FM Wang Yi insists China ‘force for peace’, defends Russian ties

Speaking at a rare news conference in Beijing, Wang Yi calls for peace talks to bring two-year-old Ukraine conflict to an end.

Wang Yi at the press conference in Beijing. He is sitting at a desk against a blue backdrop. He has his hands raised making a point as he speaks.
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi speaking in Beijing [Ng Han Guan/AP Photo]

China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi has said China sees itself as a “force for peace” in the world, even as it pursues deeper ties with Russia despite Moscow’s invasion of neighbouring Ukraine.

“In the face of complex turmoil in the international environment, China will persist in being a force for peace, a force for stability, and a force for progress in the world,” Wang told reporters at a press conference in Beijing on Thursday, on the sidelines of the country’s annual meeting of its parliament.

Wang, who spoke in Mandarin, was also asked about China’s relationship with Russia, which began its full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.

The two countries announced a “no limits” partnership shortly before the invasion, as Russian President Vladimir Putin visited Beijing, and visiting Moscow last year, Chinese President Xi Jinping hailed a “new era” of cooperation.

The foreign minister said Beijing and Moscow’s closer relationship was a “strategic choice”, noting that bilateral trade had reached a record $240bn in 2023.

“New opportunities” lay ahead, he added, portraying the two countries’ ties as a “new paradigm” in the relations between big powers.

“Major countries should not seek conflict and the Cold War should not be allowed to come back,” Wang said.

China has positioned itself as a neutral party in the Ukraine war, and on the first anniversary of the conflict, released a 12-point peace plan calling for a ceasefire and talks between the two parties.

On Thursday, Wang insisted that Beijing maintained an “objective and impartial position” on Ukraine and called again for peace talks, noting that peace envoy Li Hui was currently in the region.

“A conflict, when prolonged, tends to deteriorate and escalate and could lead to an even bigger crisis,” Wang said.

During the wide-ranging discussion, which lasted for 90 minutes, 70-year-old Wang was also asked about issues including the conflict in Gaza, China’s relationship with the United States, and the disputed South China Sea.

The veteran diplomat called Israel’s five-month-long war in Gaza and the world’s apparent inability to stop the bloodshed, a “tragedy for humanity and a disgrace for civilisation”.

Israel sent its forces into the territory after Hamas, which has ruled Gaza since 2006, launched an assault on Israel on October 7, killing 1,139 people and kidnapping some 250 Israelis and foreigners.

At least 30,717 Palestinians have been killed in the bombardments since amid a collapse in the health system and a growing risk of starvation. Hamas released some of the captives during a ceasefire in November but is thought to still be holding about 100 people.

Urging the release of “all detainees”, Wang called for an immediate ceasefire and peace talks.

“The calamity in Gaza is a wakeup call for the world,” he said.

Talks brokered by Egypt, Qatar and the US to reach a six-week ceasefire ahead of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan have so far failed to achieve a breakthrough.

Wang also reiterated China’s longstanding commitment to a two-state solution, saying it was the only way to achieve an end to the conflict.

He also said China supported Palestine’s “full” membership of the United Nations.

On relations with the US, which recovered some equilibrium late last year after the countries’ two presidents met in San Francisco, Wang struck a note of optimism even as he lashed out at Washington for sanctions that he said had reached a “bewildering level of unfathomable absurdity”.

Noting the US and China were due to mark 45 years of formal bilateral ties this year, Wang said China wanted relations that were “stable and consistent” and that Washington could work with Beijing on the basis of “mutual respect, peaceful coexistence and win-win cooperation.”

The two sides have been at odds over a range of issues from Taiwan to trade and an alleged Chinese spy balloon that was shot down after crossing into the US last year.

Wang reiterated China’s claim over Taiwan, a self-ruled island that Beijing maintains is part of its territory, and said those who sought independence would be “liquidated by history”.

He also had sharp warnings over the disputed South China Sea where China, which claims almost the entire sea despite an international tribunal ruling it without merit, has been involved in multiple confrontations with the Philippines in recent months.

In the latest incident on Tuesday, the Philippines said its boat was damaged by a Chinese coastguard ship that tried to block a resupply mission to the disputed Second Thomas Shoal, which lies about 200km (124 miles) from the western Philippine island of Palawan and more than 1,000km (621 miles) from China’s southern Hainan Island.

Manila has moved closer to the US amid the growing tension in the strategic waters where China also deploys a maritime militia and its fishing fleet.

Brunei, Malaysia and Vietnam also claim the parts of the South China Sea around their coasts.

“We resolutely oppose all acts of hegemony and bullying, and will strongly uphold national sovereignty and security as well as development interests,” Wang said.

Source: Al Jazeera