Opinion | Ukraine conflict: China promotes peaceful solutions over warmongering
By Grenville Cross
Sir Winston Churchill, Britain's wartime leader, said that "jaw-jaw is better than war-war", and he should know.
When global conflicts arise, there are few winners, and Ukraine is no exception. Since hostilities began on Feb 24, 2022, many countries have been adversely affected. As the conflict grinds on, some have sought to escalate the situation, although peacemakers have not given up.
Whereas Ukraine has borne the brunt of the trauma, other European countries have also suffered. Quite apart from its casualties and devastation, Ukraine's economy has shrunk by 30.3 percent in the past year, and about 12 million people have fled the country. Throughout Europe, energy shortages are stoking inflation, food supplies are being disrupted, and much-needed financial resources are being diverted to Ukraine.
The Russia-Ukraine conflict is also having an impact around the world. In Africa, for example, which relies heavily upon imports from both countries, food security has been adversely affected. The International Monetary Fund, moreover, sees the conflict as a major factor depressing global growth prospects.
If Russia imagined its "special military operation" would secure a quick victory, it was mistaken, and it now faces a war of attrition. Although ostracized by Western countries, it has survived their sanctions, and can maintain its offensive indefinitely. Whereas Russia is estimated to be spending $300 million a day on the conflict, the Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air estimates it earned approximately $800 million a day from energy exports for most of 2022.
Although the conflict is a global disaster, some have sought advantages from it. Once the USSR collapsed in 1991, NATO set about hoovering up its Warsaw Pact partners as well as the Baltic states, resulting in the encirclement of Russia, a contributory factor in today's conflict. When, therefore, US President Joe Biden and NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg met the so-called "Bucharest Nine" countries in Warsaw on Feb 22, they told their leaders (some from the former Warsaw Pact states) that they are now, as Biden put it, "the front lines of our collective defense", meaning they represent the US on Russia's western borders.
While, however, the US consolidates its influence over its NATO client states (and seeks new ones, like Finland and Sweden), the biggest winner is its military-industrial complex, which views the conflict as a gift that keeps on giving. It has, therefore, provided (or committed to providing) Ukraine with everything from Patriot air defense batteries and Javelin anti-armor systems to Howitzers, Grad rockets and Abrams tanks.
On Feb 24, the US Department of State's Bureau of Political-Military Affairs reported that, since January 2021, the US has invested more than $32.4 billion in Ukraine, including $31.8 billion "since Russia launched its premeditated, unprovoked and brutal war against Ukraine". In other words, the US arms industry is having a bonanza, and woe betide anybody who tries to end its party, even its own government (given it has so many tame politicians in its pocket).
Indeed, when then-US president Dwight Eisenhower made his farewell speech in 1961, he presciently warned of the rise of the military-industrial complex, and the threat it posed to democracy.
On Jan 20, Charles Miller, an international relations expert at the Australian National University, informed the Australian Broadcasting Corporation that about 800,000 American jobs are directly tied to the arms industry, and "the local economy is highly dependent on defense contractors for its economic well-being". Those jobs, therefore, are, following a bumper year for the arms manufacturers in 2022, more secure than ever, and, as The Hill reported on Jan 25, US weapons sales jumped last year "to more than $51.9 billion, largely due to Russia's war on Ukraine".
The major US arms contractors are Lockheed Martin, Raytheon, Boeing and Northrop Grumman, and they are now providing some of their most sophisticated weaponry to Ukraine. Their stocks are surging, with, for example, the share prices of Northrop Grumman and Lockheed Martin rising, by the end of 2022, by, respectively, 40 percent and 37 percent. While profiting like this, they clearly have a vested interest in keeping the Ukraine conflict going, as their political representatives appreciate.
When, therefore, on Feb 24, China unveiled its peace plan for Ukraine, Washington was not interested. As Russia had welcomed the plan, Biden used this as a pretext to reject it as "irrational", inquiring, "How could it be any good?", and his allies agreed. Although Beijing, in its 12-point, 892-word position paper called for the "political settlement" of the Ukraine crisis, through peace talks, respect for national sovereignty, ending attacks on civilians, abandonment of Cold War mentalities and an avoidance of nuclear escalation, NATO's Jens Stoltenberg rejected the proposal, claiming "China doesn't have much credibility."
In Ukraine, however, China's paper was called "a good sign", and President Volodymyr Zelensky said he hoped to discuss it with President Xi Jinping.
In Germany, meanwhile, on Feb 25, over 10,000 people joined the "Uprising for Peace" in central Berlin, calling for an end to the escalating arms deliveries to Ukraine. Its website noted that Germany's arms policy "brings us closer to a 3rd world war", a widely held concern.
The last thing on Washington's mind, however, is de-escalation, let alone peace talks, and it remains committed to aggravating the situation. When Biden visited Kyiv on Feb 20, he pledged new arms deliveries; and his national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, announced that the next military aid package would be worth $2 billion. Clearly, America's military-industrial complex is calling the shots, and it has rarely had it so good.
The former US first lady, Eleanor Roosevelt, once said it is not enough to believe in peace, and "one must work at it", and Biden should harken to her words. Although China is endeavoring to find a peaceful solution, he and his fellow warmongers only appear interested in throwing oil on the fire. The consequences of their folly could be horrendous, with Russia having already suspended its last remaining nuclear agreement with the US, on Feb 21.
In the interests of humanity, therefore, China should pursue its peace initiative, and the wider world will applaud its perseverance.
The author is a senior counsel and law professor, and was previously the director of public prosecutions of the Hong Kong SAR.
The article was first published in China Daily.