Global Human Rights Defence

China and the War in Ukraine
  1. Introduction

The recent Russian invasion of Ukraine on the 24th of February 2022, is the latest and arguably most acute and confrontational challenge to the current international order. A revisionist attack and assault on its norms and values. The characterization of the Russo-Ukrainian war to be a conflict with revisionist ambitions is emblematic of an international system, by western media and academics have drawn parallels regarding the position and understanding of China and its relative nature as either a revisionist or status-quo oriented state.

This notion has only been compounded in the sense that the Chinese regime has not taken a clear stance towards the conflict, intentionally leaving its position ambiguous, with the refusal of recognizing the conflict as a Russian-led invasion of the sovereign state of Ukraine and the recent abstaining on a vote condemning the conflict in the United Nations. Furthermore, the developments in Ukraine are unsettling for the international system, alongside the parallels that exist between China’s political and territorial ambitions toward Taiwan in the South China Sea. To that extent, this article seeks to determine and understand the agenda and potential policy direction that Beijing may pursue while examining the restrictions and considerations that may dictate its future decisions.

  1. Conflict of Interest

Beijing and Moscow have traditionally enjoyed a close relationship, both politically and militarily — while at the same time, the Chinese state has developed an increasingly strong economic relationship with the West. An approach and dynamic that has worked well for China, but that has now, unfortunately, placed the regime in an uncomfortable position to balance and be measured in its decisions and the political rhetoric of its leaders and officials.

The Beijing-Moscow relationship, a 99 paragraph long article published in February as part of a joint statement that covers ideological, political, and defensive agreements, has come to haunt the Chinese regime. The document which covers “shared positions on several global and regional issues” that China and Russia are orienting towards is reflective of a commitment to one another (Rajagopalan, 2022, The Diplomat). Furthermore, China is Russia’s largest trading partner, a relationship that since the invasion of Ukraine necessitated China to balance its economic and political interests with ongoing Russian aggression in Ukraine. The financial sanctions imposed on Russia by Western states have highlighted to China the acute danger that associating too strongly with Russia will have on their economy, whereas the regime needs Russia as a partner to its “ongoing Belt-and-Road initiatives to build a massive international infrastructure of trade routes” (Snetkov & Lanteigne, 2022, The Conversation). The potential economic costs on either hand have meant that Beijing needs to tread carefully, and not step on the toes of either Russia or Western liberal democracies.

To this extent, in a recently measured and calculated statement published by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the People’s Republic of China, the ministry presented what it calls “China’s Five-Point Position on the Current Ukraine Issue”, with the intention of clarifying its stance (Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the People’s Republic of China, 2022). These five points are reflective of China’s approach to and pursuit of facilitating global governance and the sovereignty guarantees embedded in the UN Charter. The first point makes clear that China will continue to stand by its understanding of a policy of respecting and ensuring the sovereignty rules as enshrined in the UN charter. The second recognizes that the current confrontational environment in the international system is reflective of the cold-war era and that this needs to change for collective international security. While asserting that Russia, in the face of NATO’s expansion towards Eastern Europe has fostered a “legitimate security demands [that] ought to be taken seriously and properly addressed” (Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the People’s Republic of China, 2022). The third point is a commitment to ensuring the safety and wellbeing of civilians caught in the conflict and asserting that restraint is needed in the current conflict to prevent further escalation. The final two points are indicative of China’s will that the conflict is resolved through diplomatic engagement by the two belligerent states and that the United Nations is a forum in which they may take place.

Overall, these five points are carefully crafted and pertain to China’s careful yet consistent support for the current international order in the sense of respecting the concept of sovereignty. However, the statement does offer justification for Russian actions in the wake of NATO expansion, while asserting a western emphasis on the wellbeing and treatment of civilians. Therefore, it can be determined that in the context of China’s economic goals and to ensure stability a policy of watch, look and listen is implemented before commenting on the conflict — and even then in a restrained and clinical manner.

  1. China vs US strategy to end the conflict          

It has become clear that the two powerful entities have different strategies to end the war in Ukraine, and the situation tests shaky US-China relations. Xi’s position and Beijing’s point of view on the Russian invasion of Ukraine could define future ties with Washington. In fact, China condemns the western strategies against Russia. And in the same time, the Joe Biden administration and several top officials in the United States have discouraged China from backing Russia in its war in Ukraine.

