It is probably the biggest news of this 59th Munich Security Conference: On the first anniversary of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, China wants to present a peace initiative. This was announced by the top Chinese foreign politician Wang Yi on Saturday.
Wang said China's position boils down to support for peace talks. Beijing wants to play a constructive role in this and will present its initiative on February 24. "We will stand firm on the side of peace and dialogue."
But before Beijing's plan is even presented, it is met with rejection in Ukraine. Western allies also have doubts that China's initiative can really bring peace.
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba has categorically ruled out any loss of territory for his country. It is also in Ukraine's interest for China to play a role in the search for peace, but Ukraine's territorial integrity is non-negotiable, Kuleba told reporters on Saturday on the sidelines of the Munich Security Conference. "There are no compromises possible, not over the smallest square meter."
Kuleba said of the peace plan: "There is no point in dealing with it until we have seen it." Kuleba emphasized that before Wang Yi left, he would meet him in Munich and discuss the details of his initiative. For his country, however, it is clear that it will not agree to any peace plan "at any price".
German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock made a similar statement. Although she praised the Chinese peace initiative, she ruled out any cession of territory to Russia.
A just peace presupposes "that the one who violated territorial integrity, namely Russia, withdraws its troops from the occupied country," said the Greens politician on Saturday.
Without a complete withdrawal of all Russian troops from Ukraine, there is no chance of an end to the war, said Baerbock. "Even if it's difficult," all demands to end the war by ceding territory to Russia are unacceptable. "That would mean that we make people prey to Russia. We won't do that." Russian President Vladimir Putin should not be rewarded for his war of aggression, also to prevent imitators.
"World peace is based on the fact that we all recognize the territorial integrity and sovereignty of each country." At the same time, however, it is also clear that "every chance" for peace must be used.
NATO Secretary General Stoltenberg also warned in Munich of a victory for Putin. This would also send the message to others "that by force they can get anything".
"China has not been able to condemn the invasion," Stoltenberg told reporters, according to Politico magazine. Beijing's peace plan, he added, "is pretty vague." Peace, the NATO chief emphasized, is only possible if Russia respects Ukraine's sovereignty.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the West would be skeptical of a Chinese peace initiative calling for an immediate ceasefire. "Who doesn't want the guns to stop firing? But we have to be careful of the traps that can be set," he was quoted as saying by the Financial Times.
Russian President Vladimir Putin may decide it is "best for him to declare an immediate ceasefire" and create a "frozen conflict," according to Blinken. "He will never negotiate the conquered territory and in the meantime use the time to rest, rearm, rearm and attack again," Blinken warned.
Sovereignty might actually be the big sticking point. Russia currently still claims large parts of Ukraine for itself and describes it as Russian territory. If both Ukraine and its partners refuse to cede territories, Beijing's plan is likely to fail.
International experts were also skeptical about China's plans.
The former head of the Munich Security Conference, Wolfgang Ischinger, has dampened expectations of a Chinese peace plan for Ukraine. In an interview with the ARD "Tagesthemen" on Saturday, Ischinger said it was a remarkable step that China had chosen the security conference as a platform for announcing such a plan. Nevertheless, not too high hopes should be attached to it.
"It would be a great surprise if China were to bring itself (...) to present a complete roadmap to peace," said Ischinger. According to his assessment, this is "rather not" very realistic.
Samuel Ramani, an expert on international relations and geopolitics at the University of Oxford, wrote on Twitter that China's peace plan is less about peace in Ukraine "and more about the normative commitment to the countries of the Global South".
The "vague rhetoric" of the peace advocacy portrays the West as a warmonger and absolves Russia of sole guilt, Ramani said.
China knows that if it calls for dialogue and peace, it will fall on sympathetic ears in the Global South. In fact, Chinese peace plans appear to be gaining traction in Africa and South America.
Namibian Prime Minister Saara Kuugongelwa said, according to The Guardian newspaper: "We want to solve the problem, we don't want to find the culprit. It's no use that Russia spends money on weapons and the West finances Ukraine to to buy guns."
Brazilian Foreign Minister Mauro Vieira stressed that his country had also condemned the Russian aggression before the United Nations, but added: "We must try to find a solution. We cannot limit ourselves to talking about the war. I speak not of immediate negotiations - we have to proceed step by step and maybe first create an environment that allows negotiations."
Some Western countries are considering pushing for a new UN General Assembly resolution in favor of Ukraine, hoping the overwhelming yes vote will highlight the lack of international support for Russia, the Guardian said. Last year, 141 countries pledged their support for Ukraine, but it's unclear how many new converts there are in the Global South.
One reason for Europe's concerns is that China's peace proposal could undermine the UN effort, Politico writes.
Sources: DPA and AFP news agencies, "The Guardian", "Financial Times", "Politico"