Analysis & Opinions - Project Syndicate

Why China Won't Mediate an End to the Ukraine War

| Apr. 01, 2022

Russian President Vladimir Putin thought he could quickly capture Kyiv and replace Ukraine's government. Whether he was misled by poor intelligence or by his own fantasies about history, his "smash and grab" failed in the face of effective Ukrainian resistance. He then turned to a brutal bombardment of cities like Mariupol and Kharkiv to terrorize the civilian population into submission — as he had previously done in Grozny and Aleppo. The tragic upshot is that Ukraine's heroic resistance has been accompanied by increasing civilian suffering.

Is there any way to end this nightmare quickly? One possibility is for Chinese President Xi Jinping to see that he has a "Teddy Roosevelt Moment." After the brutal war between Russia and Japan in 1905, Roosevelt stepped in to mediate. He pressed hard for the parties to compromise and ultimately prevailed, thereby boosting America's global influence and winning himself a Nobel Peace Prize.

Turkey, Israel, and France (among others) are attempting to mediate in Russia's current war, but they do not have nearly as much leverage with Putin as his ally Xi does. The question is whether Xi has the imagination and the courage to use it.

The answer, thus far, is no. While China has long portrayed itself as a defender of the principles of sovereignty and territorial integrity, it has tolerated Putin's brazen violation of the United Nations Charter. When the UN Security Council voted on a resolution condemning Russia's invasion, China abstained. China has criticized Western sanctions against Russia and parroted Russian propaganda about the war being caused by America's own plans to pursue NATO enlargement, even though it had been clear for years that NATO members were not going to vote to admit Ukraine.

China's unwillingness to criticize Russia has left it sitting on the diplomatic sidelines, unable to wield influence commensurate with its growing economic and military strength. Although Chinese censors limit most news about the war, some in Beijing have openly wondered whether China's current diplomatic stance best serves its national interests. For example, Wang Huiyao, the president of the Center for China and Globalization in Beijing, has suggested that China should mediate to give Putin an "offramp" from his disastrous Ukraine policy....

For more information on this publication: Belfer Communications Office
For Academic Citation: Nye, Joseph S. Jr.“Why China Won't Mediate an End to the Ukraine War.” Project Syndicate, April 1, 2022.