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China as a peacemaker in the Ukraine war? USA and Europe are skeptical


Chinese authorities claim that Xi Jinping's upcoming trip to Moscow is a peace mission. But US and European officials say their goal is to bolster Vladimir V. Putin.

WASHINGTON - As Chinese leader

Xi Jinping

prepares to meet Russian President

Vladimir Putin

in Moscow, Chinese officials have framed his trip as a peace mission, in which he will try to "play a constructive role in promoting talks" between Russia and Ukraine, as a government spokesman said in Beijing.

But US and European authorities are looking at something entirely different:

Russian President Vladimir V. Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping in Beijing last year.

Sputnik, via Reuters

whether Xi will add fuel to the full-scale war that Putin started more than a year ago.

US officials say China is still considering

supplying weapons

- mainly artillery shells - to Russia for use in Ukraine.

And even a call by Xi for a ceasefire would amount to an effort to strengthen Putin's position on the battlefield, they say, leaving Russia in control of more territory than when the invasion began.

A ceasefire now would be "effectively


of the Russian conquest," John Kirby, a White House spokesman, said Friday.

"In effect, it would acknowledge Russia's gains and its attempt to conquer its neighbor's territory by force, allowing Russian troops to continue to occupy sovereign Ukrainian territory."

"It would be a classic part of China's playbook," he added, for Chinese officials to walk out of the meeting stating that "we are the ones calling for an end to the fighting and no one else is."

In an article published in a Russian newspaper on Sunday, Xi wrote that China had pursued "efforts to promote reconciliation and peace negotiations."

Skepticism about one of Xi's stated goals pervades thinking in Washington and some European capitals.

US intelligence agencies have concluded that China-Russia relations have


during the war, even as Russia has cut itself off from many other nations.

Both countries continue to carry out joint military exercises, and Beijing has joined Moscow in regularly denouncing NATO.

China remains one of the biggest buyers of Russian oil, which has helped Moscow

finance its invasion.

Chinese officials have never condemned the invasion.

Instead, they have ambiguously said that all nations must respect each other's sovereignty and territorial integrity.

They have worked with Russian diplomats to block international statements condemning the war, including at

Group of 20

meetings in India in February and March.

Although some Chinese officials view Putin's war as destabilizing, they acknowledge a higher foreign policy priority: the need to shore up Russia so the two nations can present a united front against their perceived adversary, the United States.

Xi made his point clear when he told an annual political meeting in Beijing earlier this month that "the Western countries, led by the United States, have implemented a containment, encirclement and complete suppression of China, which has meant unprecedented serious challenges for the development of our country".

But China remains firmly entrenched in the world economy, and Xi and his aides want to avoid being seen as

malign actors

on the world stage, especially in the eyes of Europe, one of their main trading partners.

Some analysts say Xi has adopted the

guise of a peacemaker,

claiming he is on a mission to end the war to provide cover for efforts to strengthen his partnership with Putin, whom the International Criminal Court


on Friday for crimes of war on an arrest warrant.

Xi and Putin have a close personal affinity and have met

39 times

since Xi became China's leader in 2012.

Putin called Xi a "dear old friend" in an article published in a Chinese newspaper on Sunday, saying the two enjoyed the "warmest relationship."

China's release last month of a 12-point statement of general principles on the war was an attempt to create a

smokescreen of neutrality

during Xi's trip planning, according to some analysts.

"I think China is trying to cloud the picture, to say that we are not there to support Russia, but to support peace," said Yun Sun, a Chinese foreign policy scholar at the Stimson Center in Washington.

"There is an intrinsic need for China to maintain or protect the health of its relationship with Russia," he said, adding that a senior Chinese official had told him that geopolitics and US intransigence were driving Beijing's approach to the relationship - not love Russia.

Sun claimed that China's recent mediation of a first diplomatic rapprochement between Saudi Arabia and Iran had promoted the idea that China was a peacemaker.

But that situation was totally different from that of the

Ukrainian war:

The two Middle Eastern nations had already been in talks for years to try to resume formal diplomacy, and China stepped on the scene as both sides were seeking a deal.

China is not a close partner of either country and has a very specific economic interest in preventing both from escalating their hostilities: it buys vast amounts of oil from both.

