Why China Is Staying Away From The Swiss-Led Ukraine Peace Process

(MENAFN- Swissinfo) China will be notable for its absence at this weekend's Ukraine peace summit in central Switzerland. Its decision to rebuff the Swiss invitation has raised the spectre that China and Russia will come up with their own peace proposal backed by non-Western states.

This content was published on June 14, 2024 - 10:00 6 minutes

A stickler for detail, Geraldine first arrived at swissinfo in 2014 to study rumours on social media as part of a collaborative research project known as Pheme. She now coordinates the Fact Checks by swissinfo dossier covering (mis)statements about Switzerland, and continues to follow the trail of online misinformation.

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Switzerland and Ukraine had high hopes that Beijing, a key ally of Moscow's, would be present when, on June 15 and 16, around 90 states and organisations gather at the Bürgenstock resort overlooking Lake Lucerne to find a possible framework for peace in Ukraine. After all, China had played a“role in the initial planning phase” until about mid-April, Swiss Foreign Minister Ignazio Cassis told reporters earlier this week.

In March the Chinese ambassador in Bern, Wang Shihting, said his country was considering attending the summitExternal link . Only last week Ukraine's deputy foreign minister travelled to Beijing in a final attempt to woo it to the table.

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But China is not even sending a low-level representative. A Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson cited the“clear discrepancy” between the arrangements of the summit and China's requirements – namely, that Russia be present.

The state-backed China Daily explainedExternal link that without Russia, the summit was“meaningless”.

“How can two sides reach an agreement without the Russian representative?” the paper wondered.

Alternative peace plan backed by China

The Swiss summit is taking place at the request of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. Russia said upfront it would not attend. To appeal to as many states as possible, the summit is focusing on just a few aspects of Zelensky's ten-point peace formula that align with other peace proposals, such as nuclear security. This, however, has not stopped China from saying the summit is a mere“platform” for Zelensky's plan.

Switzerland has managed to convince few African and Asian countries to attend, writesExternal link the thinktank International Crisis Group, a sign that the summit is“pushing hefty non-Western powers toward Moscow”. Of the original BRICS countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa), only India is sending a high-level delegate to Switzerland.

How the Ukraine conference in Switzerland aims to find a path to peace

After it became clear that China would not attend the summit, Zelensky accused the country of helping Russia to pressure other states to avoid the Bürgenstock meeting, a claim the Asian power has rejected.

Now, just as the Swiss summit is about to begin, China is lobbying states to back its own alternative peace plan, news agency Reuters reportsExternal link .

China and Brazil issued a joint six-point peace proposalExternal link for Ukraine in May, not long after Russian President Vladimir Putin visited his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping, in Beijing. Among the six points is a call for a peace conference“at an appropriate time” that would bring both parties to the table. Xi said China is prepared to organise such an event.

The joint proposal follows on China's 12-point plan, announced in March 2023, for ending the war in Ukraine, which contained few specifics. Just last month Putin praised China's peace principles, telling the Xinhua news agency Beijing“truly” understands the war's“root causes and its global geopolitical meaning”.

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Diplomats who spoke to Reuters said China is telling them many developing countries share its views of the Bürgenstock meeting. The Chinese foreign minister, Wang Yi, said last week that 45 countries backed the China-Brazil proposal.

The latest Chinese plan only reinforces Ukraine's“concerns that Russia and China might convince significant non-Western countries to back a peace proposal to counter Zelensky's formula, one that would more or less openly affirm Russia's right to hold on to the territory it has seized”, says International Crisis Group.

One of Ukraine's objectives in any peace process, by contrast, is for“the restoration of its full territorial integrity”.

China strengthening ties with Russia – and the Global South

By not attending the Swiss conference, China may be aligning with Russia. But its relationship with the Kremlin since the war began has been an uneasy one, writesExternal link senior research fellow Yu Jie at the research institute Chatham House. Not denouncing Russia for its invasion of Ukraine, she explains,“contradicts [China's] defining diplomatic principle of upholding national sovereignty and territorial integrity”.

Since the war began, China has become a key consumer of Russian oil and gas, as Western countries apply sanctions against Moscow for its invasion of Ukraine. Trade between Russia and China reachedExternal link $240 billion (CHF215 billion) in 2023. China is now Russia's most important trade partner, supplying goods ranging from cars to clothing.

Putin signed documents to deepen ties with China while on an official visit to meet Xi in May. Keystone

While China denies it is selling weapons to Russia, the US has accused it of supplying components that are key to Russia's war machinery.

Keeping this relationship strong is useful for navigating its rivalry with the US, Yu argues.“Deepened bilateral cooperation in recent years has allowed the two countries to demonstrate great-power status on the world stage to counterbalance US dominance,” she writes. In Beijing last month, Xi and Putin signed documents to deepen their states' strategic ties .

China's refusal to acquiesce to the Western view of the war in Ukraine and how peace can be achieved is also appealing to non-Western countries, Yu adds.

“The war in Ukraine has inadvertently created an opportunity for China to renew its push to strengthen ties with the Global South, which does not see the war in Ukraine in the West's black and white terms,” she writes.

Whether that renewed push will be enough to see a parallel and broadly supported peace process on Ukraine emerge from Chinese efforts remains to be seen.

Edited by Balz Rigendinger

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