The Battle for War and Peace

Kaitlin Dryburgh

The war in Ukraine carries on with devastating effects, thousands have died in Ukraine as a result of the conflict and many have suffered else where in the world due to food insecurity brought on by the conflict. As the rockets continue to pound into Kyiv, Ukraine continues to keep hold of their capital and even report to have taken back about 20km territory around the Eastern city of Bakhmut. Zelensky continues to tour and visit European countries, pleading with both them and their USA ally for more support in their fight for freedom. Although support in allied countries such as the USA is starting to decline, especially among citizens, it doesn’t look likely that an effort to deescalate and mediate between the two warring countries will be the next step for Ukraine’s supporters. Especially when you consider USA’s constant efforts to escalate tensions between themselves and Russia. Once was the USA’s global power so encompassing they would have been the nation to broker peace, or at least it would have been the global West to step in and negotiate peace between Ukraine and Russia. Yet the Ukraine war has once again solidified China’s global role as the new peace-loving nation on the block, much to the distain of USA.

An on-going informal diplomatic rivalry has emerged between the two countries, which in recent years has put China on top. Since the Russian invasion in 2022 China has formally maintained its neutrality in the Ukraine War, however they have come under considerable scrutiny from others as many claim China has been too chummy with Russia to be considered fully neutral. Yet for some their neutrality has been a welcomed surprise. Their stance on the Ukraine War is but another step in their strategy in a number of foreign policy initiatives to become a global peacekeeper. But, at what price?

This is in no way a new approach for China, their peace strategy has been in play as far back as the 50’s when they began to formally announce that as their country moves forward they’re going to prioritise development and peace. Since the 90’s China has dispatched more than 50,000 peacekeepers to nearly 30 UN peacekeeping missions. National foreign policy and reflected this over the years as priorities shifted towards investment in foreign infrastructure and peace keeping deals, and the world began to take notice of China’s continuing influence in foreign policy. It may have been a long slog in China’s plan to become viewed as a viable option for peacekeeping mediators but it looks like they’ve made it. However, perhaps just as important as their image of global peace keepers is their perception as being the alternative option to the US.

As top Chinese diplomat Wang Yi toured Europe at the start of the year, stopping in at France, Germany, Hungary and topping it off with a meeting in Russia there was a need to stress China’s neutrality in the current war. It was at this time that they announced their peace plan for Ukraine in a fairly vague 12 point structure. Although light on specifics it was clear that China want to be part of the restructuring of the country post-war. The consensus was mixed from both sides, certain points were favoured where others not so much, however the international community took it seriously and it was certainly a starting point. However, the peace process trundles on as a new delegation makes their way firstly to Ukraine and lastly to Russia in the coming days. Although many have criticised China’s constant communication with Russia they have maintained that this is necessary to remain neutral. Yet trade deals between the two nations mean the up keep of this friendship is a must, as of 2018 trade between Russia and China has grown to $108 billion in value. So although they remail neutral, it is well within their economic interests to stay friendly.

China is well aware that for now most European nations will not prioritise China over USA, that doesn’t mean that China can’t form stronger ties and build upon existing relationships. With the tensions between themselves, USA and Taiwan increasing, to persuade nations not to piggy back the US into conflict is without a doubt invaluable, and the cracks are already starting to show. French President Emmanuel Macron proclaimed that Europe must reduce its dependency on US and begin to discuss whether it should be brought into the middle of the China and Taiwan tensions. His emphasis to “not get caught up in a struggle” is a product of the efforts China has put into building upon their European relationships. Even if this was an off the cuff statement it’s a sentiment that is becoming increasingly popular.

Europe is a definite target audience of their concentrated efforts, as well as a post-war Ukraine, yet one of the key audiences in their “Global Security Initiatives” is the Global South. An ever-expanding population which in the future will begin to develop huge middle-income populations, which present a fantastic opportunity for China.

After all when it comes to peace-talks China has already had some success in this area of the word. Their ability to successfully broker a peace-deal between Iran and Saudi Arabia to a certain extent shocked the world. Talks starting in Iraq and subsequently finishing in Beijing restored peace between the two nations, resulting in embassies opening and a commitment by both to honour previous deals. This really did solidify China as a major player in global mediaition. However a win for China usually results in the US feeling a but miffed, and this deal does just that. Peace between Iran and Saudi Arabia is not favourable for the US as it makes their mission to isolate Iran that little bit trickier if they’ve started talking to their old pals again.

In isolation this agreement is great but another benefit of it is the potential spill over effects it could have on the little reported on war in Yemen. A war raging on since 2014 with a reported 377,000 deaths, both Iran and Saudi Arabia supporting different sides of the Sunni Shia conflict, this agreement could have positive effects on the prospect of this coming to an end or at least easing off.

China is well aware that strong economic growth and positive relationships with other nations won’t always secure them support when it matters, that’s when foreign investment comes, and no one is doing that quite as much as China. Some have called it debt-diplomacy, but there’s no denying that China is investing phenomenal amounts of money into the Global South. In fact they’ve invested more money in international development than the next eight countries combined. This isn’t new either, for almost 20 years China have been establishing themselves as the country to fund civil engineering projects in the Global South. Their Belt and Road initiative (BRI) mainly focuses on 39 countries accounting for 65% of the worlds population and 40% of the world’s GDP (as of 2021). The initiative provides China with a major upper hand, creating ties and influence with countries than many of our European peers could only dream of, helping them to solidify more political power and perhaps secure their future as technology economy. Although this hasn’t been without it’s issues, many countries such as Nigeria see China as steady partner in economic development and a generous lender. Countries in Africa with a vastly expanding middle class have started to turn their backs on historic partners such as the UK, USA and France, actually preferring China, believing that they are regarded as an equal business partner, rather than a charity case. Having ties with Africa not only helps with their own investment, but it secures mineral supplies, oil and gas development and helps them in global politics, boosting their status in the UN Security Council. Although not every investment has secured a good return for China, taking Sudan as an example, as recent conflict in the country really puts Chinese investment to the test.

Contrary to their image of the global mediators is the looming problem of Taiwan. They may be the new global peace negotiators on the block however they could in the future be at the centre of a new world conflict, tensions are rising slowly but surely and if it is to be believed many think that President Xi wants the acquisition of Taiwan to be his lasting legacy.

With China’s sights now on the Israel Palestine conflict, if they succeed in deescalating tensions between the two nations it wouldn’t be an understatement to call China something of a miracle worker. It can’t be denied that the global climate has shifted and China is a major player economically and in emerging diplomatic ties. The USA was once the major player brokering peace deals such as the Good Friday Agreement, yet they are becoming a less likely option for many nations as the mediator in this rapidly developing world. Perhaps this new reality has been sneaking up on many, it was very well recognised that China would become one of the biggest economies globally, but did those working in foreign affairs forsee the extent of their influence?

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