Xi’s first call to Ukraine will not bring peace

May 04, 2023 06:00
Chinese President Xi Jinping (Photo: Reuters)

The first call by President Xi Jinping to his Ukrainian counterpart since the start of the Russian invasion has been welcomed by all sides as an important diplomatic step forward. But it will not bring peace as the warring countries are so far apart.

In March, Xi went to Moscow to visit his good friend, Vladimir Putin. Putin is wanted by the International Criminal Court and considered a second Adolf Hitler by the governments and peoples of Europe and North America. It was Xi’s 40th meeting with President Putin.

Last Wednesday Xi called Volodymyr Zelensky for the first time since the invasion; the two men spoke for an hour. Xi said that “talks and negotiations were the only way out of the war. China is willing to work with Ukraine to push for mutually beneficial co-operation.”

Zelensky called the talks “long and meaningful” and “would give a powerful impetus to the development of our bilateral relations.” But Xi did not mention the invasion nor name Russia at all.

The Ukrainian side is delighted because China is the only ally of Russia with the capacity to influence the war -- if it decided to supply weapons and equipment on a large scale. Beijing has repeatedly said that it has not given weapons to Russia. The call means that Beijing has entered the diplomatic negotiations and will not supply weapons.

Ukraine is also delighted because Xi is the only world leader who has the ear of Putin and might be able to influence him. Since the war began, European leaders have had lengthy conversations with Putin – but wasted their time. They did not influence him at all.

Xi’s welcome initiative will not, however, bring the war to an end. That is because the positions of Kyiv and Moscow are diametrically opposed. Kyiv demands that Russia withdraw from all the territory of Ukraine it occupies, including Crimea, before talks can begin. Moscow is willing to negotiate because it wants to retain the territory it now occupies – 20 per cent of Ukraine’s national territory.

Second, Kyiv is preparing its largest counter-offensive of the war, using all the advanced weaponry given by the West and tens of thousands of soldiers trained to use it. Most analysts expect the offensive to aim for the Sea of Azov and cut off Moscow’s land route to Crimea. It will begin as soon as weather and land conditions allow.

Lithuania was occupied by the Soviet military from 1945 to 1990. Its president, Gitanas Nauseda, told German television that he welcomed Xi’s telephone call to Zelensky. “But he did not condemn the Russian invasion nor reaffirmed the territorial integrity of Ukraine,” Nauseda said.

Another dark cloud over the call was an interview given by Lu Shaye, China’s ambassador to France, on April 21 to a French television station. He refused to say that Crimea belongs to Ukraine – as it does according to international law. He also questioned the right to exist of countries that were formerly part of the Soviet Union.

“Even these ex-Soviet countries don’t have an effective status in international law because there was no international agreement to materialize their status as sovereign countries,” he said.

His comments provoked an uproar in Europe. The next day the Foreign Ministry in Beijing said that China fully recognised these countries. But it did not criticise Lu by name nor recall him from Paris.

Wu Guoguang, professor of Political Science and History at the University of Victoria in Canada, told Voice of America in an interview that Lu, a wolf warrior, was a leading diplomat and not speaking out of turn. “For his outspoken remarks, he has never received any punishment from the Chinese government. It is the opposite. Over more than 10 years, he has been promoted from deputy bureau chief to deputy minister.

“In the past, he worked closely at the side of Xi Jinping as a diplomat and can be considered one of those who best understands the intentions of the leadership,” he said.

A European diplomat in Hong Kong said that Lu’s word were music to the ears of Vladimir Putin. “Putin asked Xi for military and financial support but is not receiving it. So this interview was a small gift to him.”

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A Hong Kong-based writer, teacher and speaker.