Analysts said Xi’s phone call with Zelensky was a diplomatic coup, but China faces hurdles as a peace broker.

He added that “China’s relations with Ukraine and Europe, and more broadly, with the West, should not be hijacked by the Ukrainian crisis.”

According to official readouts of the conversation by the two countries, Xi said China will send special envoy Li Hui to Ukraine and other countries to help mediate peace talks, while Zelensky stressed that Kiev will adhere to the “one-China principle” – a prerequisite for Beijing for foreign countries that administer relations with Taiwan.

In addition, the two leaders agreed to maintain regular dialogue.

Since the call, China has stepped up its charm offensive. On Thursday, Foreign Minister Qin Gang told his counterparts from Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan that Beijing and Central Asia should work closely to push for peace talks between Russia and Ukraine.

“China and Central Asian countries share similar views and positions on the crisis in Ukraine,” Qin said on the sidelines of the foreign ministers’ meeting with the five Central Asian countries.

“We are ready to continue working with all parties, including Central Asian countries, to build consensus and strengthen the international community to form the largest possible agreement to resolve the crisis in Ukraine.”

The former Soviet republics in Central Asia maintained deep economic and security ties with Moscow and, like China, tried to remain neutral in the war, neither supporting nor condemning the Russian invasion.

Wang said Xi’s call with Zelensky was also intended to calm the diplomatic furore in Europe after the Chinese ambassador to France, Lu Shaye, questioned the sovereignty of the former Soviet republics in a television interview earlier this week.

“This is important, especially when China hosts a summit with Central Asia” next month, he said.

Li Minjiang, associate professor at the S Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore, said that although Xi-Zelensky’s invitation was long overdue, it marked a “positive shift” from China’s approach to Ukraine and could also relieve some of the pressure on relations. Chinese. with its neighbors.

The war caused tension in East and Southeast Asia, where there were deep concerns about the growing rivalry between China and the United States and the potential for increased conflict with regard to Taiwan.

Xi may at present be the person most familiar with the Ukraine conflict
Artyom Lukin, Far Eastern Federal University

Beijing rejects any similarities between Ukraine and Taiwan, and maintains that they are two fundamentally different issues.

“But it is unlikely to drastically change the mentalities especially of those in Europe and the United States, where there was a firm belief that although China is outwardly neutral, its policy is intrinsically favorable toward Russia,” Li said.

Hopes for a major improvement in China’s relations with the West remain dim for now, said Zhang Xin, an associate professor of international relations at East China Normal University in Shanghai.

“So far, China’s gesture remains limited, and the proposed mediation efforts are not enough to completely break the West-led isolationism,” Zhang said.

Xi with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow on March 21.  Photo: Sputnik via AP

Xi with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow on March 21. Photo: Sputnik via AP

China has positioned itself as a responsible global power. In March, Xi traveled to Moscow and met with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Earlier this month, he hosted the leaders of France and the European Union in Beijing.

“Xi may currently be the person most informed about the conflict in Ukraine because he has direct contact with the two adversaries, Moscow and Kiev, as well as with the indirect participants in the Ukraine crisis — the United States and European powers,” said Artyom Lukin. Associate Professor at Far Eastern Federal University in Vladivostok, Russia.

Doubts remain about China’s qualifications as a peace broker. In an interview with German broadcaster Deutsche Welle, Lithuanian President Gitanas Nausida said that if Beijing sought this role, the “precondition” would be condemnation of the Russian invasion.

“As long as China hesitates to take a very clear position on this, it is very hard to believe that they could be the trusted mediator in this conflict,” he said.

Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda said any attempt by China to mediate between Russia and Ukraine would first require Beijing to condemn Russia's invasion.  photo: dpa

Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda said any attempt by China to mediate between Russia and Ukraine would first require Beijing to condemn Russia’s invasion. photo: dpa

With no sign of a ceasefire in the near future, the question remains open how far any peace offer from Beijing could go. The day after Xi and Zelensky spoke, Russian forces launched large-scale air strikes on cities across Ukraine, following speculation that Ukraine was preparing a counterattack in early summer.

China has been a peripheral player in the European security architecture, said Saurabh Gupta, a senior fellow at the Institute for Chinese American Studies in Washington.

“As such, its ability to underwrite its peace proposals will necessarily be limited,” he said. “Until such time as one or both sides are keen to cease hostilities, China’s proposals will have no prospect of going off.”

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