In the same scope, the western alliances are worrying China, which is in a tricky position between the US that is trying to restore their links and their friendship with Russia, as Washington is not alone, but is backed by Europe, Japan, and many other countries and this triggers the Chinese economy and position.

On the other hand, and since the friendship between both Russia and China is said to be “rock solid”, “Beijing has refused to call Russia’s attack on Ukraine an invasion” and has decided to work on promoting negotiations between Ukraine and Putin, and is against resolving issues with sanctions, still less unilateral sanctions that lack the basis of international law.

The situation looks like China is trying to support Russia in a subtle way, without sending arms and at the same time working on keeping the Beijing-Europe relations stable at some point. So China has decided not to send anything triggering, such as military assistance, that would end up putting sanctions on them since Biden has warned Xi of a global backlash if China helps Russia’s attack on Ukraine and after a two-hour call between the American and Chinese President. President Jinping declared that China is not planning to send weapons to Russia and will not support the war and brutal campaign in Ukraine. And Biden “described the implications and consequences if China provides material support to Russia,” the White House said, even though Putin did ask for China’s help clearly as reported by the Pentagon.    

He seemed very convinced about aligning with the Biden administration’s demands and relied on global peace and security as his only concern. He affirmed not wanting the violence to accelerate in any way. Both officials declared wanting to collaborate for world peace and that “peace and security are what the international community should treasure most.”

        Beijing’s position is tricky at the time because Russia had specifically requested weapons from China, which thinks that a cease-fire is what is needed at this time. But Xi has already considered sending military aid to his allies. According Susan Thornton, a career diplomat with deep experience in Russia and China, and the former assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs for the Trump administration, tells U.S. News, Xi cannot turn around and be seen shipping weapons to Russia, after his clear statements.

  1. Can China act as a peacemaker between Russia and Ukraine?

Since the beginning of the war, there has been a growing consensus that Beijing may play a critical role as a peacemaker between Ukraine and Russia. Indeed, besides the two parties directly involved in the conflict, also the US, NATO and the EU have recognized China as a potential mediator to resolve the war. Nevertheless, China’s stand on the Ukraine crisis has remained vague and contentious until now.

On the one hand, President Xi Jinping has shown his willingness to step in as a force for peace and stability. Indeed, on February 25th, in a phone call with President Putin, Xi Jinping exhorted him to settle the dispute with Ukraine by negotiation, in compliance with the principles of non-interference, national sovereignty and territorial integrity of all countries (Lau, 2022, Politico). Furthermore, Beijing has repeatedly assured both western leaders and Ukraine President Zelensky of his interest in stopping the war through dialogue and negotiations (White, 2022, Financial Times).

On the other hand, China’s lack of a confident stand on the war, its severe criticism of the Western strategies to contain the crisis, as well as the growing Beijing-Russia “ironclad” friendship make Xi Jinping’s role as a peacemaker more questionable and less credible. In fact, even if China has not publicly supported Russia’s invasion, it has strongly supported Moscow’s complaints about NATO expansion, accusing the US-led NATO to have forced Russia and Ukraine’s tensions to a “breaking point” (Reuters, 2022, US News). Indeed, China’s political and economic ties with Russia advance together with the shared threat they perceive from the United States and the West, especially in terms of ideological confrontation between the two most powerful autocratic countries and the liberal democracies (Aboudouh, 2022, Atlantic Council). In this regard, while President Biden has recently threatened countermeasures should China decide to back Russia’s efforts in Ukraine, President Xi has repeatedly asserted that he will not allow the US to adopt coercive measures that would harm China’s interests.

While President Biden supports ejecting Russia from the G20 later this year, President Xi Jinping insists on taking the Ukraine crisis off the agenda, convincing Indonesia to invite Russia and maintain the summit’s discussion focused on global issues like international economic cooperation and climate change (Gordon, 2022, Fortune). As the Ukraine conflict deepens, China’s neutral stance becomes less feasible to the international community, and tensions are expected to rise unless China and the West adopt a common strategy to resolve the war.

Bibliography

Aboudouh, A. (2022, February 23). “China and Russia are proposing a new authoritarian playbook. MENA leaders are watching closely”. Atlantic Council. Retrieved March 26, 2022, from

https://www.atlanticcouncil.org/blogs/menasource/china-and-russia-are-proposing-a-new-authoritarian-playbook-mena-leaders-are-watching-closely-%EF%BF%BC/.

