China's Peacemaker Role Stymied In Ukraine, But Succeeds Elsewhere

(MENAFN- IANS) By Arul Louis

United Nations, March 26 (IANS) Chinese President Xi Jinping is auditioning for the role of a global statesman with diplomatic efforts to mediate in several areas of the world, hoping to blunt the influence of the US and the West.

China's peacemaking efforts range from Myanmar and Bangladesh, through Iran and Saudi Arabia to the Horn of Africa, not just for diplomatic glory but because of the more mundane dictates of the Belt and Road Initiative to gird the world in its economic Network and its investments.

Hot off the diplomatic coup of getting bitter foes Saudi Arabia and Iran to agree to normalise relations, Xi has renewed his peace initiative for the Russia-Ukraine war at a summit with Russia's President Vladimir Putin.

But, at least as far as the US is concerned, it has fallen flat with Washington seeing the peace plan as no more than a ploy to save face for Moscow and to help keep its battlefield gains.

"To call for ceasefire right now basically ratifies what they've been able to grab inside Ukraine and gives them time and space to prepare for future operations and that's just not going to be acceptable," White House strategic affairs spokesperson John Kirby said dismissing Xi's peace plan.

Yet, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky responded more diplomatically.

"I think some of the Chinese proposals respect international law, and I think we can work on it with China. Why not? Our goal is to gather many around us to isolate one," he said.

What he saw as a positive was the Xi-Putin statement reiterating that "the two sides believe that the purposes and principles of the UN Charter must be observed and international law must be respected". And therein lies the catch.

The UN Charter clearly states: "All Members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state".

It would take extraordinary verbal gymnastics for Xi and Putin to reconcile Russia's invasion with those lines in the Charter as good as chiselled in stone.

Zelensky would like to keep lines of communication open with Xi, given China's emergence on the world arena and the economic ties with it that once even led Ukraine to vacillate in the UN Human Rights Council on Beijing's treatment of the ethnic Uyghurs.

The Wall Street Journal reported that Xi was expected to directly speak with Zelensky.

But the fact is that Russia is unlikely at the moment to withdraw its forces from areas it has captured since the invasion last year even if it could lead to a barter that lets it keep Crimea and Donbas region it had taken over earlier as a condition for peace.

Meanwhile, the US and the West that see Ukraine as the last line of defence are equally unlikely to want Ukraine to agree to a ceasefire of dubious intent which would also move Russia's effective border closer to European allies.

The US and allies are planning on a time-frame of over a year for transferring advanced military hardware to Ukraine indicating they are expecting Ukraine to be in for the long haul, hoping that through attrition of Russia it can claw back territories.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres' spokesperson Farhan Haq, while supporting efforts to end the conflict through dialogue, also underlined the Charter's provision as well as the February General Assembly resolution that called on Russia to "immediately completely and unconditionally" withdraw all its troops as the basis for a "just peace in Ukraine".

As for the ceasefire proposal, he was blunt: "At this stage, that's speculative. There's no ceasefire to discuss."

But elsewhere, China is trying on the mantle of a peacemaker.

With a value-free approach to the politics of nations and few dictates on it domestically, Beijing was able to bring Riyadh and Tehran together -- a feat that rankles the US, which sees Iran as an implacable foe that has to be isolated.

US President Joe Biden had denounced Saudi Arabia as a "pariah nation" for its human rights record, only to be driven by petroleum price pressures to rush there and make amends.

Xi doesn't have issues to contend with and could be trusted by both sides.

Biden's predecessor Donald Trump had scored a diplomatic win through what is called the "Abraham Accords" that led to the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Morocco and Sudan normalising relations with Israel in pacts drawing on the commonality of Islamic and Jewish faiths tracing their roots to Prophet Abraham.

It had been expected that Saudi Arabia would follow those Arab countries and recognise Israel.

Instead, China brokered the deal with Iran, the archenemy of Israel, overcoming the Shia-Sunni divide of Islam.

Closer to India, Beijing is facilitating the repatriation of Rohingya refugees from Bangladesh back to Myanmar under an agreement China worked out.

Although China made the deal between Myanmar and Bangladesh in 2017, a reluctant Tatmadaw, the Myanmar military that governs the country, had been reluctant to implement it and only now it is agreeing because of China's pressure.

A team of Myanmar officials are in Bangladesh to facilitate the return of the Rohingya and China's ambassador to Bangladesh Yao Wen said last week that he hoped that the first group would return home soon.

This will ease the economic and political pressures on Bangladesh while making Beijing appear as the guarantor of Muslims' safety -- never mind its own record with the Uyghurs.

China has appointed super diplomats to liaise with groups or regions.

Myanmar has one, Special Representative Deng Xijun, who had held a similar position for the ASEAN.

He is tasked with bringing peace between the various armed ethnic insurgent groups and the Myanmar government.

Earlier this month, he met in Kunming in China with leaders of the Federal Political Negotiation and Consultative Committee (FPNCC), which represents the seven most intransigent insurgent groups battling the Myanmar government.

These groups had refused to sign the 2015 Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement that other insurgent groups had agreed to and they were continuing their armed opposition.

Deng has also been meeting with Min Aung Hlaing, the military ruler of Myanmar in its capital Naypyitaw.

After their meeting, the FPNCC said: "We welcome and support China's involvement to end the domestic conflicts in Myanmar."

It said that it would "continue working together with the Chinese government to improve the stability of border areas".

Unlike the US and Western countries, or even Myanmar's fellow members of the ASEAN, Beijing has refused to condemn the military junta enabling it to play a role in diplomacy with Bangladesh on the Rohingya and with the internal insurgencies.

China appointed a special representative, Xue Bing, for the Horn of Africa, a strategically important area that is also home to Beijing's overseas military base in Djibouti.

The unstable region that includes Ethiopia, the second-most populous country in Africa, Djibouti, Somalia, Eritrea, Sudan and South Sudan, is rife with conflicts, either between nations or within countries.

Last year, China hosted in Addis Ababa, a Horn of Africa Peace Conference that also included Kenya and Uganda.

Peace didn't burst out at the conference, but China put itself out there as a potential intermediary that has heavy investments in the region and Xue has continued his shuttle diplomacy in the region.

Unlike China, the US is enmeshed in sanctions it has imposed on entities and individuals in Ethiopia, Eritrea, Somalia, Sudan and South Sudan over human rights issues, limiting its diplomacy there.

Xi doesn't have to contend with a Congress, lobbyists, political activists or factions in his own party that take up various international causes.

Beijing is also able to buy its way through investments and loans -- which also make it all the more important for it to work to stabilise those regions internally and externally -- unlike the US that has stringent conditions for aid and no state-affiliated companies to direct investments.

(Arul Louis can be contacted at and followed at @arulouis)





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