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US, Russian envoys clash over Ukraine crisis at Beijing forum as Chinese experts call on major powers to control ‘spillover effect’

《环球时报》 2022-07-04

Russian and Western diplomats clashed over the Russia-Ukraine conflict at a forum in Beijing on Monday, as Russia's Ambassador to China Andrey Ivanovich Denisov pushed back against a claim made the US Ambassador to China Nicholas Burns that Russia's military operations in Ukraine posed the biggest threat to the current world order.

The rare, tense exchange at the 10th World Peace Forum underscored the escalating geopolitical tensions among major powers, Chinese experts noted, while calling on major powers to find a way of controlling the spillover effect of the conflicts and focus on areas of common interest, including safeguarding peace and the current international order underpinned by the UN Charter and international law.

At a panel session of the 10th World Peace Forum on Monday, which was initiated in 2012 by Tsinghua University and the Chinese People's Institute of Foreign Affairs, Burns and Denisov shook hands before beginning a discussion themed the UN and World on the stage, which was also joined by British ambassador to China Caroline Wilson and French ambassador Laurent Bili.

Burns first discussed China-US relations, saying that China and the US have a competitive relationship and also seek to engage with each other as well, and they need obviously to compete in a way that they mitigate the possibility of an unintentional conflict that neither wants. The US envoy wrapped up his address by condemning Russia's military operations in Ukraine, calling it a direct violation of the UN Charter and the greatest threat to the world, which has caused human suffering.

Denisov said he opposes each and every sentence of the US envoy, but from the consideration of diplomatic courtesy and traditions, Denisov first extended his congratulations on US national holiday as Monday July 4 was also Independence Day in the US, which also drew applause from the audience. Then he responded to the US envoy's claim about Russia's military operations as illegal and unprovoked, saying that he did not mention the five ways of NATO expansion and what has happened since 2014 as well as Russia's efforts to promote the Minsk agreements but completely failed due to the positions of its opponents.

The world is going through a crucial transformation. The existing system of international relations is being reshaped, Denisov said, noting we are witnessing the persistent efforts to substitute universally recognized international law with so-called rules-based order which reflects the views of a small number of countries rather than of the international community.

While echoing Burns' remarks on the Ukraine crisis, Wilson also pointed out the consequences of the Ukraine crisis, which extended far beyond food insecurity.

China-proposed security concept

The heated confrontation among officials from the countries that are also among the five permanent members of the UN Security Council attracted much attention, sparking discussions about how the international order would evolve and how to maintain peace in the most effective way.

Of the two interpretations of world order, one is advocated by the West using ideology and values, while the other, embraced by a majority of other countries, regards territory, sovereignty and economic security as more important, according to experts.

China's concept of adhering to a common, comprehensive, cooperative and sustainable security concept is fundamentally different from the US' security concept, which is essentially a hegemonic security concept featuring unilateralism and drawing up small cliques to incite confrontation, Wang Yiwei, director of the Institute of International Affairs at the Renmin University of China, told the Global Times on Monday.

The global security concept proposed by China emphasizes respecting the sovereignty and territorial integrity of all countries; insisting on abiding by the purposes and principles of the UN Charter; insisting on attaching importance to the reasonable security concerns of all countries, and on peacefully resolving the differences and conflicts through dialogue and consultation.

The values of the future world order are likely to be more inclusive and more redefined with China, India and other developing countries as a larger voice, Chinese professor Jia Qingguo told the forum.

Decision-making in the future world order is likely to reflect the views and interests of non-Western countries, such as those of the BRICS. Whether a secular international order is sustainable depends on how major powers, especially China and the US, can find a way to contain the spillover of their differences and work together on issues of shared interests, including defending the existing international order, Jia said. Burns not only crossed verbal swords with the Russian envoy; he also commented China's position on the Ukraine issue by claiming that the Chinese government should stop claiming that NATO is responsible for the Ukraine crisis and that American bioweapons labs exist in Ukraine.

China decides its position on the basis of the merits of the issue and historical background, which is independent and objective assessment, Zhao Lijian, spokesperson of the Chinese Foreign Ministry, told a routine press conference on Monday.

About the US biolabs overseas including those in Ukraine, there is substantive evidence toward which the international community shares a high degree of concern, the Chinese official said. The US is the one which always spreads disinformation and lies, not China, he said.

Taiwan question in focus

China and the US have seen their relationship spiraling down, which sends shockwaves across the world. How they manage the conflicts to avoid a further spillover effect has come under the spotlight of this year's forum with the Taiwan question as one focus.

Wang Jisi, president of the Institute of International and Strategic Studies of Peking University, told another panel discussion that he felt surprised and confused as a certain US think tank published a series of articles claiming that there will be a war between China and the US over the Taiwan question, and China will have a timetable in the future to resolving the question by force.

I attach much attention to the Taiwan question, but I've never heard one senior official from the Chinese government say such a thing nor the timetable for resolving it by force. Some people in the US advocate such rhetoric to drag the two countries into war, which we should avoid, he said.

Some US officials are also advocating the Taiwan in trouble claims, and even claimed that the Ukraine crisis would spur the Chinese mainland to take the similar move on Taiwan island.

Top US general Mark Milley told BBC interview that the mainland is clearly developing the capability to attack Taiwan at some point, which is not imminent but the US is watching closely.

To defend Taiwan has become a buzzword in Washington. But on the Taiwan question, China can never be deterred. It is mission impossible to deter China [on matters that concern China's core interests], Wu Xinbo, dean of the Institute of International Studies at Fudan University, told the Global Times.

If military conflicts occur across the Taiwan Straits, the impact on US interests and on its international influence will be far greater than the Russia-Ukraine conflict, Wu noted.

The past decades showed that taking care of each other's interests rather than deterrence is a more effective way in handling the Taiwan question. The US should encourage China to be patient and resolve the question through the peaceful means but not let deterrence shape the US' Taiwan approach, especially after the Ukraine crisis, Wu said.