Bala, S (2022, March 21) “Xi ‘can’t stomach doing something that might make Putin look bad,’ says political analyst” CNCB. Retrieved March 30, 2022, from https://www.cnbc.com/2022/03/21/xi-wont-take-a-position-on-ukraine-that-undermines-putin-analyst.html

Cheng, E. (2022, March 8) “China watches warily as Ukraine makes U.S., EU and Japan strengthen their alliance” CNCB. Retrieved March 30, 2022, from

https://www.cnbc.com/2022/03/09/china-watches-as-ukraine-war-makes-us-eu-and-japan-show-unity.html

Gordon, N. (2022, March 25). “President Biden wants to kick Russia out of the G20. Here’s why that’s unlikely to happen”. Fortune. Retrieved March 27, 2022, from

https://fortune.com/2022/03/25/russia-g20-summit-putin-biden-indonesia-bali-china-ukraine/.

Lau, S. (2022, February 25). “China’s Xi asks Putin to negotiate with Ukraine”. Politico. Retrieved March 26, 2022, from

https://www.politico.eu/article/china-xi-jinping-vladimir-putin-negotiate-ukraine/.

Liptak, K., Bertrand, N., Lillis, K. B., Atwood, K., & Hansler, J. (2022, March 15). “China has expressed some openness to providing military and financial aid to Russia, US Cable suggests.” CNN. Retrieved April 3, 2022, from https://edition.cnn.com/2022/03/14/politics/us-china-russia-ukraine/index.html

Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the People’s Republic of China. (2022, February 26). Wang Yi Expounds China’s Five-Point Position on the Current Ukraine Issue. Retrieved April 1, 2022, from https://www.fmprc.gov.cn/eng/zxxx_662805/202202/t20220226_10645855.html

Rajagopalan, R. P. (2022, February 15). “Putin and XI frame a new China-Russia partnership.” The Diplomat. Retrieved April 3, 2022, from https://thediplomat.com/2022/02/putin-and-xi-frame-a-new-china-russia-partnership/

Reuters. (2022, March 9). “China Blames NATO for Pushing Russia-Ukraine Tension to ‘Breaking Point’”. US News. Retrieved March 25, 2022, from

https://www.usnews.com/news/world/articles/2022-03-09/china-blames-nato-for-pushing-russia-ukraine-tension-to-breaking-point.

Snetkov, A., & Lanteigne, M. (2022, March 25). “Ukraine: Why China is not yet bailing out Russia.” The Conversation. Retrieved April 1, 2022, from https://theconversation.com/ukraine-why-china-is-not-yet-bailing-out-russia-179403

White, E. (2022, March 6). “Ukraine says China is ready to act as a peacemaker”. Financial Times. Retrieved March 27, 2022, from

https://www.ft.com/content/1e3c79e6-7d07-466b-b159-0742a8393ea7.

Wilkie, C. (2022, March 18) “Biden warns Xi of global backlash if China helps Russia’s attack on Ukraine” CNCB. Retrieved March 30, 2022, from

https://www.cnbc.com/2022/03/18/china-says-xi-biden-call-focused-on-the-need-for-peace-in-ukraine.html

Wu, L. (2022, March 1). “China Cannot Condone Russia’s Aggression in Ukraine.” The Diplomat. Retrieved April 3, 2022, from https://thediplomat.com/2022/03/china-cannot-condone-russias-aggression-in-ukraine/

POPULAR POSTS

FOLLOW US

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.

Mandakini

Coordinator - Tibet Team

Mandakini graduated with honours from the Geneva Academy of International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights. Her team analyses the human rights violations faced by Tibetans through a legal lens.

Kenza Mena
Team Coordinator -China

Kenza Mena has expertise in international criminal law since she is currently pursuing a last-year Master’s degree in International Criminal Justice at Paris II Panthéon-Assas and obtained with honors cum laude an LLM in International and Transnational Criminal Law from the University of Amsterdam. She also holds a Bachelor’s degree in French and Anglo-American law. 

Since September 2021, she has been the coordinator of Team China at GHRD, a country where violations of human rights, even international crimes, are frequently perpetrated by representatives of the State. Within Team China, awareness is also raised on discrimination that Chinese women and minorities in the country and, more generally, Chinese people around the world are facing.

Kenza believes that the primary key step to tackle atrocities perpetrated around the world is advocacy and promotion of human rights.

