There have been numerous discussions on this phrase, and there are numerous interpretation of what this phrase 解铃还须系铃人 (jiě líng hái xū xì líng rén) means.
From what I have read on the internet, this phrase has been interpreted to depict a situation where the person who said this, refused to mediate, not his job to mediate or that the person who said this is giving out a warning of some sort.
Readout posted on the Ministry of Foreign Affairs PRC
I have also found a 2014 article posted by the New York Times where the same Chinese idiom had been used.
If you are into Wuxia (武侠) tv series or movies (be it Mandarin or Cantonese), you will frequently encounter this Chinese idiom. The context in which it was normally uttered is to address a conflict situation, where, regrettably, the mediator could not do anything, even if he wants to or tried to, because only the person(s) involved the conflict can resolve the situation.
Typical conflict situation in Wuxia movies or tv series are where there is a family feud, 2 brothers fighting with each other over something or some misunderstanding and both refused to back down, each claimed they are right. In such a situation, no one else could pacify the brothers or stop them from killing each other. Ends well if the person who caused the conflict apologizes and unwind the tense situation, but otherwise there will be more blood shed until one or both of them die.
I haven’t been following the war in Ukraine and I do not intend to profess any view on it. However, I thought it would be interesting to explain this phrase in the Wuxia context.
I would love to hear your views. Please leave a comment.
P/S – For those who are curious: (1) Closer to the meaning of “It’s not my problem or my job to do it” would be 事不关己，己不劳心 (Shì bù guān jǐ, jǐ bù láoxīn). (2) This Chinese idiom was modified to fit into a romantic love sick situation – 心病还须心药医 (xīn bìng hái xū xīn yào yī) – It means heart disease requires heart medicine. For example, if your boy/girlfriend found someone else, you will be angry and fall ill. This disease is a heart disease. External drugs are useless. Only heart medicine can heal you i.e your boy/girlfriend coming back to you.