Zelenskyy Calls Out China in Russia’s War on Ukraine

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Zelenskyy Calls Out China in Russia’s War on Ukraine

Insights from Yurii Poita.

Zelenskyy Calls Out China in Russia’s War on Ukraine

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy at a press conference during the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore, June 2, 2024.

Credit: President of Ukraine

The Diplomat author Mercy Kuo regularly engages subject-matter experts, policy practitioners, and strategic thinkers across the globe for their diverse insights into U.S. Asia policy. This conversation with Yurii Poita European China Policy Fellow at Mercator Institute for Chinese Studies (MERICS) in Berlin and head of the Asia-Pacific Section at Center for Army, Conversion and Disarmament Studies (CACDS) in Kyiv, Ukraine is the 419th in “The Trans-Pacific View Insight Series.”  

Analyze Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s recent comments in Singapore regarding China’s role in disrupting the upcoming Ukraine peace summit in Switzerland.  

President Zelenskyy clearly stated what is really happening on the ground: China not only does not play the constructive role that both Ukraine and many countries of the world expected from it, but it plays a dangerous destructive role, hiding behind declarative peace rhetoric.

For two years, Kyiv spoke to China with great care and respect and made tremendous efforts to explain to Beijing the true causes of the war and its consequences. However, China almost completely closed the channels of communication with Kyiv, and only worsened its position regarding the war.

Currently, up to 80 percent of components in Russian lethal weapons, up to 70 percent of parts in drones, and up to 60 percent of machine tools in Russian defense factories come from China. And their number and nomenclature compared to 2022 has increased ten times, and continues to grow. And China deliberately promotes their export to Russia.

In addition, on international platforms and in bilateral negotiations, as well as covertly with the help of Track 2 diplomacy, China is constantly trying to undermine European support for Ukraine, which, if successful, would lead to the military defeat of Ukraine and the destruction of the Ukrainian nation.

Last but not least, before the summit in Singapore, the Ukrainian side clearly noted China’s purposeful actions to disrupt the peace summit in Switzerland, as Beijing urged other countries not to attend the summit. 

Therefore, Zelenskyy openly declared the real actions of China in order to counter them more effectively.

Examine Zelenskyy’s agenda in spotlighting China-Russia cooperation in prolonging the Ukraine war.

China has become Russia’s first economic partner, annually increasing trade with it by 30 percent, providing colossal technological support, including to Russian defense enterprises, and supporting Russia on international platforms. 

This ensures the functioning of the Russian economy and the Russian military machine. Without China, Russia would not be able to receive revenues in the budget and produce weapons. In fact, China has become a strategic rear for Russia, which, given China’s economic and production capabilities, can support and significantly strengthen Russia’s military potential.

Ukraine currently understands the threats that come from China-Russia cooperation, but other countries must also understand that Russia’s military actions in the European theater directly affect the security of the Indo-Pacific region. 

Therefore, the actual Russian-Chinese alliance should be taken seriously and countermeasures should be taken.

Identify the target audiences of Zelenskyy’s strategic messaging.  

Since the Shangri-La Dialogue is an international platform, although mostly focused on Indo-Pacific security, Zelenskyy’s target audience was the political leadership of both the countries of the world and the countries of the region.

Kyiv has made enormous efforts to organize a peace summit, and any support from the Asia-Pacific countries aimed at ending the war – including military-technical, economic, humanitarian, diplomatic and political support – will be extremely appreciated by Ukraine and will bring peace closer. This is exactly what Zelenskyy called for.

As for China, the problem is that many countries of the world consider China a neutral country, because they are not aware of the scope and threats of the Russian-Chinese partnership for security both in Europe and in the Indo-Pacific region. Therefore, it was important for Zelenskyy to explain to world leaders China’s real contribution to the Russian-Ukrainian war, to force them to look at Beijing’s actions from the point of view of threats. Perhaps that is why Zelenskyy noted that China, among other things, actually supports Russia shoulder to shoulder in order for Russia to be able to wage war and disrupt the peace summit in Switzerland.

What is the diplomatic impact of President Zelenskyy’s decision to address Indo-Pacific security stakeholders in person?

At the moment, the diplomatic impact of Zelenskyy’s speech is not realized yet. At the same time his personal speech at the Indo-Pacific platform would have a greater influence on the leaders of the region regarding explaining how Ukraine seeks to end the war.

Second, it should be expected that the countries of the world will get a more complete picture of the fact that China, supporting the aggressor, is actually on Russia’s side and to some extent is the aggressor itself, as it was mentioned by Zelenskyy. This could lead to a clearer awareness of the threats posed by China by countries around the world, and to building their policy that would reduce these threats. In particular, European countries could strengthen their sanctions regime and diplomatic pressure against China for its supply of components for the production of Russian weapons, and for attempts to disrupt Ukraine’s peace initiatives.

The third consequence is that Ukraine will gradually strengthen its partnership with the countries of the Indo-Pacific, primarily with Japan, South Korea, and the Philippines. This will contribute to the strengthening of security in the region, as Ukraine can share experience and provide them with the necessary support in the future.

Assess how the U.S. and Indo-Pacific countries should interpret President Zelenskyy’s calling out China’s support of Russia in the Ukraine war.

First of all, this indicates that Ukraine has understood the true role of China, which, contrary to Beijing’s peaceful rhetoric, is aimed at continuing the war by directly supporting Russia’s military potential. China’s current position does not comply with international law and moral principles, as China does not insist on the need to restore the territorial integrity of Ukraine; does not speak about the need to bring Russia’s war criminals to justice; and continues to feed the Russian war machine.

Second, Ukraine demonstrated its agency and readiness to speak directly about issues that concern it, and to call things by their names. Ukraine is ready for a constructive dialogue with Beijing, but will not be intimidated and blackmailed by China.

Third, the international society should understand that China’s support for Russia is very dangerous, because many indicators show that Russia is preparing its military potential for a possible attack on European countries. In such a case, this would be the best international moment for China to attack Taiwan, since a significant part of the military, industrial, and economic resources of the U.S. and Europe would be concentrated on countering the Russian threat, which would greatly reduce their ability to provide assistance to Taiwan. Therefore, if the U.S. and the countries of the Indo-Pacific region want to deter China from attacking Taiwan, they must eliminate the Russian threat in the European theater.

For this, Ukraine must receive the necessary political, economic, and military support.