NATO have their headquarters) — will take a second look at Beijing’s peace plan.
The position paper did not come out of the blue. China’s Foreign Ministry recently released the central government’s Global Security Initiative Concept Paper, which expressed Beijing’s determination to “support political settlement of hotspot issues such as the Ukraine crisis through dialogue and negotiation”.
The detailed concept paper starts by pointing out that “the issue of security bears on the wellbeing of people of all countries, the lofty cause of world peace and development, and the future of humanity”.
It reaffirms six core concepts and principles, among them to “stay committed to respecting the sovereignty and territorial integrity of all countries”.
It also expresses support for the ASEAN-centered regional security cooperation mechanism and architecture, as well as regional peace efforts by African, Latin American, Caribbean and Middle Eastern countries. It mentions China’s willingness to leverage the roles of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization and the BRICS cooperation mechanism.
BRICS may expand its membership by adding countries such as Turkiye, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Indonesia in the near future.
It already represents some 40 percent of the world’s population, and with its likely enlargement, more than half of the world’s 8 billion inhabitants could come under its umbrella.
The Ukraine bloodshed must be brought to an end through diplomatic efforts as quickly as possible. This would require a willingness by both sides to compromise, so that world leaders can finally work together again, free of ideological shackles, to come to grips with the world’s most pressing issues, such as climate-friendly development, poverty alleviation, international migration flows and the prevention of epidemics and other global health threats.
The author is director of The Macau Post Daily.
The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.