Aimilina Sarafi
Pakistan Coordinator

Aimilina Sarafi holds a Bachelor’s degree cum laude in International Relations and Organisations from Leiden University and is currently pursuing a Double Legal Master’s degree (LLM) in Public International Law and International Criminal Law at the University of Amsterdam.
She is an active advocate for the human rights of all peoples in her community and is passionate about creating a better world for future generations. Aimilina is the coordinator for the GHRD team of Pakistan, in which human rights violations of minority communities in Pakistan are investigated and legally evaluated based on international human rights legal standards.
Her team is working on raising awareness on the plight of minority communities such as women, children, religious and ethnic minorities within Pakistan.

Lukas Mitidieri
Coordinator & Head Researcher- Bangladesh

Lucas Mitidieri is currently pursuing his bachelor’s degree in International Relations at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ). As the GHRD Bangladesh Team Coordinator, he advocates for human rights and monitors violations across all minorities and marginalized groups in Bangladesh. Lucas believes that the fight for International Human Rights is the key to a world with better social justice and greater equality.

Nicole Hutchinson
Editorial Team Lead

Nicole has an MSc in International Development Studies with a focus on migration. She is passionate about promoting human rights and fighting poverty through advocacy and empowering human choice. Nicole believes that even the simplest social justice efforts, when properly nurtured, can bring about radical and positive change worldwide.

Gabriela Johannen
Coordinator & Head Researcher – India

Gabriela Johannen is a lawyer admitted to the German bar and holds extensive knowledge in the fields of human rights, refugee law, and international law. After working for various courts and law firms in her home country, she decided to obtain an LL.M. degree from Utrecht University where she studied Public International Law with a special focus on Human Rights. Additionally, while working as a pro-bono legal advisor for refugees, she expanded her knowledge in the fields of refugee law and migration.

Gabriela is the coordinator and head researcher for GHRD India, a country, she has had a personal connection with since childhood. Her primary focus is to raise awareness for the severe human rights violations against minorities and marginalized groups that continue to occur on a daily basis in India. By emphasizing the happenings and educating the general public, she hopes to create a better world for future generations.

João Victor
Coordinator & Head Researcher – International Justice

João Victor is a young Brazilian lawyer who leads our team of International Justice and Human Rights. He holds a Bachelor’s degree in Law from the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil and possesses over 5 years of experience in dealing with Human Rights and International Law issues both in Brazil and internationally, including the protection of refugees’ rights and the strengthening of accountability measures against torture crimes.

João has an extensive research engagement with subjects related to International Justice in general, and more specifically with the study of the jurisprudence of Human Rights Courts regarding the rise of populist and anti-terrorist measures taken by national governments. He is also interested in the different impacts that new technologies may provoke on the maintenance of Human Rights online, and how enforcing the due diligence rules among private technology companies might secure these rights against gross Human Rights violations.

Célinne Bodinger
Environment and Human Rights Coordinator

As the Environment and Human Rights Coordinator, Célinne is passionate about the health of our planet and every life on it.

Angela Roncetti
Team Coordinator and Head Researcher- South America

Angela holds a Bachelor of Laws (LL.B) from Vitória Law School (FDV) in Brazil. Her research combines more than five years of experience conducting debates and studies on the rights of homeless people, the elderly, children, and refugees. Besides that, she also volunteers in a social project called Sou Diferente (I am Different in English), where she coordinates and takes part in actions aimed at the assistance and the emancipation of vulnerable groups in the cities of the metropolitan area of Espírito Santo state (Brazil).

Lina Borchardt
Team Head (Promotions)
(Europe)

She is currently heading the Promotions Team and University Chapter of Global Human Rights Defence. Her background is the one of European and International Law, which I am studying in The Hague. She has previously gained experience at Women´s Rights organizations in Germany, the Netherlands and Turkey over the past years.
She has been working for Global Human Rights Defence in the Netherlands since 2020. Her focus now is concentrated on the Human Rights and Minorities Film Festival and the cooperation of GHRD with students across the country.

Pedro Ivo Oliveira
Team Coordinator and Researcher
(Africa)

Pedro holds an extensive background in Human Rights, especially in Global Health, LGBTQ+ issues, and HIV and AIDS. He is currently finishing his Bachelor’s Degree in International Relations and Affairs at the Pontifical Catholic University of Minas Gerais, Brazil. Moreover, he successfully attended the Bilingual Summer School in Human Rights Education promoted by the Federal University of Minas Gerais and the Association of Universities of the Montevideo Group. Besides, Pedro Ivo has a diversified professional background, collecting experiences in many NGOs and projects.

