BENJAMIN Franklin said being ignorant is not so much a shame as being unwilling to learn. Both Russia and China proved the point in their disgraceful refusal to accept the use of the word “war” to describe Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, before a final joint communiqué at the Group of 20 summit could be agreed.
Perversely, as the debate was taking place Putin’s forces were raining fire down across the invaded country in one of the biggest barrages since his illegal occupation.
Cities across Ukraine were blasted with missiles, hitting residential areas far from the front lines.
The capital, Kyiv, Kharkiv in the east, and Lviv in the west were among at least six major cities reporting strikes.
The emergency services removing bodies and casualties from the cratered buildings had no time for an etymological debate on the issue. The senseless wounds and killings were hardly the result of over-zealous diplomacy.
Putin’s appalling denials and abject attempts at distancing himself from the brutality of his actions are deplorable. China does itself no favours by aiding and abetting such discreditable hypocrisy.
If Beijing wishes to enjoy harmonious relations with the West then it to must recognise that a rules-based international order has to be respected. Moscow’s attacks came just hours after president Zelensky presented a 10-point peace plan to G-20 summit.
“I am convinced now is the time when the Russian destructive war must and can be ended. It will save thousands of lives,” the Ukrainian leader had said, addressing an audience that included both China’s Xi Jinping and US president Joe Biden. “There are and cannot be any excuses for nuclear blackmail”, he said pointedly thanking the “G19” – excluding Russia.
Western leaders have been trying to corner and isolate Russia, thus far China has continually played both sides. After eight months of indiscriminate carnage it seems unconscionable the true scale of the horror is not being recognised.
Arguments about a communiqué when people are being blown up adds insult to the injury.
At one remove China appears to distance itself from Moscow. Yet is also insists Russia has “legitimate security concerns” and the “ultimate culprit” in the conflict is the United States and Nato.
According to Chinese state radio president Xi told French president Emmanuel Macron that Beijing advocated a ceasefire in Ukraine and peace talks. The mixed messaging must be music to the ears of Moscow. Beijing has further argued the G-20 is not the right forum to discuss security issues. But the war is having a devastating humanitarian effect in Ukraine, as well a destabilising effect on the global economy.
If China wishes to play a key part in international affairs it must seek peace. Being instrumental in ending an illegal invasion that has already claimed an estimated 200,000 lives can only burnish Beijing’s credentials. Straddling the fence of indecision can only prolong the war.