President Xi Jinping is heading to Russia on Monday in hopes of making a breakthrough in Ukraine as China tries to position itself as a peacemaker.
Just reappointed to a third term in power, Xi is pushing for a greater role for China on the global stage, and was instrumental in brokering a surprise rapprochement between Middle Eastern rivals Iran and Saudi Arabia this month.
Rumors that he will soon have his first talks with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky since the outbreak of war have raised hopes in Western capitals that Xi will lean on his “old friend” Putin to stop his bloody invasion during the three-day state visit .
Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin announced the trip on Friday, saying China would “play a constructive role in advancing peace talks.”
“Stopping the war is everyone’s wish, given that Europe has so much to lose and the United States may not be able to support Ukraine as long as they feel they can,” said Wang Yiwei, director of the Institute of International Affairs in Beijing. Renmin University of China.
“China can express its views on both sides – it can say that it is a trusted friend of both Ukraine and Russia. I think this is very important.”
Beijing, a key Russian ally, has long tried to portray itself as a neutral party to the conflict.
But it has refused to condemn the Russian invasion and has sharply criticized Washington’s support for Kiev, leading Western leaders to accuse Beijing of diplomatically covering for Russia to bludgeon its European neighbour.
“Beijing has so far done remarkably little to encourage peace in Ukraine, as any credible effort would have required pressuring Russia or at least calling Russia out directly,” said Elizabeth Wishnick, a professor and expert on Chinese foreign policy at Montclair State University in the United States. .
Xi’s trip — which follows after the International Criminal Court announced an arrest warrant for Putin on Friday over war crimes charges — aims to “show all the support he can offer to his strategic partner, apart from help that would result in sanctions,” she said . told AFP.
– Lots of talk, little substance –
In an effort to play the peacemaker, China last month published a 12-point position on the war in Ukraine, calling for dialogue and respect for the territorial sovereignty of all countries.
Beijing has also touted its Global Security Initiative (GSI), a signature Xi policy that aims to “promote sustainable peace and development”.
Both documents have sparked anger in the West for dwelling on broad principles rather than practical solutions to the crisis.
China’s recent diplomacy around the war appeared to be “an effort to highlight the GSI” and “create momentum for its foreign policy and renewed engagement with the world,” said Ja Ian Chong, an associate professor at the National University of Singapore.
“Whether (China) actually steps up its efforts to play peacemaker in a meaningful way will depend on the content of what it proposes in meetings with leaders from Ukraine and Russia,” said Chong, who specializes in Beijing’s international relations.
“Their previous peace plan was more about general principles than actionable proposals.”
– ‘Not impartial’ –
Beijing’s efforts to show itself as an international mediator took center stage this month as it oversaw a deal that restored diplomatic ties between Saudi Arabia and Iran.
It later transpired that Xi himself offered China to serve as a “bridge” between the rivals, challenging Washington’s long-standing role as the primary external power broker in the Middle East.
“Mediating the (Saudi-Iran) deal fits the Chinese government’s narrative of being a positive global player promoting peace and cooperation, which contrasts with Washington’s perceived destabilizing actions,” said assistant professor Audrye. Wong of the University of Southern California.
But quieting the gunfire in Ukraine would be “slightly more difficult” than the Saudi-Iran deal, Wang of Renmin University said, citing China’s “limited” influence over Moscow and the US’s support for Kiev.
Beijing, he suggested, could help usher in “a truce similar to that formed from the Korean War” that halts fighting but raises questions of territorial sovereignty further down the road.
But Wishnick, from Montclair state, said Ukraine is “unlikely to accept China as a mediator as it is not considered neutral or impartial”.
“Xi may be eager for diplomatic successes, but I just don’t see one on the horizon in Ukraine,” she said.
“Neither side is willing to give up hope of gaining territory on the battlefield.”
(This story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)