Ukraine War and China’s State Visit to Russia
Next week, China’s top leader, Xi Jinping, will travel to Russia to meet with President Vladimir V. Putin, a trip that could have far-reaching effects on Moscow’s war in Ukraine and the strained relationship between Beijing and Washington.
Mr. Xi is expected to visit Russia from Monday to Wednesday, according to statements from the Chinese Foreign Ministry and the Kremlin. It will be his first trip to Russia since Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine began more than a year ago.
The United States and European leaders who are frustrated with China’s diplomatic and economic support for Russia will closely monitor Mr. Xi’s trip. Although the two countries have not declared a formal alliance, Beijing maintains close strategic ties with Moscow as a nuclear-armed power that seeks to undermine the geopolitical hegemony of the United States. Mr. Putin visited Beijing just three weeks before Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, where the two leaders declared an “unrestricted” friendship.
In recent weeks, the Biden administration has warned that China is contemplating escalating its support for Russia by supplying it with weapons to use in Ukraine, an accusation Beijing has denied.
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According to the Kremlin’s spokesman, Dmitry S. Peskov, Mr. Xi and Mr. Putin will meet on Monday afternoon for a one-on-one conversation and lunch, and they will also hold a news conference.
Wang Wenbin, a spokesman for the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, stated that Mr. Xi would use the visit to increase “mutual trust and understanding” between the two countries, which had “established a new paradigm for international relations,” according to Mr. Wenbin.
Moreover, China will seek to serve as a mediator between Russia and Ukraine, he said.
“This time, President Xi Jinping’s visit to Russia is also for peace,” Mr. Wang said when asked if Mr. Xi would attempt to convince Mr. Putin to seek a political settlement with Ukraine. China’s proposal can be summed up in a single sentence: to encourage peace and dialogue.
Furthermore, he impliedly criticized the Western nations’ harsh approach to punishing Russia, stating that “unilateral sanctions” and “extreme pressure” would only exacerbate the crisis.
According to the Kremlin, Mr. Putin and Mr. Xi’s discussions will focus on the “comprehensive partnership and strategic cooperation” between the two countries.
China has portrayed itself as a rare neutral party in a position to negotiate a political settlement between Russia and Ukraine. Recently, the country issued a position paper calling for an end to the war, but Western leaders criticized the document for lacking concrete plans and avoiding demands that could harm China’s close ties with Russia.
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Mr. Xi has endeavored to enhance his reputation as a global statesman, most notably by announcing last week that Beijing had brokered an unexpected agreement to restore diplomatic relations between Saudi Arabia and Iran. This agreement was reached after extensive negotiations in which both parties expressed a desire to mend ties.
It would be much more difficult to mediate the conflict in Ukraine, as neither Ukraine nor Russia appears willing to negotiate an end to the fighting.
It is unknown if Mr. Xi will also meet or speak separately with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.
On Thursday, the foreign ministers of Ukraine and China had a rare official phone conversation. Ukraine’s foreign minister, Dmytro Kuleba, stated that the two discussed “the principle of territorial integrity.” China’s foreign minister, Qin Gang, reportedly informed his Ukrainian counterpart that Beijing would “continue to play a constructive role in ending the conflict, mitigating the crisis, and restoring peace.”
China is concerned that the conflict is dragging on and could “spiral out of control,” according to Mr. Qin. According to the ministry, he urged both sides to “exercise restraint” and “resume peace talks as soon as possible” while describing the situation in Ukraine as a “crisis” rather than a “war.”
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Mr. Wang, the Foreign Ministry spokesman, did not directly respond when asked if the foreign ministers had discussed the possibility of contact between Mr. Xi and Mr. Zelensky, instead stating that China “maintains communication with all parties.”
Jake Sullivan, the national security adviser for the White House, stated on Monday that the United States had urged Mr. Xi to speak with Mr. Zelensky in part to discourage China from supplying Russia with arms.
Mr. Sullivan said, using an abbreviation for the People’s Republic of China, “It could potentially bring more balance and perspective to how the P.R.C. is approaching this.” And we hope it will continue to deter them from providing Russia with lethal assistance.
Mr. Wang stated that in addition to discussing the war in Ukraine, Mr. Xi and Mr. Putin will also discuss how to continue strengthening their countries’ cooperation. Mr. Wang stated that Russia and China were interested in “a new type of major power relations” when asked if they would seek a formal alliance.
“This is in stark contrast to the behavior of some countries, which adhere to a cold war mentality, band together, engage in small circle’ and factional confrontations, and bully everywhere,” he said.
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