After releasing a 12-point proposal on how to broker a cease-fire in Ukraine and facing allegations from the United States that it is considering arming Moscow, China's involvement in the war is set to enter a new phase.
Finding Perspective: Beijing's so-called peace plan, which is actually more of a position paper than an actual framework for ending the war, was mostly a repackaging of previous Chinese talking points, as I wrote here.
The reception has been largely cold in the West, with officials brushing it aside as a way to cement Russian gains in Ukraine. In Moscow, things were more muted. Russian officials welcomed the Chinese proposal, but added that the conditions for a peaceful resolution of the conflict were not in place "at the moment." Kyiv, meanwhile, said it was good to see China talking about peace and that it hoped Beijing would call on Russia to withdraw its troops from Ukraine.
Given that it doesn't appear to be moving the needle and that all sides are still willing to give war a chance, what's behind the Chinese move?
As Raffaello Pantucci, a senior fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore, told me, "Beijing is looking to speak to a global audience" with the document and also showcase itself as a peacemaker and responsible power to the non-Western world, which tends to be far more sympathetic to Moscow than the West.
Alexander Gabuev, an expert on China-Russia relations at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, added that the proposal also gives Beijing room to lay the blame for continued war at the feet of the West and gain some cover for its tightening relationship with Moscow in the process.
Why It Matters: China has been awkwardly walking a tightrope since Russia invaded and it looks set to keep straddling that line.
The big question is whether Beijing is willing to step up its support, as Washington says it is considering. U.S. officials like CIA Director Bill Burns have clarified that no shipments have taken place and NBC News reported that U.S. intel on the potential transfer was gleaned from Russian officials.
Western officials are on high alert and many analysts are looking for potential backdoors, with Belarusian autocrat Alyaksandr Lukashenka's recent state visit to Beijing watched closely for any kind of military deals that could potentially benefit Moscow, as I reported here.
Still, others see the transfer of military aid to Russia as a red line China isn't willing to cross.
As Zhou Bo, a former senior colonel in the People's Liberation Army, wrote in a recent op-ed for the Financial Times, "If Beijing has refused to send any such support to Moscow in the past 12 months, then why should it change its mind now, especially when it has urged a peaceful resolution to the conflict?"
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