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Ukraine: Discussions with US and China

Volume 820: debated on Thursday 17 March 2022


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what discussions they have had with the governments of (1) the United States of America, and (2) China, about the situation in Ukraine.

My Lords, the United Kingdom is working very closely with our allies and partners in our continuing condemnation of the actions of Russia and Mr Putin in their reprehensible attack on Ukraine. We have worked very closely with the United States, and the Foreign Secretary visited it last week to further co-ordinate our support for Ukraine. We have also engaged directly with China, and have been clear that China must also stand up for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity and not condone Mr Putin’s actions.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that answer. Would he agree that the geopolitics of the world in which we live are being changed by the unjustified war with and invasion of Ukraine? Would he further agree that the Chinese are clearly uneasy about the way in which the situation is developing? As a permanent member of the Security Council of the United Nations, cannot the British Government take an initiative to work with the Chinese and the Americans to try to secure, for example, humanitarian corridors to enable aid to go in and people to come out safely? Will the Government try to promote these actively with all our partners, because it is the right thing to do?

My Lords, I agree with the noble Viscount on both points and I assure him that we are working very closely with the Chinese, among other countries. My right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary spoke with her Chinese counterpart, Foreign Minister and State Councillor Wang Yi, on Friday 25 February. She underlined the UK’s expectation of China’s role in the current crisis. As we have heard, it has an important role in the multilateral system. We are engaging at all levels, including official and ministerial.

The UN General Assembly vote, where 141 nations came together, demonstrated how we are working with key partners and other countries. It is important that we are universal in our condemnation of the Russian war on Ukraine.

My Lords, there is a lot in what the noble Viscount, Lord Stansgate, says. In our discussions with the Americans, are we urging them to pump and export more oil? We are urging the Saudis to do so, as are the Chinese. If we are following this path, could Ministers explain more clearly to the public that, although we are all in favour of long-term energy transformation away from fossil fuels, in the short term these measures are necessary, not only to put a squeeze on Russia over Ukraine but to avoid the hideous spikes in prices and energy costs that at present are causing so much suffering to so many people, particularly the most vulnerable?

Again, I agree with my noble friend, which is why my right honourable friend the Prime Minister visited the Middle East. The immediate issue is one of energy security and of ensuring that the whole world moves totally away from reliance on Russian energy, particularly Russian gas. There are countries that are heavily reliant on Russian gas. We applaud the decisions taken recently by, for example, Germany in pausing the Nord Stream 2 project. Equally, we are seeing very strong collaboration and collective action to ensure that, from the point of view of both the global community and our own citizens, the issue of energy security remains a key priority.

My Lords, the positions of China and India are of course of concern to UK interests. Have the Government signalled to China that any preferential market access to UK financial services will be questioned? The UK is in discussions with India about a free trade agreement. It is reported today that India is in discussions with Russia for a rupee/rouble trading arrangement that would circumvent the sanctions restrictions. The head of the export organisation for India said:

“Other nations are banning exports to Russia, so it is a good time for Indian exporters to enter into the Russian market”.

Does the Minister believe that it is disagreeable that the UK will be offering preferential market access to the very financiers who are circumventing our restrictions?

My Lords, first, we have been very clear that if China wants to be seen as a responsible global actor, it needs to take concrete steps to show that it in no way condones Russia’s actions. This alludes also to providing alternative market access. India is a key strategic partner. We are building strong alliances and having clear discussions with India about its role both in conflict resolution and the long-term situation pertaining to Ukraine. I know that the Indian Foreign Minister has engaged directly with both Ukraine and Russia.

The noble Lord alluded to a report. We should wait for formal announcements. I do not want to comment on particular speculation.

My Lords, does the Minister assess that the Chinese understand that more than just the United Kingdom’s relations with Russia are in question right now? Essentially, it is not possible for a country—especially a big country—to be neutral in the face of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. If China is not clearly part of the opposition, we shall have to reassess our relations with China too.

The noble Lord points to an important role. As the noble Lord will know, China is not just another player. It is a key player on the global stage. China is not the same as Russia. It still wants to be seen as a responsible global actor, whereas Russia has launched an unprovoked and premeditated attack against a sovereign democratic state. As I have said before, China abstained in the key Security Council resolution, which directly showed its concern about the current war in Ukraine.

My Lords, I return to the point about multilateralism. Of course, our support for President Zelensky and the people of Ukraine must be complete. President Zelensky is making positive noises about the talks with Russia. We need to support him in those as well. What are the Government doing to ensure that we can back President Zelensky in those talks? We should take the outcome of the talks to the multilateral institutions and gain the support of China and others for this progress, so that we can bring this horrible war to an end.

On the noble Lord’s final comment, we all want to see that. This war has gone on now for many days and weeks with increasing and indiscriminate attacks on the Ukrainian people. This calls for the need for peace and conflict resolution. We back all current initiatives that are under way to seek a resolution. Ukraine is a sovereign nation and must lead on this. I assure the noble Lord that the Prime Minister is in daily contact with President Zelensky and is fully abreast of the current initiatives and progress. Russia can stop this in an instant. That is where the pressure should come. It needs to stop and pull back. There should be no preconditions in terms of where we go with this, but Ukraine must lead, and of course we will support President Zelensky in his peace efforts.

My Lords, is it not particularly sad for us that India, the greatest democracy in size and a crucially important member of the Commonwealth, is taking the abstaining line in the UN? Should we not be endeavouring with every diplomatic effort to ensure that India comes on side, as a democracy should?

My Lords, I am the Minister responsible for our relations with India and I can assure my noble friend that we are engaging very constructively with India about the Ukrainian war. India also recognises its important role. Of course, it has a strong historic relationship with Russia, but it also recognises that what has happened is an unprovoked attack on a sovereign state. As my noble friend said, it is important that all democracies around the world call for an immediate ceasefire. Immediately after that, it will be important to ensure that the territorial sovereignty and integrity of Ukraine is fully protected.

My Lords, on the issue of the territorial integrity of Ukraine, I was pleased yesterday to see that the FCDO’s update included in its very first point a reference to the peace talks and to President Zelensky’s demand that the world gives his country ongoing, guaranteed, legally enforceable security for its borders. It is not surprising, because the Budapest Memorandum proved worthless and unenforceable. The Minsk agreements were also unenforceable and unimplementable. Deterrence has failed. It is only serving the purposes of the bloody aggressor who is stopping us from putting in the skies some safety for the people of Ukraine.

We should now be turning our attention to how the future of Ukraine—when it is eventually negotiated, as it will have to be—can be guaranteed. The international co-operation on economics and sanctions forms the basis of that. We should be working on it now to reinforce Zelensky’s position in these negotiations.

My Lords, the noble Lord will be aware that the United Kingdom has a very strong relationship with Ukraine that dates back not just to the start of this Russian war of choice but is of long standing. We have been providing defensive support to Ukraine since the annexation of Crimea. Defence continues to play an important, central role in the UK’s response to the Russian invasion.

The noble Lord made a point about sanctions. This is not about now; we have already begun this work. It is multifaceted and the important thing is that we are working in unison with our key partners.