A year after Russia’s invasion, Beijing released a paper declaring its position on the war: It called for an end to the fighting but avoided demands that could hurt its ties with Russia.
After a drumroll of diplomatic activity suggesting that China was poised to play a more energetic role in seeking peace in Ukraine, Beijing issued a paper on Friday that reprised its established views on the war, calling for an end to fighting while avoiding demands — or words like “invasion” — that could hurt its ties with Russia.
The Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs released the paper on the first anniversary of Russia’s invasion and after China’s most senior diplomat, Wang Yi, visited Europe, telling a security forum in Munich that the document would lay out China’s positions for a “political settlement” of the crisis. But the document was not the blueprint or bold initiative that some in European capitals appeared to expect, instead repeating Beijing’s standard talking points of the last year.
While China has sought to portray itself as a neutral broker over the last year, it has also in some important ways aligned itself with President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia. Though China has generally refrained from giving weapons and similar material aid to Russia, it has given Mr. Putin diplomatic support in international venues, defended its economic ties with Russia and officially promoted Kremlin disinformation on the war.
Beijing’s diplomatic paper, titled “China’s Position on the Political Settlement of the Ukraine Crisis,” called for an end to the fighting and a start to peace negotiations, but only in broad terms.
“The sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity of all countries must be effectively upheld,” reads the first of the 12 points given in the paper. It does not explain how Beijing believes that principle should apply to Russia’s claims to Ukrainian territory or to Ukraine’s demand that Russian forces leave.
The paper also said “nuclear weapons must not be used” and called for civilians to be “effectively” protected.
“Humanitarian corridors should be set up for the evacuation of civilians from conflict zones,” it said.
Mr. Wang, the senior Chinese diplomat, laid out similar principles last year, not long after Russian forces rushed toward Ukraine’s capital.
European leaders, who had wanted China’s leader, Xi Jinping, to do more to rein in Mr. Putin, effectively dismissed the Chinese paper on Friday on the basis of Beijing’s continued friendly relations with the Kremlin. Both the NATO secretary general and the European Commission president alluded to a declaration, made about three weeks before the invasion by Mr. Putin and Mr. Xi, that Moscow and Beijing had a “no limits” friendship.
“China doesn’t have much credibility, because they have not been able to condemn the illegal invasion of Ukraine” while promising an enduring friendship with Russia, Jens Stoltenberg, the NATO secretary general, said at a news conference in Tallinn, Estonia.
In recent days, U.S. officials have warned that Beijing may be preparing to give weapons and ammunition to Russia, which would be a major shift for China. In response, the Chinese Foreign Ministry accused the United States of spreading lies.
Mr. Stoltenberg said on Friday that despite “signs and indications” that China may be considering giving military aid to Russia, NATO had “not seen any actual delivery of lethal aid.”
China’s proposals must be seen “against a specific backdrop,” Ursula von der Leyen, the European Commission president, said at the news conference, “and that is the backdrop that China has already taken sides by signing, for example, an unlimited friendship right before the invasion.”
Given Russia’s aggression in Ukraine, she said, “now is the time to double down — we must keep giving Ukraine the means to defend itself until the Russians end this war and leave Ukraine.”
The top U.S. diplomat, Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken, said on Friday that “any proposal that can advance peace is something that’s worth looking at.”
But, like his European counterparts, he expressed skepticism about the Chinese position. Speaking in an interview with “Good Morning America” on Friday, he said: “China’s been trying to have it both ways. It’s on the one hand trying to present itself publicly as neutral and seeking peace, while at the same time it was talking up Russia’s false narrative about the war.”
Mr. Putin’s invasion of Ukraine has created predicaments for China ever since he sent troops en masse across the Ukrainian border. Chinese leaders see Russia as a vital counterweight to American power, even if they may quietly wish that Mr. Putin would pull back from military belligerence.
When Mr. Putin and Mr. Xi met in Beijing before the invasion, they celebrated their close ties amid the fanfare of the Olympic Games. In a joint statement at that summit, Mr. Xi also endorsed Russian opposition to the possibility that the North Atlantic Treaty Organization would expand farther into Eastern Europe, including — by implication — into Ukraine.
After the opening weeks of the invasion, China sought to show that it was seeking peace in Ukraine and felt pained by the carnage and destruction there. Even so, Mr. Xi and Chinese diplomats have continued to praise their broader relationship with Russia and have largely avoided calling Mr. Putin’s actions an invasion or war.
On Thursday, when the United Nations General Assembly overwhelmingly adopted a resolution calling for a peace agreement that guarantees Ukraine’s sovereignty, China abstained.
The new position paper sticks to that stance and euphemistic wording, and it suggests some continued sympathy with Mr. Putin’s underlying grievances with the United States and its allies. Countries should abandon a “Cold War mentality,” the paper says, a criticism that Beijing largely directs at Washington. It also restates Chinese opposition to economic sanctions that have largely cut Russia off from Western markets and goods.
“Unilateral sanctions and maximum pressure cannot solve the issue; they only create new problems,” the paper says.
President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine, who has not shied from countries aligned with Russia or even supporters who he feels could do more to help, has walked carefully around China. “I really want to believe that China is not going to supply weapons to Russia,” he said at a news conference on Friday, calling the prevention of such action a major priority for Ukraine. “I want to believe China is going to side with the idea of peace and fairness.”
He was similarly cautious in remarks about China’s diplomatic proposal, saying, “I think that China spoke its mind about the matter.”