With outstanding leadership abilities, in 2021, Pedro Ivo was the Secretary-General of the 22nd edition of the biggest UN Model in Latin America: the MINIONU. Fluent in Portuguese, English, and Spanish, Pedro Ivo is the Team Coordinator and Head Researcher of the Team Africa at Global Human Rights Defence. Hence, his focus is to empower his team from many parts of the world about the Human Rights Situation in the African continent, meanwhile having a humanized approach.

Alessandro Cosmo
GHRD Youth Ambassador
(European Union)

Alessandro Cosmo obtained his B.A. with Honors from Leiden University College where he studied International Law with a minor in Social and Business Entrepreneurship. He is currently pursuing an LL.M. in Public International Law at Utrecht University with a specialization in Conflict and Security. 
As GHRD’s E.U. Youth Ambassador, Alessandro’s two main focuses are to broaden the Defence’s reach within E.U. institutions and political parties, as well as mediate relations between human rights organizations abroad seeking European funding. 
Alessandro believes that human rights advocacy requires grass-roots initiatives where victims’ voices are amplified and not paraphrased or spoken for. He will therefore act on this agenda when representing Global Human Rights Defence domestically and abroad

Veronica Delgado
Team Coordinator and Researcher- Japan, Sri Lanka & Tibet

Veronica is a Colombian lawyer who leads our team of Japan, Sri Lanka and Tibet. She holds a master’s degree in Public International Law from Utrecht University. She has experience in Colombian law firms. Here she represented clients before constitutional courts. She also outlined legal concepts to state entities such as the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ombudsman’s Office on international law issues.

Veronica has an extensive research background with subjects related to public international law. She worked as an assistant researcher for more than two years for the Externado University of Colombia. Here she undertook in-depth research on constitutional, business, and human rights law issues. She was involved with consultancy services with the Colombian Army regarding transitional justice. 

Wiktoria Walczyk
Coordinator & Head Researcher (Nepal & Indonesia)

Wiktoria Walczyk has joined GHRD in June 2020 as a legal intern. She is currently coordinator and head researcher of Team Nepal and Indonesia. She has an extensive legal knowledge concerning international human rights and is passionate about children’s and minorities’ rights. Wiktoria has obtained her LL.B. in International & European Law and she specialised in Public International Law & Human Rights at The Hague University of Applied Sciences in the Netherlands. Moreover, she is pursuing her LL.M. in International & European Law and focusing on Modern Human Rights Law specialisation at the University of Wroclaw in Poland. In order to gain an essential legal experience, Wiktoria has also joined Credit Suisse’s 2021 General Counsel Graduate First Program where she is conducting her legal training and discovering the banking world. She would like to make a significant impact when it comes to the protection of fundamental human rights around the world, especially with regard to child labour. 

Fairuz Sewbaks
Coordinator and Head Researcher
(Africa)​

Fairuz Sewbaks holds extensive legal knowledge regarding international human rights, with a specific focus on human rights dealings taking place in continental Africa. She holds a bachelor’s degree from The Hague University in public international law and international human rights and successfully followed advanced human rights courses at the Centre for Human Rights, University of Pretoria. She furthermore participated in the Istanbul Summer School where she was educated about the role of epidemics and pandemics in light of human rights.

 

Fairuz is the coordinator and head researcher for GHRD Africa. Her primary focus is to establish and coordinate long-term research projects regarding the differentiating human rights dealings of vulnerable and marginalized groups in continental Africa, as well as conducting individual research projects.

Priya Lachmansingh
Coordinator and Head Researcher, Political Advisor
(Asia & America)

Priya Lachmansingh is currently pursuing her bachelor’s degree in International & European
Law at the Hague University of Applied Science.
As GHRD’s Asia & America human rights coordinator and GHRD Political Advisor, Priya’s
prominent focus is to highlight human rights violations targeted against minority and
marginalized groups in Asia and America and to broaden GHRD reach within Dutch political
parties and as well seek domestic funding.

Jasmann Chatwal
Team Coordinator & Head Coordinator: North America

Jasmann is a political science student at Leiden University who joined GHRD in May 2021 as an intern in team Pakistan. Now, she is the team coordinator for North America and is responsible for coordinating the documentation of human rights violations in USA, Canada, and America.