As the first anniversary of the Ukraine invasion was marked with tears and defiance in Kyiv, China issued a 12-point peace plan.
But in Europe and Washington, it was greeted with a mixture of wariness and scepticism.
The plan calls on both sides to stop fighting. US Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, warned the UN not to be taken in by “false equivalence”.
It is Washington’s view Russia was the antagonist that seized territory illegally, slaughtering civilians by the thousand. It further believes Beijing is trying to have it both ways – a public ally presenting itself as neutral yet bolstering Moscow’s false narrative about the war.
Europe was equally guarded. Ursula von der Leyen, the European Commission president, said: “We will look at the principles, of course, but we will look at them against the backdrop that China has taken sides.”
Beijing urged a gradual de-escalation, stressing conflict is of benefit to no nation. Such aspirations sound seductive, but the fact remains that China exerts more influence than any other country over Vladimir Putin’s Russia.
There is a fundamental distinction between ordering an aggressor to cease in their unprovoked attack and ordering a victim to stop defending itself.
Not only has Beijing failed to condemn Russia’s brutality, it has yet to even acknowledge Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
We are reminded of Benjamin Franklin’s words in such moments: “Distrust and caution are the parents of security.”
If Beijing has a sincere interest in acting as an honest broker, it must recognise Moscow’s malign actions. It must also accept the international rules-based order has been gravely undermined, and such dire deeds warrant sanction, not reward.
Marking the anniversary of the invasion, Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky said: “It was a year of pain, sorrow, faith and unity.”
China’s plan may lack credibility, but its insistence that “nuclear weapons must not be used and nuclear wars must not be fought” is of some comfort. A declaration that it will not provide Putin with weapons would offer hope.
This week, the UN General Assembly voted overwhelmingly in favour of a resolution calling for an end to the war.
It demanded Russia leave Ukrainian territory. It advocated for peace and reaffirmed support for Kyiv’s sovereignty while highlighting the need for those who committed war crimes to be held accountable.
That China abstained from endorsing the vote says much. When great harm is being done, a superpower should not be at ease with a place on the fence.