China has called for a ceasefire in the war in Ukraine and a return to negotiations as Beijing attempts to position itself as a peacemaker in the conflict on the anniversary of Russia’s full-scale invasion.

The Chinese foreign ministry on Friday released a 12-point paper on its position on a “political settlement” to the war in Ukraine, though many of the measures reiterated Beijing’s previous talking points.

Chinese diplomats have engaged in a difficult balancing act over the war, seeking to appear neutral despite Beijing’s close ties to Moscow while blaming Washington and Nato for provoking the conflict.

“Dialogue and negotiation are the only viable solution to the Ukraine crisis,” the foreign ministry said in the document, which did not directly call it a war. “All efforts conducive to the peaceful settlement of the crisis must be encouraged and supported.”

Beijing’s call for a ceasefire is unlikely to receive support in Kyiv until Russia withdraws from the territories it has occupied, an issue that was not addressed in the 12-point position paper.

Zhanna Leshchynska, charge d’affaires of Ukraine’s embassy in Beijing, ruled out a ceasefire that would freeze the conflict along the present front line.

“Our view is that Russia should unconditionally withdraw all of its forces from the territory of Ukraine,” she told reporters in Beijing on Friday. She later added that this meant the internationally recognised borders of Ukraine, which include Crimea.

Jorge Toledo, head of the EU’s delegation to China, said at a joint press conference that the Chinese position paper was not “a peace proposal”.

Leshchynska said China should demonstrate its neutrality by pushing Russia to withdraw its troops and increasing engagement with Ukraine. China’s leader Xi Jinping has not called Ukraine’s president Volodymyr Zelenskyy since Russia’s invasion but has spoken with Vladimir Putin several times.

Shi Yinhong, a professor at Renmin University, said Beijing was probably aware that neither side would heed its proposal. “China feels [it] necessary to repeat its neutrality on the war at this juncture to save some international influence by not only criticising Nato but also distinguishing itself from Russia’s behaviour,” he said.

China’s top diplomat Wang Yi appeared to make little headway in pushing the proposals on Wednesday when he met Putin, who in an address to the nation this week insisted that the war threatened Russia’s “very existence”.

Beijing’s paper also warned against the use of nuclear weapons in the war and called for Ukraine’s nuclear power plants to be protected. It also demanded a halt to sanctions that have not been authorised by the UN Security Council, a reference to penalties imposed by the US and EU.

The peace proposal comes as Washington alleges that Beijing is considering sending arms and other lethal aid to Russia to bolster Putin’s war aims. A year into the conflict, Russian and Ukrainian forces are facing off in a series of bloody skirmishes in Ukraine’s east, with neither side having a clear upper hand, stirring calls among some Chinese nationalists to increase aid to Russia.

Hu Xijin, the former editor of nationalist Chinese tabloid Global Times, defended Beijing’s hesitation to provide direct military aid.

China had already provided the “greatest support to Russia’s sanctioned economy” by increasing imports of energy and foodstuffs and maintaining the flow of Chinese “electronics, cars and microprocessors”, Hu said this week.

Chinese customs data shows imports from its northern neighbour climbed 43 per cent last year to $114bn as it ramped up purchases of Russian oil, gas and coal, while exports rose 13 per cent to $76bn.

Additional reporting by Maiqi Ding and Nian Liu in Beijing

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