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China and India vote for UN resolution with a reference to Russia's 'aggression' against Ukraine

The resolution calls for greater cooperation between the United Nations and the Council of Europe.
The resolution calls for greater cooperation between the United Nations and the Council of Europe. Copyright John Minchillo/Copyright 2023 The AP. All rights reserved.
Copyright John Minchillo/Copyright 2023 The AP. All rights reserved.
By Jorge Liboreiro
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The resolution is not centred on the Ukraine war and instead calls for greater cooperation between the UN and the Council of Europe.

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In a surprising diplomatic move, China and India, two countries that have carefully avoided condemning Moscow for launching the full-scale invasion of Ukraine despite repeated pleas from Western allies, have voted in favour of a United Nations resolution that explicitly acknowledges "the aggression by the Russian Federation against Ukraine."

The reference is found in just one paragraph of a broader resolution that calls for closer cooperation between the United Nations and the Council of Europe, the Strasbourg-based human rights organisation.

The text, promoted by a wide group of European countries, together with Canada and the United States, received 122 votes in favour and 18 abstentions.

China and India, which have consistently abstained from UN resolutions focused on the Ukraine war that openly condemned Russia, voted in favour of the whole text, as did Kazakhstan, Armenia and Brazil.

Only five countries opposed the resolution: Russia, Belarus, Syria, Nicaragua and North Korea.

The vote, which took place last week, initially went unnoticed due to the resolution's largely anodyne content. But some observers were sharp enough to spot the blink-and-you-miss-it reference to the Ukraine war inserted in the ninth paragraph of the preamble, which reads as follows:

"Recognizing also that the unprecedented challenges now facing Europe following the aggression by the Russian Federation against Ukraine, and against Georgia prior to that, and the cessation of the membership of the Russian Federation in the Council of Europe, (we) call for strengthened cooperation between the United Nations and the Council of Europe."

Josep Borrell, the European Union's foreign policy chief, celebrated the vote on his Twitter account and the endorsement by "key G20 partners such as China, Brazil, India and Indonesia."

It's highly unlikely the vote heralds a foreign policy shift in either Beijing's or New Delhi's agenda, given their close military and economic links with Moscow and their firm refusal to align themselves with Western political views. 

Still, considering the widely-documented reluctance by both countries to publicly denounce Russia's war, the little move represents a remarkable development in itself.

China, in particular, has been under intense pressure from the West to openly censure the Kremlin for launching the invasion. A 12-point document released in February by the Chinese Foreign Affairs Ministry and described as a "peace plan" was lambasted by Europeans for blurring the lines between the aggressor, Russia, and the victim, Ukraine.

At no point does the plan use the terms "war," "invasion" or "aggression" to describe the situation on the ground and instead talks of "the Ukraine crisis."

China's deliberately ambivalent position, which the West sees as plainly Russian-leaning, was one of the main points of disagreement during last month's meeting in Beijing between Chinese President Xi Jinping and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen.

"China being a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council has a big responsibility to use its influence in a friendship that is built on decades with Russia. And we count on China to really exert also this responsibility and to be very clear in the messaging," von der Leyen said at the end of the trip.

Weeks later, Xi Jinping held his long-awaited call with Ukrainian President Volodymr Zelenskyy, the first since Russia launched the invasion.

"On the Ukraine crisis, China always stands on the side of peace. Its core stance is to facilitate talks for peace," said an official read-out released by the Chinese government after the call.

The read-out, however, did not mention Russia by name.

This piece has been updated with more details about the resolution.

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