A Chinese envoy was preparing Monday to visit Ukraine and Russia, but there appeared to be little chance of a breakthrough to end the 15-month-long invasion.
Chinese leader Xi Jinping’s government says it is neutral and wants to play a role as mediator, but has given Moscow political support. Beijing released a proposed peace plan in February, but that was largely dismissed by Ukraine’s allies, who insist Russian President Vladimir Putin’s forces must withdraw.
Li Hui, a former ambassador to Moscow, also will visit Poland, France, and Germany “for communication on a political settlement of the Ukraine crisis,” according to the Foreign Ministry. It gave no schedule details other than stating that Li would depart on Monday.
Xi spoke with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy by phone in April, setting the stage for the diplomatic push. Xi’s promise to send a mediator to Ukraine and other countries involved was the biggest concrete takeaway from that call, his first outreach to Zelenskyy since the Russian invasion began. At the time, Xi told his Ukrainian counterpart that China would send a special representative “to have in-depth communication with all parties on the political settlement of the Ukraine crisis.”
The trip “expresses China’s commitment to promoting peace and negotiations,” Wang, the Foreign Ministry spokesperson, said Friday.
“The voices for ceasefire and deescalation are building in the international community,” Wang said. “China will continue to play a constructive role and build more international consensus on ending hostilities, starting peace talks, and preventing escalation of the situation.”
Political analysts see little hope for a peace agreement because neither Ukraine nor Russia is ready to stop fighting. By sending an envoy, China appears to be trying to neutralize criticism of its friendship with Russian President Vladimir Putin and to split European allies away from Washington.
China has been engaged in a flurry of diplomatic outreach to European countries, from hosting French President Emmanuel Macron in Beijing to sending Vice President Han Zheng and Foreign Minister Qin Gang on Europe trips. At each engagement, European governments have urged China to use its leverage over Russia to hasten an end to the fighting.
For its part, Beijing has been sending the message that China and Europe should “joint reject a new Cold War,” as Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin put it in a regular press conference on Monday.
“We hope the European side will not be biased by ideological difference, rise above external disruption, uphold strategic autonomy, form its independent and objective perception of China, and adopt a positive and rational China policy,” Wang said.
Beijing previously avoided involvement in conflicts between other countries but appears to be newly interested in asserting itself as a global diplomatic force. China arranged talks between Saudi Arabia and Iran in March that led them to restore diplomatic relations following a seven-year break, and also recently expressed interest in mediating between Israel and Palestine.
China has friendly relations with Moscow as well as economic leverage as the biggest buyer of Russian oil and gas after the United States and its allies cut off most purchases.
Xi’s government sees Moscow as a diplomatic partner in opposing U.S. domination of global affairs. Beijing has refused to criticize the February 2022 invasion, and China refuses to use the word “war” or even “conflict” to refer to the situation, instead preferring the term “crisis.” Beijing has also repeatedly criticized the United States and European countries for “adding fuel to the fire” by providing Ukraine with weapons. China’s talking points on the factors behind the conflict, especially NATO expansion, closely mirror Moscow’s justifications.
China has used its status as one of five permanent United Nations Security Council members to deflect diplomatic attacks on Russia.