Why China is trying to mediate in Russia’s war with Ukraine
Beijing has previously avoided involvement in conflicts between other countries but appears to be trying to assert itself as a global diplomatic force after arranging talks between Saudi Arabia and Iran in March that led them to restore diplomatic relations after a seven-year break.
Xi told Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in a phone call that a Chinese envoy, a former Chinese ambassador to Russia, would visit Ukraine and “other countries” to discuss a possible political settlement, according to a government statement.
It made no mention of Russia or last year’s invasion of Ukraine and didn’t indicate whether the Chinese envoy might visit Moscow.
The Xi-Zelenskyy phone call was long anticipated after Beijing said it wanted to serve as a mediator in the war.
WHY DOES THIS MATTER?
China is the only major government that 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.
Beijing, which sees Moscow as a diplomatic partner in opposing U.S. domination of global affairs, has refused to criticize the invasion and used its status as one of five permanent U.N. Security Council members to deflect diplomatic attacks on Russia.
Zelenskyy earlier said he welcomed a Chinese offer to mediate.
WHY DID CHINA DO THIS?
Xi’s government has pursued a bigger role in global diplomacy as part of a campaign to restore China to what the ruling Communist Party sees as its rightful status as a political and economic leader and to build an international order that favors Beijing’s interests.
That is a sharp reversal after decades of avoiding involvement in other countries’ conflicts and most international affairs while it focused on economic development at home.
In March, Saudi Arabia and Iran issued a surprise announcement, following talks in Beijing, that they would reopen embassies in each other’s capitals following a seven-year break. China has good relations with both as a big oil buyer.
Last week, Foreign Minister Qin Gang told his Israeli and Palestinian counterparts that his country is ready to help facilitate peace talks.
Wednesday’s statement warned against the dangers of nuclear war, suggesting Beijing might also have been motivated by what it sees as the growing danger of a more destructive conflict.
Mediating between Ukraine and Russia would increase China’s presence in Eastern Europe, where Beijing has tried to build ties with other governments. That has prompted complaints by some European officials that China is trying to gain leverage over the European Union.
Political science professor Kimberly Marten of Barnard College at Columbia University in New York doubted China would succeed in a peacemaker role.
“I have a hard time believing that China can act as peacemaker,” she said, adding that Beijing has been “too close to Russia.”
WHAT ARE CHINA’S RELATIONS WITH RUSSIA?
China is the closest thing President Vladimir Putin’s isolated government has to a major ally. (AP)