China’s foreign minister, Wang Yi, called on Saturday for fresh negotiations to avoid major conflict over Ukraine, arguing that a set of moribund cease-fire agreements from 2014-15 could form the basis for a deal.
Speaking by video link to the Munich Security Conference, Mr. Wang suggested that it was still possible to find middle ground that respected Ukrainian sovereignty while accommodating the security concerns of Russia, an increasingly close geopolitical partner of China.
The template for a solution to the volatile tensions, Mr. Wang said, lay in cease-fire blueprints called the Minsk accords, which Ukraine accepted in 2014 and 2015 in an unsuccessful bid to defuse conflict in its east. Russia-backed separatists attacked and grabbed territory there after Ukrainian protesters deposed a pro-Russian president in 2014. The accords are notoriously ambiguous, and Russia and Ukraine interpret them very differently.
“Now we need to go back to the initial solution of the Minsk agreement, because that agreement was reached by all parties related this issue,” Mr. Wang said, speaking through an English-language translator.
“Why can’t all parties sit down together to have in-depth discussions and to come up with the road map and timetable for the implementation of this agreement?” he said. “I believe that this is what all parties need to focus on, instead of hyping up tensions, stoking panic.”
President Emmanuel Macron of France has also suggested that the accords could offer the basis for a solution to the standoff over Ukraine.
Earlier this month, China’s leader, Xi Jinping, hosted President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia at the opening of the Beijing Winter Olympics, and the two declared that their countries’ friendship had “no limits.” Mr. Xi also backed Russia over one of its security demands: that NATO stop expanding east, closer to Russia’s borders.
In his latest remarks, Mr. Wang also questioned any expansion of NATO, calling the security bloc a relic of the Cold War. “The reasonable concerns of Russia should also be respected and heeded,” he said.
But Mr. Wang denied that when it came to Ukraine, China had abandoned its longstanding commitment to the importance of national sovereignty.
“The sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity of any country should be respected and safeguarded,” he said. “Ukraine is no exception.”