16.4 C
Monday, May 29, 2023
HomePoliticsThe view from Moscow and Beijing: what peace in Ukraine and a...

The view from Moscow and Beijing: what peace in Ukraine and a post-conflict world look like for Xi and Putin


Just days after being labeled a war criminal in an international arrest warrant, Russian President Vladimir Putin spoke of peace with his main ally, Chinese President Xi Jinping.

The institution for being together was the late 15th century Faceted Chamber, the ornate throne room of Muscovite grand dukes and tsars. The main topics of conversation were suitably grandiose: how should hostilities in Ukraine end? And how should the international security system be reformed after the war?

The reaction of many in the West to the proposals made by China and discussed with Russia has been particularly suspicious of the intentions. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken warned the world not to be “misguided by any tactical move by Russia backed by China … to freeze the war on its own terms”.

Such a sentiment is understandable. Putin unleashed a brutal, unprovoked war in Ukraine. Amid the heightened emotional environment of rocket attacks on civilianshorrific atrocities against ordinary citizens and deportation of children from Ukraineeven a cool evaluation of ways to end the fighting, declare a ceasefire and start talks by the warring factions has led to accusations of atonement. And the peace plan proposed by China on February 24, 2023 and discussed with Putin at a March 20-22 meeting in Moscow, has been criticized as too vague and without concrete suggestions.

In such circumstances it can be difficult to consider what the other party’s interest might be in ending the murder, and their sincerity of any alleged attempts to do so.

But if a historian, I ask, what does the world look like from the other side? How did Russia and China understand the lead-up to the war and the war itself? And how do Xi and Putin envision a post-conflict world?

Playing by the rules – but whose?

The rulers of both Russia and China see it as Western-dominatedrules-based international order— a system that has dominated geopolitics since the end of World War II — designed to maintain the United States’ global hegemony.

Russian President Vladimir Putin meets with Chinese President Xi Jinping at the Kremlin.
Pavel Byrkin/Sputnik/AFP via Getty Images)

The clear preference of the two men goes out to a multilateral system, one that would most likely result in some regional hegemonies. This would certainly include China and Russia holding sway in their own neighborhoods.

Xi put the matter rather carefully during his trip to Moscow: “The international community has recognized that no country is superior to any other, that no model of governance is universal, and that no country should dictate the international order. The common interest of all humanity is a world that is united and peaceful, rather than divided and volatile.”

Putin reflects his more street-tough style was buttery. Russia and China “have consistently advocated shaping a more just multipolar world order based on international law rather than certain ‘rules’ serving the needs of the ‘golden billion’,” he said, refer to a theory that means that the billion people in the world’s richest countries consume most of the world’s resources.

Continuing in this vein, Putin said the “crisis in Ukraine” was an example of the West attempting to “maintain its international dominance and preserve the unipolar world order” while “dividing the common Eurasian space into a network of ‘exclusive clubs’. ‘ and military blocs that would serve to curb the development of our countries and harm their interests.”

China as a peacemaker?

Beijing seems intent on playing the role of chief negotiator in this transition to a multipolar world order.

After the success, the United States and bring about rapprochement between Iran and Saudi Arabia, China has turned its attention to Ukraine.

With his peace proposal on UkraineChina has deftly established certain principles that other countries would be happy to endorse.

“The sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity of all countries must be effectively maintained. All countries, large or small, strong or weak, rich or poor, are equal members of the international community,” reads the first principle in language that is difficult to object to.

But those meaningless sentences point in two directions at once. Maintaining sovereignty seems to be aimed primarily at Russia a year after it so clearly violated the sovereignty of neighboring Ukraine. But the principle can also be read as the conflict over Taiwan, which Beijing and some other states recognize as part of China. It is perhaps no coincidence that the wording of the plan comes because the US, which officially recognizes the position that Taiwan and mainland China are one country, has hardened its stance and vowed to defend the island if it were invaded. To Beijing, the United States seems intent on turning a rival, China, into an enemy.

According to China, nations have the right to increase their security, but not at the expense of others. This principle directly reflects one of Putin’s most frequently cited reasons for the conflict with Ukraine: NATO’s expansion into Eastern Europe and the alliance’s pledge to expand further through Georgia and Ukraine. According to Putin, such a breach of NATO poses an existential threat to Russia’s security interests.

But the Chinese plan too rejects Putin’s nuclear saber chatter: “The threat or use of nuclear weapons must be combated.”

Meanwhile, the Chinese are strongly pushing for the need for an immediate ceasefire and the start of negotiations, a call Washington has made vehemently rejected as a concession that amounted to “diplomatic cover for Russia to continue committing war crimes”.

What will Russia settle for?

Russia’s goals in the war in Ukraine are easy enough to dissect, though they’ve diminished after the war effective Ukrainian resistance until the first invasion.

Instead of taking over all of Ukraine and perhaps setting up a puppet government, Moscow has been forced to accept limited territorial gains in the Donbas and coastal crescent that connects both the region and Russia to Crimea. Small as they are, such Russian targets are completely unacceptable to Ukraine and to the Western alliance – and indeed to all countries that accept the principle that international borders cannot legitimately be altered unilaterally by military force.

Although not clearly defined, this principle is even in the very first sentence of the Chinese peace plan: “Generally recognized international law, including the purposes and principles of the Charter of the United Nations, must be strictly observed.”

That notwithstanding, Putin is welcome China’s intervention and the plan in general.

Rival global ambitions

So what’s in this for Beijing, given that for many the peace plan is already a non-starter?

The conflict in Ukraine is not only devastating for the two warring parties involved, but also destabilizing for states around the world. In the short term, China can benefit from the war because it gobbles up attention and attention armaments from the West and averts his gaze from East Asia. The United States “turn to the east— a planned refocus from the Obama administration aimed at countering the perceived threat from China — has stalled.

But there is an argument that Xi is most concerned about China’s renewed economic development, which would rely on less confrontational relations with Europe and the United States. Stability, both domestic and international, works to China’s economic advantage as a major producer and exporter of industrial goods. And Beijing is aware that a decline in foreign demand and investment affects the country’s economic prospects.

As such, Beijing’s new role as a peacemaker – whether in the Middle East or Eastern Europe – may indeed be sincere. Furthermore, Xi may be the only person in the world who can convince Putin to seriously consider a way out of the war.

Peace, however, does not only stand in the way of the current intransigence of Russia and Ukraine. The long-held goal of United States foreign policy toindispensable peoplestatus goes against Russia and China’s ambition to end US world domination.

It presents two seemingly insurmountable rival ambitions.

Editor’s note: This article was amended on March 24, 2023 to clarify the US position on the “One China” policy.

Latest stories