Ukraine Accuses China of Sabotaging Peace Conference

 In the fast-shifting geopolitical scenario, China continues to change its goal posts on the Ukraine crisis.  For the public consumption, it says it “adheres to promoting talks for peace,” over Ukraine, but when the East European nation wants to hold a peace summit in Switzerland on June 15-16, China has decided to remain absent from the meet.

It has also been accused of working hard to prevent countries from attending the peace summit and this finger pointing against it has come from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy. “China is working for countries to not come to the peace summit,” the Ukrainian President was quoted by BBC as stating in his speech at a press conference held on the sidelines of the Shangri-la Dialogue in Singapore on June 3.

China’s Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Mao Ning rejected the accusation by saying: “We have attached great importance to the meeting from the very beginning and have been in close communication with Switzerland, Ukraine and other relevant parties on this.” Despite the elongated and drawn-out statement, the Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesperson could not fairly explain why Beijing decided to skip the peace summit on Ukraine. Rather she resorted to a pessimistic narrative to maintain China’s stand on the peace summit, as she said the proposed peace conference in Switzerland will fail to serve its purpose.

“China always maintains that the international peace conference needs to meet the three important elements of recognition from both Russia and Ukraine, equal participation of all parties, and fair discussion of all peace plans. Otherwise, the peace conference can hardly play a substantive role for restoring peace,” Mao Ning said. In defence of this decision of China, Foreign Minister Wang Yi said, “There are many summits in the world today. Whether and how to participate, China will decide independently according to its own position.”

Invariably, China does not want to put its weight behind the peace summit and sour its relations with Russia, particularly when President Vladimir’s visit to Beijing last month led to further deepening of ties between the two countries. And it is more visible on the trade front. In fact, since the Ukraine crisis, trade between the two countries has jumped manifold. In 2023, the two countries’ trade reached a record $240 billion, up from more than 64% since 2021, data from China Customs showed. China exported $111 billion worth of goods to Russia while the latter exported $129 billion worth of goods to the former last year, China Customs said.

Besides, adding strength to their economic engagement is their use of their own currencies for 90% of trade, instead of US dollars. These moves are though helping Moscow in softening Western sanctions on it, but Ukraine feels otherwise. According to President Zelenskiy, China could be a factor of peace in Ukraine, and could help it in overcoming the crisis, but Beijing is doing just the opposite of what is necessary for peace in the East European country.

“With China’s support to Russia the war will last longer. That is bad for the whole world, and the policy of China, who declares that it supports territorial integrity and sovereignty and declares it officially. For them it is not good,” the Ukrainian President said during a press conference, held on the sidelines of the Shangri-la Dialogue in Singapore.

He also expressed his unhappiness over China’s waywardness. In his statement during the press conference, he said he held a telephonic call with Chinese President Xi Jinping a year ago. Following this, the East European country sought meetings with Chinese officials at all levels, but this had not been granted. Zelenskiy further complained that he had not met Chinese officials despite their presence in Singapore.

To be held in the Swiss resort of Burgenstock, the summit will primarily focus on nuclear security, food security, and release of prisoners of war, restoration of Ukraine’s territorial integrity and withdrawal of Russian troops. Except for Russia, Switzerland has invited 160 countries and organisations for the summit.

However, Ukraine’s concern over China emanates not just from its voluminous trade with Russia which powers its overall economic growth despite sanctions, but also on account of its alleged approach to stop other countries from attending the forthcoming Ukraine summit. Saudi Arabia, as per German news agency DPA, has decided to skip the meet in Switzerland. Notably, in early August 2023, the Gulf country had hosted an international summit in Jeddah over the Ukraine crisis. Representatives from 40 countries had attended the meet in the Gulf country which though did not result in any breakthrough in bringing peace to Ukraine. Given this, Saudi Arabia’s decision has come as a rude shock to the organizers of the peace meet in Switzerland. Pakistan and Brazil have already pulled out of the peace summit, Southeast Asian nations like Vietnam, Laos and Myanmar have not confirmed their participation at the meet.

From Africa, Cape Verde has so far agreed to attend the summit, while South Africa has already communicated its inability to join it. But China has denied its role in influencing these countries on their participation in the Switzerland meet.  Experts say no matter how hard China puts up its effort in explaining its position on Ukraine, these countries’ decisions over their non-participation at the peace summit has cast a shadow on Beijing’s neutrality. They say these countries are close to China and as such, it is hard to believe that the East Asian nation would have played no role in influencing their decisions. However, some China watchers see this with a different angle.

They say that Beijing will never like ongoing conflict in the East European country to be resolved so soon. As it forces Western powers to remain fully occupied with the region and its safety, while giving them less time, and not enough resources to focus on the Indo-Pacific region where the East Asian country is gearing up to reunify Taiwan and take control of the whole South China Sea.