When Putin visited Xi in Beijing just before the start of the Ukraine war in February 2022, their governments proclaimed an "unlimited" partnership in a 5,000-word statement.

The two men met again in September at a security conference in Samarkand, Uzbekistan.

Xi has not spoken with Volodymyr Zelensky, Ukraine's president, since the war began, let alone asked for his views on the peace talks.

Zelensky has said that he will only enter into peace talks if Putin withdraws his troops from Ukrainian soil.

That includes the

Crimean peninsula,

which the Russian army seized in 2014, and the Donbas region, where earlier that year Russian troops stoked a pro-Russian separatist insurgency.

Zelensky has said he would like the opportunity to speak with Xi, and some Ukrainian officials hold out hope that China will eventually influence Russia to get Putin to withdraw his troops.

But China has not indicated that it will do anything in that regard.

On Thursday,

Qin Gang

, China's foreign minister, spoke by phone with

Ukraine's foreign minister

Dmytro Kuleba

, stressing that the warring parties should "resume peace talks" and "return to the path of political agreement." ", according to a Chinese summary of the conversation.

In an interview with the BBC before Xi's visit was announced, Kuleba said he believed China was unwilling to either arm Russia or achieve peace.

"The visit to Moscow is in itself

a message,

but I don't think it has immediate consequences," he said.

Washington analysts agree.

"I don't think China can serve as a fulcrum for any peace process in Ukraine," said Ryan Hass, a former US diplomat to China and White House official who works at the Brookings Institution.

Hass added that China would have a role as part of a signatory or guarantor group of any eventual peace agreement and would be essential for the reconstruction of Ukraine.

"I think Zelenskyy understands that, and that is why he has been willing to be so patient with China and with Xi personally," he said.

European officials have had mixed attitudes toward China, with some prioritizing preserving trade ties with Beijing.

But China's alignment with Russia throughout the war has aroused growing suspicion and hostility in many corners of Europe.

On Friday, some officials reacted cautiously to the announcement of Xi's trip to Moscow:

they considered it a further sign of China's friendship, if not alliance, with Russia, as well as an effort by China to present itself as a mediator in the war.

Wang Yi, China's top foreign policy official, stressed the need for peace talks at the Munich Security Conference late last month, before calling on Moscow.

He used language that seemed aimed at


European nations from the United States.

"We need to reflect calmly, especially our European friends, on the efforts that need to be made to end the war; what framework should be in place to bring lasting peace to Europe; what role should Europe play in manifesting its strategic autonomy," said.

He suggested that Washington wanted the war to continue in order to further weaken Russia.

"Some forces may not want peace talks to materialize," he said.

"They don't care about the life or death of Ukrainians or the damage to Europe. They may have greater strategic goals than Ukraine itself. This war must not continue."

But China's 12-point statement did not sit well in Europe.

And many European officials, like their Ukrainian and American counterparts, are convinced that early talks on a peace deal will come

at the expense

of Ukrainian sovereignty.

Ursula von der Leyen

, President of the European Commission, said that China's stance was

anything but neutral.

"This is not about a peace plan, but about shared principles," he said of China's statement.

"You have to see them against a specific backdrop. And that backdrop is that China has taken sides, for example signing an unlimited friendship just before the Russian invasion of Ukraine began."

China's usual denunciations against NATO make the hairs of European officials stand on end.

In its position paper, China asserts that "the security of a region should not be achieved by strengthening or expanding military blocs," a statement that supports Putin's claim that he had to invade Ukraine due to threats that included expansion. from NATO.

According to Nabila Massrali, spokesperson for the European Union's Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, the Chinese position "is based on a mistaken approach to the so-called 'legitimate security interests and concerns' of the parties, which implies a justification of


invasion illegal from Russia and blurs the roles of the aggressor and the victim".

Jens Stoltenberg, NATO Secretary General, put it more simply:

"China does not have much credibility," especially since "it has not been able to condemn the illegal invasion of Ukraine."

look also

Chinese President Xi Jinping arrived in Russia on his first visit to Moscow since the start of the War in Ukraine

Russia-Ukraine War, LIVE: After showing himself in invaded areas, Vladimir Putin wrote in the Chinese official daily about "a diplomatic solution"

Source: clarin

All news articles on 2023-03-20

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