Article on the Ukrainian crisis and its consequences by Amb Qin Gang

On April 18, 2022, Ambassador Qin Gang published an article titled “The Ukrainian Crisis and Its Consequences” on the national interest. The full text is as follows:

The Ukrainian crisis is distressing. One minute longer of the conflict means one more hardship for the 43 million Ukrainians. Ending this unwanted conflict as soon as possible is more important than anything else.

China loves peace and opposes war. It advocates respect for international law and universally recognized norms governing international relations and respect for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of all countries, including Ukraine. China supports all efforts to achieve a ceasefire and alleviate the humanitarian crisis on the ground, and will continue to play a constructive role to that end.

Lessons must be learned. While working to end this conflict, we must also think seriously about the changes brought about by the crisis and the way forward.

The post-war international system is under the greatest strain since the Cold War. The once-in-a-century pandemic, the Ukraine crisis and unprecedented sanctions, spiraling inflation and impending recession all sounded alarm bells for the “boiler” of the international system. It is high time for us to reduce the pressure, and not the other way around, for our common world.

Europe is at the center of all the pressures of the crisis. Its prospects for stability and prosperity were seemingly damaged overnight and replaced by enormous uncertainty. To reverse this situation, there must be not only an end to this war, but also a fundamental response to lasting peace and stability in Europe, as well as a balanced, effective and sustainable philosophy and architecture for its security.

The contrasting developments of the past thirty years at both ends of the Eurasian continent should shed light on how security can be ensured for Europe and the world. After the Cold War, when Europe chose to use NATO’s eastward expansion to maintain security, on the other side of the continent, China, Russia and Central Asian countries launched the Shanghai Five mechanism, in an unprecedented exploration of a new philosophy and a new security model. In 1996, when President Bill Clinton first announced a timetable for NATO expansion in Detroit, China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan signed the Treaty on Deepening military confidence in the border regions, resolving border issues between China and the countries of the former Soviet Union. once and for all and end the military stalemate along the Sino-Soviet border. The cornerstone of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization was thus laid, and the “Shanghai spirit”, meaning mutual trust, mutual benefit, equality, consultation, respect for cultural diversity and the pursuit of common development, has been established. Thus, good-neighborly friendship and common peace have prevailed between China, Russia and Central Asian countries. As history shows, different choices lead to different results.

The ongoing crisis in Ukraine has also put America’s relationship with Russia and China to new tests. In 1992, when Russian President Boris Yeltsin made his first visits to the United States and China after the Soviet disintegration, the countries agreed not to see each other as adversaries, which essentially put Russia’s bilateral relations with the United States and China on the same level. Over the past thirty years, the Sino-Russian relationship has made great progress, but it is still based on non-alliance, non-confrontation and non-targeting of third countries. China has been and will remain an independent country that decides its position on the merits of each case, free from any outside pressure or interference. Claims about China’s prior knowledge of Russian military action or China’s provision of military aid to Russia are pure misinformation. If similar conflicts had taken place elsewhere or between other countries, China’s position would not have been different. At the same time, US-Russian relations are sliding towards a new cold war, which is not in the interests of China, the United States or Russia, and that is not what China wishes to see. After all, a worse Russian-American relationship doesn’t mean a better China-US relationship, and likewise, a worse China-Russian relationship doesn’t mean a better US-Russian relationship either. More importantly, if China-US relations are messed up, it doesn’t bode well for US-Russian relations or for the world.

Disturbingly, as the crisis continues, some people are waving the stick of sanctions against China to coerce it into abandoning its independent foreign policy of peace. Some are calling for a “Beijing-Moscow axis” in a dangerously misinterpretation of Sino-Russian relations, calling on China to take responsibility for the crisis. Some link Taiwan to Ukraine and play on the risks of a conflict across the Taiwan Strait. Still others, despite all the lessons to be learned, stir up misunderstanding, confrontation and insecurity in Asia-Pacific, without worrying whether this region could follow in Europe’s footsteps. These words and actions are of no use in resolving the crisis or ensuring the stability of China-US relations. Pulling everyone down does our future generations no good.

Ukraine knows better than anyone how the post-war international system was built. More than seventy years later today, its future is again closely linked to that of the world. Although we are unable to reach a consensus, at this time, on the type of international system we want, the “scourge of war of the last century, which twice in our lifetime has caused untold suffering to humanity,” and the ensuing four decades of estrangement should shed some light on the fact that we all live in a shared world with a shared future. It is out of the question for a country or a block of countries to have absolute security while ignoring the security of other countries. Without respect, trust, mutual accommodation and cooperation, the world would never be at peace. It does not need and cannot afford another cold war in the aftermath of the Ukrainian crisis.

China and the United States should not only work together to combat global warming, but also seek maximum common ground to deal with the cooling international political climate. Differences in perception of the crisis do not justify baseless accusations or pressure and should not hamper our joint efforts to emerge from the crisis. I have remained in close communication with American colleagues on this matter. At the same time, China and the United States must take a long-term view and have pragmatic and constructive dialogue, coordination and cooperation for what lies ahead outside and after the crisis. In this way, we can put in place an arrangement for lasting peace and stability in Europe, acceptable to all parties; properly resolve other global hotspots; prevent and address the impact of the crisis on the global economy and trade, financial, energy, food, industrial and supply chains; and minimize losses to the economy and people’s livelihoods. The current international system is not perfect. It must progress with the times, and China is committed to supporting and contributing to this process, not to undermining or destroying it. In the final analysis, our common goal is lasting peace, universal security and common prosperity for the 1.8 billion Chinese and Americans and 7.8 billion people on the planet. This is the historical responsibility of China and the United States as two great countries.

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Christi C. Elwood