President Xi’s peace plan for Ukraine: plausible and implausible

Mar 30, 2023
President of Russia Vladimir Putin and President of the People’s Republic of China Xi Jinping made statements for the media following the Russian-Chinese talks. 21 March 2023

At first sight, the Chinese President’s twelve proposals to achieve peace between Russia and Ukraine appear plausible. Claims about common interests are supported by references to parties working together for peace and security, abiding by international humanitarian law, sustaining an existing world economic system and insisting that nuclear weapons not be used.

These sound like the first offerings in any peace negotiations, not to be quickly dismissed, appearing to invite dialogue and meriting further examination. President Xi offers a step towards ending the slaughter of hundreds of thousands of Ukrainian and Russian soldiers, an offer which could cease the destruction of Ukrainian towns and cities, which should address the misery of millions of displaced women and children.

On second inspection, inconsistencies in the Chinese plan suggest caution but not dismissal. Peace makers can’t be seen to be taking sides and should be asked to explain inconsistencies. President Xi’s friendship with President Putin suggests that atrocities committed by an invading Russian force will be ignored, that claims about protecting civilians and prisoners, respecting international law and the sovereignty of all countries, sound hollow.

Yet the implausible has to be heard before recognition of some common ground enables dialogue to start.

By contrast with antagonisms caused by confronting the Chinese President’s false claims, there is ample opportunity to spot omissions in his peace proposals. The Chinese plan makes no reference to brutalities and casualties, to the suffering of women and children, to the world wide human and economic consequences of the Ukraine war, to the human rights contents of a post conflict settlement, or to acknowledgement that political settlement will probably have to be crafted in Washington and Moscow, as well as in Kiev.

The immediate context of the Chinese proposals includes the International Criminal Court issuing an arrest warrant for President Putin’s commission of war crimes and crimes against humanity. Even that charge offers a chance for dialogue if western leaders also acknowledge past US-led war crimes in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Unbalanced apportioning of blame seldom facilitates dialogue, let alone peace.

As President Xi arrived in Moscow with his peace plan, the IPCC issued a report ‘Last Chance to Save the Planet’, which warned of an impending climate catastrophe. That report raises the question: what is the point of missile manufacture, of fighting any war when, in UN Secretary General Guterres’, words ‘a climate time bomb is ticking’?

The IPCC’s request about combating climate change – ‘aim higher, act faster or risk losing it all’ – could be added to initiatives to end the Ukraine war. Global interest in combatting the consequences of climate change should be an inevitable feature of any discussions to address the human, environmental and financial costs of war.

As an opponent of Putin, as an ally of Ukraine, of the US and other NATO allies, the Australian government could craft an independent, constructive opinion about President Xi’s proposals. They could be influenced by the conflict resolution philosophy and skills of a distinguished former head of the Department of Foreign Affairs, Dr. John Burton.

To overcome mistrust between Russian, Chinese, Ukrainian and U.S. leaders, Burton would have asked diverse citizens from warring countries, young people, trade unionists, NGO officials, business operatives, advocacy groups representing women’s interests, how they thought a peace with justice could be achieved.

In common with the late physicist Stephen Hawking’s plea to reach for the stars not look down at your feet, Burton’s second track diplomacy – not relying only on diplomats and politicians – showed that peace making could be built on the imagination of citizens, not least from younger generations, who would have most to gain if their interests were known and respected.

If consulted, ordinary citizens from any or all of the warring countries could identify the plausible parts of President Xi’s proposals and treat the implausible as a not surprising part of any first overtures.

Peacemaking benefits from imagination and a sense of urgency. Catastrophes from climate change coupled to the costs of carnage in Ukraine show violence with similar consequences.

In Ukraine and elsewhere, threats to life on planet earth should be an obvious consideration in any peace negotiations, and could be included in any second draft of proposals from a Chinese or Russian President or from any NATO leaders.

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