China urges Russia, Ukraine to hold talks, warns against using nuclear weapons
China called Friday for urgent peace talks as it released its plan to end the war in Ukraine, but Western powers quickly rebuffed the proposals while warning against Beijing's closening ties to Moscow.
The 12-point paper calling for a "political settlement" of the crisis follows accusations from the West that China is considering arming Russia, a claim Beijing has dismissed as false.
Timed to coincide with the one-year anniversary of Russia's invasion of Ukraine, the paper calls for all parties to "support Russia and Ukraine in working in the same direction and resuming direct dialogue as quickly as possible".
It also makes clear its opposition to not only the use of nuclear weapons, but the threat of deploying them, after Russian President Vladimir Putin threatened to use Moscow's atomic arsenal in the conflict.
But the document was immediately met by scepticism from Ukraine's allies, with NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg saying Beijing "doesn't have much credibility because they have not been able to condemn the illegal invasion of Ukraine".
US President Joe Biden's national security advisor said the war "could end tomorrow if Russia stopped attacking Ukraine and withdrew its forces".
"My first reaction to (the position paper) is that it could stop at point one, which is to respect the sovereignty of all nations," Jake Sullivan told CNN.
And German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier said that while "every constructive suggestion that brings us closer on the path to a just peace is highly welcome... whether global power China wants to play such a constructive role is still doubtful".
China should "not just speak with Moscow, but also with Kyiv", he added.
At a press conference in Beijing, Ukrainian and EU diplomats urged China to do more to press Russia to end the conflict.
Jorge Toledo, the EU ambassador to China, said Beijing has a "special responsibility" as a permanent member of the UN Security Council to uphold peace.
"Whether this is compatible with neutrality, I'm not sure, it depends on what neutrality means," he said.
- Strategic allies -
China has sought to position itself as a neutral party in the conflict while maintaining close ties with strategic ally Russia.
Top Chinese diplomat Wang Yi on Wednesday met with Putin and Russia's foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, in Moscow.
A readout of the meeting published by Chinese state news agency Xinhua quoted Wang as saying China was willing to "deepen political trust" and "strengthen strategic coordination" with Russia.
Following Wang's visit, Moscow said Beijing had presented its views on approaches to a "political settlement" of the conflict.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said Thursday he had not seen any Chinese peace plan and wanted to meet with Beijing over the proposal before assessing it.
Friday's document showed Beijing "clearly views the conflict in Ukraine as a product of what it says is Cold War mentality and an outdated European security architecture", said Manoj Kewalramani, a China expert at the Takshashila Institution in Bengaluru, India.
"The concerns reflected in this document are around escalation and spillover effects," he told AFP, adding that Beijing would likely prefer peace talks to focus on "a new European security architecture rather than the war itself".
Since Russian tanks rolled over the border into Ukraine, China has offered Putin diplomatic and financial support, but refrained from overt military involvement or sending lethal arms.
Washington believes that might be about to change, voicing concerns that China could be planning to supply Russia with weapons to prop up its war effort. Beijing has denied the claims.
A virtual Group of Seven summit on Friday will call on countries to not send military aid to Russia, Japan's prime minister said, though he did not single out any nation.
But one analyst suggested the Chinese policy paper could be laying the groundwork for further involvement by Beijing in the conflict.
"The absence of a proscription against arms transfers concerns me," former US Department of Defense official Drew Thompson wrote on Twitter.
"It is possible Beijing is getting ready to provide Russia with lethal support."