THE Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) should propose its own peace plan for Ukraine, which has been fending off Russia for a second year now. Few countries have been spared from the ripple effects, threatening the global economic recovery from the impact of the lingering pandemic. In our words, the 10 member states of Asean stand to gain from peace in Eastern Europe.
The Asean proposal could be an alternative to a plan proposed by China, which was criticized for not mentioning the return of Ukrainian territories now occupied by Russia. Estonia even called China's plan “extremely unfair” to Ukraine for that.
Moreover, China was viewed as bolstering Russia when President Xi Jinping visited Moscow recently. Various media reports said the visit was a diplomatic coup for Russia's Vladimir Putin. But it may be worth mentioning that China has not endorsed Russia's aggression in Ukraine.
As mentioned before in this space, world leaders should give China's peace initiative a chance. To be fair, its plan calls for an end to the humanitarian crisis and prevention of a nuclear catastrophe, referring to the Ukrainian power plants located in conflict areas. While a full Russian retreat is ideal for Ukraine and its allies, no one can deny that a ceasefire also has advantages. And if that at least can be realized, then there may be an opportunity to tackle harder issues later, such as the liberation of Ukrainian lands.
For now, though, Russia seems unwilling to go along, saying instead that Ukraine was not ready for peace talks. Still, world leaders should encourage China to press Russia. It seems better to have China play peacemaker, rather than see it openly back the invasion.
Western countries, particularly the United States, are skeptical about China's diplomatic efforts, especially since it is blamed for tensions in the South China Sea. China's claims cover territories belonging to several Asean states, including the Philippines. Geopolitics is indeed complicated.
Interestingly, China has played the role of peacemaker before.
Recently, it helped restore diplomatic relations between Saudi Arabia and Iran, bringing some stability to the Middle East. That is important to Asean states, like the Philippines, which has thousands of migrant workers deployed there.
The US and others in the West might be more open to peace initiatives coming from a country other than China. Although Asean is not a country, that regional bloc might be a more acceptable peace broker for the West. Unlike China, Asean is not competing with either Russia or the US in any way.
Asean has a Treaty of Amity and Cooperation with more than 50 countries, including Russia and Ukraine. China and the US are also part of that pact.
Granted, the treaty may seem irrelevant, because it has no enforcement provision. And without that, the pledges to peace by the signatories appear more symbolic than concrete. But that is not the point.
Instead, Russia, Ukraine and their respective backers are connected to Asean in that way. Additionally, Southeast Asia, along with the global economy, has much to gain from having peace in Ukraine. Because of the war there, global economic growth slowed down to 3.1 percent last year. The fighting will continue to weigh down growth this year to just 2.2 percent.
Obviously, peace talks could also bring some respite for the Ukrainians, particularly the women and children. More than 8,000 Ukrainians have died so far, and nearly 6 million have been displaced by the fighting. In all, some 17.6 million Ukrainians reportedly need some humanitarian assistance. Figures alone cannot capture the full scope of their suffering.
To be clear, no one doubts the Ukrainians' resolve to continue fighting.
And there is no suggestion here that Russia be given a pass for its invasion. But it makes sense to seek some common ground and assign a lower priority to hard issues, so that peace talks can get started.
The alternative would be for the world to simply wait until soldiers from both sides tire of killing one another, and hope that the war does not escalate.
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