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Peace Conference on Ukraine

Aug 25, 2023
  • Xiao Bin

    Deputy Secretary-general, Center for Shanghai Cooperation Organization Studies, Chinese Association of Social Sciences

Ukraine peace conference.jpg

Saudi Arabia hosted a peace conference in Jeddah on August 8, hoping that it would lead to a peaceful resolution of the Russia-Ukraine war. Forty countries were invited, including China.

It has been over 500 days since Russia launched its so-called special military operation against Ukraine. While 18 months have elapsed, Russia has not reached its goal — despite its greater military weight — of taking full control of Ukraine. Rather, it finds itself in the midst of a defensive war against the Ukrainian army in the territories of Luhansk, Donetsk, Zaporizhzhya, Ankhetia and Kherson.

Against this backdrop, Saudi Arabia hosted a peace conference in Jeddah, hoping that it would lead to a peaceful resolution of the war. Forty countries were invited, including China — but not Russia. It attracted worldwide attention, and although it did not yield a peace proposal, it presented new views of international politics, as more countries from the global South joined the quest for peace in Ukraine. 

Ukraine’s food crisis

Before the war, Ukraine’s wheat exports accounted for 10 percent of the global volume, with Spain, Turkey, Italy, Egypt, China and Indonesia as the main importers. When war broke out, Russia blocked the sea routes for Ukrainian grain to batter the Ukrainian economy. For humanitarian reasons, the multilateral Black Sea Grain Initiative was created on July 22 last year. It allowed for the export of grain and other foodstuffs from Ukraine’s three main ports via a maritime corridor on the Black Sea. The deal was renewable every 120 days and has been extended three times.

According to CME Group, which operates financial derivatives exchanges (including the Chicago Mercantile Exchange), the cumulative export of Ukrainian corn and wheat under the initiative accounted for 6 percent of the global volume. Yet the global food crisis has not been resolved and is facing two pressing challenges. First, the war cost Ukraine 36 percent of its annual grain output in 2023. Second, Russia announced on July 17 that it would suspend participation in the grain initiative. It is using the global grain crisis as bargaining leverage with the West as the power of its energy exports has waned.

The suspension of the Black Sea Grain Initiative, which had allowed Ukrainian grain to reach the market, has exacerbated the food crisis facing the global South. According to the World Bank, international grain markets penciled in Russia's response, and the global grain price index rose by 10 percent in mid-July. Although the Jeddah peace conference on Ukraine did not yield any consensus for action, the topic of food security was addressed in the parties’ peace proposals.

At the second Russia-Africa Summit, fewer than 20 of 54 African countries showed up. (African heads of state or government for the 2019 conference had been 43.) African leaders presented Russia with their own peace proposals for Ukraine in a bid to address the food crisis. This reflects the changing position of some global South countries in favor of Russia. 

Long road to peace 

Excluding Russia from the peace conference was tantamount to a psychological war against it by the international community. The organizing parties tried to get strong-headed Russia to understand that the war against Ukraine had spawned animosity, and it was hoped that Russia would act to contain its spillover effects. However, after the conference concluded, Russia’s deputy foreign minister communicated to the press that the resumption of food trade would be subject to the following conditions:

• Sanctions must be lifted on the Agricultural Bank of Russia

• The supply of spare parts needed in Russia must resume, and

• Russian companies must be allowed to access to their assets abroad.

In turn, the conditions on the Ukrainian side for a peaceful settlement of the conflict are:

• Ensuring the neutrality, non-alignment and denuclearization of Ukraine.

• Recognizing the current territorial status quo.

• Demilitarization and de-Nazification of Ukraine.

Meanwhile, there has been no fundamental shift in the position of India, Brazil and South Africa — all part of BRICS — on the war against Ukraine. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy also acknowledged after the meeting that the parties are still divided on the peace proposal. Thus, the road to peace in Ukraine will be long and will require building more international consensus, and the food crisis will continue to be a sword of Damocles hanging over the global South.

China’s role 

Food security is deemed by the Chinese government as the lifeline of national development. The war in Ukraine has destabilized global food supply chains and has had a substantial negative impact on China. Coupled with the heightened risk of climate change, China also faces a grim situation in terms of food security. Recently, Typhoon Doksuri hit northern China, wreaking havoc on 540,000 acres of arable land in Hebei province alone. Thus it is in China’s interest to resolve the Ukraine crisis peacefully.

The presence of China at the Jeddah peace conference was an attempt to bring peace to Ukraine at an early date. The main purpose of the Chinese delegation was to find the largest common denominator for peace in Ukraine in a bid to end the Ukrainian crisis and realize peace.

U.S. National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan and Acting Deputy Secretary of State Victoria Nuland met with Ambassador Li Hui, the Chinese special representative for Eurasian affairs, in Jeddah. State Department spokesman Matthew Miller told the media: “We are confident that China’s participation in the Jeddah peace conference on Ukraine was productive.”

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