Can Chinese Diplomacy Help End the Ukraine War?

Interview with retired U.S. Army Col. Lawrence B. Wilkerson, former chief of staff to U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell, conducted by Scott Harris

As Ukraine prepares for its long-publicized spring offensive, President Biden told G7 leaders meeting in Hiroshima, Japan that he had changed his mind and now supports a joint effort to train Ukrainian pilots to fly the American-made F-16 fighter jet. The training will likely happen in Europe with US personnel participating alongside NATO partners. No decisions have yet been made on when the sophisticated war plane will be delivered to Ukraine, and how many will be sent.

Russia’s deputy foreign minister, Alexander Grushko, responded to news about the F-16 by saying: “We see that western countries are still adhering to the escalation scenario,” and warned that, “it involves colossal risks.”

Meanwhile the Biden administration has softened its’ initial dismissal of China’s 12-point proposal on how to end the war in Ukraine, first announced in late February. In a May 3rd interview US Secretary of State Antony Blinken acknowledged that China could play a beneficial role in pursuing a just and durable peace in Ukraine.  Between The Lines’ Scott Harris spoke with retired Col. Lawrence Wilkerson, who served as chief of staff to Secretary of State Gen. Colin Powell from 2002-2005, and is now a senior fellow with the Eisenhower Media Network, which ran a full-page ad in the New York Times on May 16 calling for a diplomatic end to the Ukraine war. Here Wilkerson assesses the danger of escalation in providing F-16 fighter jets to Ukraine and prospects for China’s peace initiative.

COL. LAWRENCE WILKERSON: I hope this is posturing. I hope it’s a sign that we are trying to build a negotiating position and we’re going to sit down and we’re going to affect some diplomacy here, because I don’t think ultimately President Biden is dumb enough to actually put F-16s in the hands of the Ukrainians in a way that they can use them against Russia.

That would be a very dangerous move. Putin has recently said, reiterated again, but this time in very explicit terms, “We have a lot of weapons. We’ll use them, any one of them we feel like we need to.” Of course, he means nuclear weapons. And they have said that the CSTO, Collective Security Treaty Organization that if NATO were to make a penetration in some place that they felt was critical, they would use nuclear weapons.

They call it in Russian “escalate to de-escalate.” Think about that for a minute. All the doctrine that we developed during a very long Cold War demonstrates, I think, conclusively to me, a military professional, that once you start, you don’t stop. So that’s nonsensical to say you’re going to use nuclear weapons escalating the war, in other words, in order to de-escalate. But that’s what it says in Russia.

I have no doubt in my mind that if Putin ever gets to the point where he’s backed into a corner that he feels both his life and Russia’s existence is seriously threatened, he will turn to nuclear weapons and then the cat’s out of the bag. That’s a very dangerous situation to be in.

So I’m hoping that what we’re doing, postulating that we’re going to have these far more advanced weapons that have great range and depth and can strike all the way to Moscow— that’s that’s a posturing for position with regard to upcoming negotiations. I think, I hope Putin’s remarks about the use of nuclear weapons are also that kind of posturing.

But I don’t know that. It would be extremely dangerous to let them have F-16s with pilots who could fly them. That’s the essence of it.

SCOTT HARRIS: Col. Wilkerson, I did want to ask you about the prospects for China playing some positive role in developing a peace plan in the war in Ukraine. Initially, the United States dismissed this plan put forward by China that was recently successful in negotiating an agreement to normalize the relationship between Iran and Saudi Arabia. But more recently, the Biden administration has warmed up to the idea a little bit, at least in their press releases. What do you think about China’s role here for a possible way out of this war?

COL. LAWRENCE WILKERSON: That’s very true that they have made some positive statements and I was encouraged by that. I know Wang Yi, when Wang Yi was lower down in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for China, Richard Haass and I conducted policy planning talks with him in Beijing in the summer of 2001.

So I would be very, very encouraging of using the good offices. That’s what we call it in diplomatic parlance of everyone from Oman — who’s been very instrumental in the deal you just talked about — in addition to the Chinese. And China — I’d use anyone’s good offices I could respect and felt might do a good job about it.

In this case, Wang Yi would do a good job. Now, am I stupid enough to think that China doesn’t have an interest in this or Russia doesn’t have an interest in this through Sergei Lavrov? If we were to sit down Sergei and Wang Yi and Antony Blinken, whom I don’t think could hold a candle to either of those men, but nonetheless has to be our representative —would talk and the thing they need to bring more than anything else and — here’s where we’re so faulty in this — is empathy.

You must be able to put yourself — even in fighting a war, but certainly in diplomacy — you must be able to put yourself in the other person’s shoes.

That’s another thing we tried to depict in our piece in The New York Times. I understand why Russia has done what it’s done. I don’t condone the invasion and we didn’t condone the invasion in the article. But we did outline a little bit of the history to show people who don’t know any better. And our media is just dumb in this regard.

Show people who don’t know any better that the Russians had provocation, and when we sit down to negotiate, we have to be willing to go into the talks with that kind of empathy. Otherwise, you’re never going to reach success. You must be able to put yourself in the other person’s shoes in order to negotiate successfully.

For more information on the Eisenhower Media Network, visit

Listen to Scott Harris’ in-depth interview with Lawrence Wilkerson (28:56) and see more articles and opinion pieces in the Related Links section of this page.

For the best listening experience and to never miss an episode, subscribe to Between The Lines on your favorite podcast app or platform: Apple PodcastsSpotifyStitcherGoogle PodcastsAmazon MusicTunein + AlexaCastboxOvercastPodfriendiHeartRadioCastroPocket Casts,  RSS Feed.


Subscribe to our Weekly Summary