BEIJING: President Xi Jinping heads to Russia on Monday (Mar 20) hoping to deliver a breakthrough on Ukraine as China seeks to position itself as a peacemaker.
Freshly reappointed for a third term in power, Xi is pushing a greater role for China on the global stage, and was crucial in mediating a surprise rapprochement between Middle Eastern rivals Iran and Saudi Arabia this month.
Rumours that he may soon hold his first call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy since the outbreak of war have raised hopes in Western capitals that Xi may lean on his “old friend” Putin to stop his bloody invasion during the three-day state visit.
Announcing the trip Friday, foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said China would “play a constructive role in promoting peace talks”.
“Stopping the war is everyone’s wish, given Europe stands to lose such a lot and the United States may not be able to support Ukraine for as long as it thinks it can,” said Wang Yiwei, director of the Institute of International Affairs at Beijing’s Renmin University of China.
“China can put forth its views on both sides – it can say it is a trusted friend of both Ukraine and Russia. I think this is very significant.”
Beijing, a major Russian ally, has long sought to depict itself as a neutral party to the conflict.
But it has refused to condemn Russia’s invasion and has sharply criticised Washington’s support for Kyiv – leading Western leaders to accuse Beijing of providing diplomatic cover for Russia to bludgeon its European neighbour.
“Beijing has done remarkably little so far to encourage peace in Ukraine, since any credible effort would require pressuring Russia or at least calling Russia out directly,” said Elizabeth Wishnick, a professor and Chinese foreign policy expert at Montclair State University in the United States.
Xi’s trip – which comes after the International Criminal Court on Friday announced an arrest warrant for Putin on war crimes accusations – aims “to show whatever support for his strategic partner he can provide, short of aid that would result in sanctions”, she told AFP.