On Wednesday Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenksy spoke on the phone to China’s Xi Jinping for the first time, exactly 61 weeks after the Russian invasion of Ukraine commenced.
Zelensky later commented that the phone call was “long and meaningful”, whereas Xi reportedly stressed China’s preferences for peace and a diplomatic conclusion to the ongoing conflict between Kyiv and Moscow.
Beijing has been at pains to appear neutral on the war, although this purported neutrality is frequently questioned due to the close ties between Moscow and Beijing. Many defense analysts have assessed that China is watching the war unfold in Ukraine with great interest, given the possibility of a Chinese invasion of Taiwan.
Volodymyr Zelensky and Xi Jinping phone call
“With rational thinking and voices now on the rise,” Xi said, “it is important to seize the opportunity and build up favorable conditions for the political settlement of the crisis.”
Xi also touted China’s ability to act as an arbiter for peace, adding “China will continue to facilitate talks for peace and make its efforts for early ceasefire and restoration of peace.”
Xi added that China would be sending an ambassador to Ukraine “to have in-depth communication with all parties on the political settlement of the Ukraine crisis.”
For his part, Zelensky was fairly coy when commenting on the conversation but did speak positively of the conversation with Xi.
“This call, as well as the [upcoming] appointment of Ukraine’s ambassador to China, will give a powerful impetus to the development of our bilateral relations,” The Ukrainian president said.
President Xi 🇨🇳 and President Zelensky 🇺🇦 talked over phone. President Xi said respect for sovereignty & territorial integrity is the political foundation for 🇨🇳🇺🇦relations; China stands for peace; Dialogue is the only way out for #Ukraine crisis, and no one wins a nuclear war.
— 王鲁彤 Wang Lutong (@WangLutongMFA) April 26, 2023
It remains to be seen whether the conversation between Volodymyr Zelensky and Xi Jinping will amount to much more than diplomatic niceties at this stage.
During the phone call, Xi was reportedly keen to stress China’s “respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity.” Moreover, he emphasized that “the political foundation for China-Ukraine relations” rested upon this respect for sovereignty.
However, Xi made no mention of the Crimean Peninsula, which Russia has occupied since 2014. Kyiv is keen to take back Crimea, which is still recognized as Ukrainian territory under international law, but the loss of this strategically valuable peninsula would also be a red line for Xi’s ally, Russian President Vladimir Putin.
During the conversation, Xi did tout China’s ability to play a role as a facilitator for peace, perhaps acting as a mediator in negotiations between Ukraine and Russia. However, Kyiv may wish to read carefully if such a scenario were to play out, given Beijing and Moscow’s links. In any case, neither Moscow nor Kyiv seems inclined to come to the negotiating table in the foreseeable future.
READ: China’s statement on the call between Chinese President Xi Jinping and his Ukrainian counterpart Volodymyr Zelenskyy pic.twitter.com/dbBBH6cjhm
— Olivia Siong (@OliviaSiongCNA) April 26, 2023