Chinese Special Envoy Li Hui is in Europe as a business traveler for peace in Ukraine. Everyone is listening, but no one is buying China’s peace plan out of hand.
Finally, China sent a high-ranking representative to Ukraine. Li Hui met, among others, Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba during his two-day visit to Kiev. Ukraine praises China’s initiative, but Li gets a clear message about where the border is:
Ukraine will not accept any suggestion that they have to cede their lands in order to have peace.
When President Xi Jinping visited his “dear friend” Vladimir Putin in Moscow in March, they discussed the Chinese peace plan. Not unexpectedly, Putin has been more positive, if vague, when discussing Xi’s plan. It could form the basis for an agreement in Ukraine, he said, but only when Kiev and the West are ready.
Indeed, neither Ukraine nor Russia is willing to negotiate a cease-fire, let alone a permanent peace agreement.
In recent days, Russia has carried out some of the largest missile and drone attacks on Kiev since the invasion. Ukraine announces a major spring offensive to regain control of Russian-occupied territories.
Li Hui was the Chinese ambassador to Moscow for ten years. He wrote at the time about how important it was for China to have Russia as a strong country. Before returning home in 2019, he was awarded the Order of Friendship by Putin. During his visit to Ukraine, Li Hui could see with his own eyes how Russia uses military force against the neighboring country.
The reason Ukraine points to China’s initiative as important is that in the future it will need security guarantees from the great powers. No foreign leader has more influence in Moscow than Xi Jinping. China can put pressure on Russia. The Chinese haven’t done that yet. can change. The price of being Putin’s friend can be very high.
Xi’s close partnership with Putin has become a burden on China, compared to all European countries that support Ukraine’s cause. Li Hui is in Europe trying to repair the damage. He will also visit Poland, Germany and France, as well as Russia.
A few days ago, EU foreign ministers met in Stockholm to discuss China’s changing strategy. The relationship with China is complex. The Asian superpower is seen not only as an economic competitor and political rival, but also as a partner in some areas.
Europe has paid a heavy price for its dependence on Russian energy. EU countries agree not to make the same mistake with regard to China. Democracies cannot depend on basic supplies from authoritarian regimes.
At this summer’s EU summit, heads of government will try to agree on a common approach. It caused a stir when French President Emmanuel Macron visited Beijing recently and said that Europe should not blindly follow the United States in its view of China. Macron said Europe should develop its “strategic independence” and do what serves its interests.
China fits perfectly. Beijing wants Europe to break away from its close ties to the United States. But Xi’s friendship with Putin and the ongoing war create problems for China’s diplomacy. Therefore, China is trying to come up with a peace plan.
One of the reasons they are not successful is that China claims that it is not a neutral mediator. China did not condemn the Russian invasion and instead expressed understanding of Putin’s rationale for going to war.
Chinese President Xi Jinping spoke to Putin several times during the war. They assure that they have a partnership without boundaries. It took 14 months after the Russian invasion for Xi to contact Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. Lee’s trip to Kiev is a positive step, but it is far from being seen as a neutral party to the conflict. The parties are not close to a truce.
A cease-fire in the current situation would strengthen Russia’s hold on a fifth of the Ukrainian territory. The result will be a frozen struggle. Then it would only be a matter of time before war broke out again.
Xi launched the 12-point peace plan on the anniversary of the Russian invasion. One of the points states that national sovereignty must be respected. Putin does not. However, Xi did not implement his demand for a Russian military withdrawal from occupied Ukrainian lands.
If China really wants to stop the war in Ukraine, Xi must put pressure on whoever started it. It will be an important contribution to peace.
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