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Voices: China wants it to be Xi Jinping’s peace plan for Ukraine – or no peace at all

The concept of “wolf warrior diplomacy” is probably the defining principle of Chinese foreign policy under Xi Jinping, an aggressive and adversarial outlook on the world borne of the idea that his predecessors were too soft and weak to lead the country to greatness.

The world is much less familiar with the image of Xi as peace-broker – yet that is the one Beijing is trying to project this week as the war in Ukraine marks its one-year anniversary.

While other powers – think Israel or Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan – have sought to position themselves as international brokers in order to exert global influence, Xi has never needed to bother.

China’s economic might has been more than enough to assert itself, with alliances forged through financial dependence on Beijing via the development of Belt-and-Road infrastructure projects around the world.

This is one of the reasons why the news that Xi would mark the Ukraine anniversary with a “peace speech” raised eyebrows. That teaser was followed at the start of this week by the release of Xi’s plan for world peace, his “Global Security Initiative”, and finally on Friday his 12-point proposal to end the Ukraine conflict.

The plan itself is full of contradictions: it says all countries should have their “sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity” respected yet says nothing about what would happen to the territories Russia has seized from Ukraine, including Crimea in 2014.

It also condemns Western nations for adopting a “Cold War mentality” and accuses them of “abusing unilateral sanctions” while doing nothing to “de-escalate the Ukraine crisis”. Yet it was Xi who prefaced Putin’s attack on Ukraine last year by reassuring him that their friendship had “no limits”, and he has never directly condemned the invasion since.

Perhaps the biggest contradiction of all is the fact that roughly at the same time the Chinese foreign ministry was issuing its peace plan, Beijing’s envoy to the UN was abstaining on a General Assembly resolution – eventually backed by 141 countries – calling for Russia to withdraw its troops and end all hostilities.

The non-binding UN motion declared the “need to reach, as soon as possible, a comprehensive, just and lasting peace in Ukraine in line with the principles of the Charter of the United Nations”.

China’s was not the only major abstention: India, which has carefully maintained its neutrality on the Ukraine conflict and will next month host foreign ministers from all G20 members including Russia, China and the US, said it could not back a process that “does not involve either of the two sides”.

But would a Chinese-led peace process be backed by both sides – or indeed either of them? Ukraine for its part has already ruled out the idea, without referring to the document released on Friday directly. Speaking after it was announced, the charge d’affaires at the Ukrainian embassy in Beijing said her country was not interested in peace at any price.

“We will not agree to anything that keeps Ukrainian territories occupied and puts our people at the aggressor’s mercy,” Zhanna Leshchynska said in an address at the EU mission to China.

Given their close ties and the warm words of their leaders, it is assumed China would be in a stronger position to influence Russia. Indeed, Antony Blinken suggested this much in an interview with the Atlantic this week, arguing that Putin might already have resorted to nuclear weapons in Ukraine had it not been for the pressure exerted by Beijing and, to a lesser extent, India’s Modi.

But most analysts also agree that Russia would not yet accept China in a mediator role: for one thing, Putin has expressed no interest in stopping the war at this stage.

China would have been well aware of both these positions before Friday’s announcement, leading to the inevitable conclusion that this 12-point plan is merely a rebranding exercise – an effort to try and convince the world that Xi, comfortable in his unprecedented third term in power, has only ever been a peace-loving sheep in wolf’s clothing.

And if that might seem a hard sell to the international community, it’s certainly not going to wash with the government in Taiwan, which has for a year now been saying it could be the next Ukraine, with Xi repeatedly threatening to “reunite” the island with mainland China by force.

While China spent this week trying to persuade the world it had the best intentions, Taiwan has been embarking on new US military training programmes – in other words, preparing for the worst.