China’s foreign minister recently called for peace talks to end the war between Russia and Ukraine. The security interests of all sides should be safeguarded in the process. President Zelensky promised to hold talks with President Xi Jinping. The Netherlands and other Western countries should wholeheartedly support this proposal and thus contribute to a peace solution for Ukraine.
Diplomacy is needed more than ever to resolve this war. The focus should not be on how to win the war and defeat President Putin as soon as possible, but on how to stop the violence in Ukraine as soon as possible. This should include, first and foremost, the welfare of the people, as well as the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine.
New diplomacy is necessary. We should not, as happened in World War II, look for allies who can help create military supremacy with even more weapons, but rather look for allies who can mediate between Ukraine and Russia. China and perhaps Brazil are such allies, in cooperation with United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres.
It is good to learn from the past, but we are now in a precarious situation. Contemporary weapons, such as nuclear missiles, are technologically vastly advanced compared to those of World War II. António Guterres warned of an even greater war in Ukraine that the world is heading toward with open eyes. The symbolic doomsday clock, largely due to the war in Ukraine, has been set at 90 seconds to midnight, closer than ever. Midnight represents the end of humanity as a result of human actions.
An atomic bomb like the one dropped on Hiroshima at the time is today a “small” bomb. This bomb killed about 129,000 people, mostly civilians. Today’s hydrogen bombs are 600 times stronger. In short, we cannot afford a Third World War. Therefore, a cease-fire in Ukraine should take place as soon as possible and peace negotiations should take place again to put an end to the killing.
This does not mean a plea for appeasement. On the contrary. In the Chinese peace plan, sovereignty is the first issue, so it is to be expected that President Zelensky will elaborate on that regarding the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine. These are also important issues for the UN. However, a peace plan from China offers more hope than Chinese arms supplies to Russia.
But the relationship between the West and China is difficult. Countries should give each other space, give each other something, learn from each other where possible, and help each other. China’s initiative to come up with a peace plan for Ukraine is a hopeful gesture. It can help the people in Ukraine and can help prevent a Third World War. Moreover, it can simultaneously help improve the relationship between the West and China. This is another form of new diplomacy.
Diplomats should remind China that Russia is responsible for the majority of the human rights violations in Ukraine, including war crimes. Incidentally, according to the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Ukraine was also guilty of human rights violations, two of which qualify as war crimes.
Wars usually end with negotiations. It is better to let the negotiations take place before there are more deaths and more human suffering due to the war. Hopefully, there will soon be a Ukraine — and a world — in which all children can play.
This op-ed was published in the national Dutch newspaper Trouw on March 15, 2023.