China must openly condemn Russia’s invasion of Ukraine as illegal before engaging in any moderation efforts to bring the war to an end, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg has said.
“It is for Ukraine to decide what are acceptable conditions for any peaceful solution,” Stoltenberg said on Tuesday.
“China therefore needs to start to understand Ukraine’s perspective and to engage with President Zelenskyy directly if it wants to be serious about peace.”
His comments come as Chinese President Xi Jinping meets with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow, a visit closely watched by Western allies who worry China might be preparing to step up its military aid to Russia, whose economy is under heavy international sanctions.
Both leaders referred to each as “dear friend” in their public meeting and vowed to prioritise ties.
As part of its diplomatic outreach, Beijing has put forward a 12-point plan to address the Ukraine war, which Putin has said could provide the basis for a settlement.
The proposed plan, however, has been met with strong scepticism from Europe and the United States, who see it as one-sided, biased and selective. For its part, Ukraine has voiced a more moderate reaction to prevent antagonising Beijing and secure a meeting between Zelenskyy and Xi.
The Chinese document calls for the protection of civilians, nuclear plants and food supply chains but avoids describing the war as a “war” or “invasion” and instead talks of a “crisis.”
The paper also urges the lifting of “unilateral sanctions” and the end of “Cold War mentality” — references that are widely considered to be barely-veiled criticism of the West.
Even more notably, Beijing’s plan does not talk of any occupied territories.
Speaking to reporters on Tuesday, Jens Stoltenberg said he would welcome any initiative that could lead to a “just and sustainable peace” and admitted the Chinese document included “some positive aspects,” like the respect for sovereignty and independence.
But Stoltenberg urged China to acknowledge the facts on the ground before moving forward with its role of international moderator.
“China has not been able to condemn the illegal war of aggression by Russia against Ukraine,” the Secretary-General said.
“A ceasefire or any solution that doesn’t respect the sovereignty and integrity of Ukraine will only be a way to freeze the war and to ensure that Russia can reconstitute, regroup and reattack and that will not just be a just and sustainable peace. It will only help Russia to hold onto to territory it has illegally occupied.”
Asked if he had seen any evidence that China was prepared to deliver lethal ammunition to Russia, Stoltenberg said he had not.
“But we have seen some signs that this has been requested (by) Russia and this is an issue that is being considered in Beijing by the Chinese authorities,” he added.
“China should not provide lethal aid to Russia.”
Ever since US officials began to publicly warn that China might supply weapons to Russia, Beijing officials have repeatedly denied the claims, often turning the argument against Western allies for their continued military assistance to Ukraine.
“The US needs to stop fuelling the fight with more weaponry and fanning the flames, stop pointing fingers at other countries or seeking to coerce and intimidate them,” a Chinese spokesperson said on Monday.
Stoltenberg defended the actions of NATO allies, saying international law allows countries to arm a nation that has come under attack.
“We should support Ukraine in the right to defend itself, a right that is enshrined in the UN charter,” the NATO chief said.
“They’re defending themselves against Russia’s illegal war of aggression.”