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Credit: CNN By Simone McCarthy, and
CNN’s Radina Gigova in London and Svitlana Vlasova in Kyiv contributed reporting.
Hong Kong, CNN.
As Ukraine scrambles to keep international support with Russia’s invasion grinding into a third year, its leader has made clear one country he would like to see join his push for peace: China.
Ratcheting up pressure on Beijing – Moscow’s most powerful political ally – appeared as a key talking point for Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and other officials this week during a gathering of the global elite in Switzerland’s Davos.
There, Zelensky told reporters he would “very much like China to be involved” in Ukraine’s peace plan. His foreign minister said the country wanted more contact with China at “all levels,” Interfax-Ukraine reported, while Zelensky’s chief of staff left the door open that the wartime leader could even meet China’s top delegate on the gathering’s sidelines.
But Chinese Premier Li Qiang appeared to depart the World Economic Forum earlier this week without meeting Zelensky – and didn’t directly address the conflict in a roughly 25-minute speech that focused heavily on reassuring his audience about China’s faltering economy.
Even as Chinese officials last year ramped up efforts to present the country as a potential peace broker in the war, analysts say it’s unlikely Beijing sees now as the time to leverage its deep and growing Russia ties to ramp up a push for its end – especially on Ukraine’s terms.
“China thinks it is already playing an important role in moving toward peace. It’s just the Chinese version of peace is not what Zelensky wants to see,” said Yun Sun, director of the China program at the Washington-based Stimson Center think tank.
Last year, after Chinese leader Xi Jinping spoke to Zelensky for the first time some 14 months after the war began, Beijing dispatched an envoy to both Kyiv and Moscow. It has also released its own proposal for peace, which unlike Ukraine’s demands, calls for a ceasefire without the prior withdrawal of Russian troops illegally occupying Ukrainian territory.
Now, the latest events at Davos spotlight China’s wait-and-see approach when it comes to any further push to bring the war to a close, analysts say, as fighting remains locked in stalemate with neither side giving signs of backing down – and another major conflict, in the Middle East, draws global attention.
“China previously might have wanted to mediate because it didn’t want Russia to lose too badly. But now there is less worry on that front … China has more incentive to observe how battlefield development will evolve, which will form the foundation for any (peace) negotiation,” according to Sun.
“Now that the US is distracted by Gaza and the resources available to Ukraine are more limited, things have shifted in Russia’s favor. There is even less reason for China to ‘advance a fair peace as advocated by the West and Ukraine,’” she said.
In Cairo as part of the foreign minister’s customary first trip of the year to Africa, Wang issued a joint statement with the Arab League calling for an “immediate and comprehensive ceasefire” in Gaza to end more than three months of war – echoing Beijing’s stance on the conflict since its early days.
Wang also said China called for convening a “larger-scale, more authoritative and more effective international peace conference,” and a specific timetable for implementing a two-state solution for Israel and Palestine.
Though it is unclear how much sway China has in the region to play a strong role backing such an effort, an independent state of Palestine alongside the state of Israel, is consistent with Beijing’s long-standing foreign policy; it was one of the first countries to recognize Palestine as a sovereign state in the late 1980s and has long advocated for a two-state solution.
However, analysts say, the conflict also presents an opportunity for Xi as he maneuvers to position China as an alternative international leader to the United States, in particular for the Global South – and fan perceptions that American policies have disrupted global stability.
“So much (global) frustration and anger has shifted to the conflict in Gaza … and that’s where China scores points for trying to position itself as a diplomatic force for good,” said Alex Gabeuv, director of the Carnegie Russia Eurasia Center in Berlin.
“When it comes to the Gaza war, the bulk of Global South countries are strongly, strongly opposed to what Israel is doing … that’s a conflict where portraying yourself as an agent for peace and a negotiated solution yields you much more sympathy (in the Global South) … unlike the Ukrainian war, where most of the countries are sitting on the fence and it’s only the West that’s so united,” he said.
Peace summit.
Whether Beijing has an interest in joining a growing number of countries – including those from the Global South – willing to sit down at the table with Ukraine and hear its peace conditions will be tested at an upcoming peace summit, announced Monday.
The meeting, which Switzerland said it would host on an undisclosed date at Zelensky’s request, is expected to draw world leaders to discuss how to end the conflict as it nears entering its third year. Zelensky portrayed it as an event “where all countries that respect Ukraine’s territorial integrity are welcome to attend.”
When asked whether an invitation had been extended to Beijing, China’s Foreign Ministry earlier this week sidestepped a direct reply, saying China’s position “is centered on promoting talks for peace” and supported “any efforts for peace.”
Analysts say it’s unlikely that will translate into high-level attendance at talks where Ukraine’s views, but not Russia’s, would be the starting point.
Russia has not been represented in any of the four closed-door international peace talks that have taken place so far, though its participation would be needed for a peace agreement. Of those three, China only attended one hosted by its increasingly close strategic partner, Saudi Arabia.
Beijing views Moscow as a key partner in counterbalancing what it sees as a hostile West, and the two countries have continued to bolster security, diplomatic and economic ties since Russia launched its full-scale invasion.
“As long as Russia doesn’t accept it, whatever happens at the peace conference is irrelevant. China will not support conditions that Russia opposes,” said Sun in Washington. “Any attempt to draw China into such a setting will fail because China also understands the optics of it joining such a session.”
For now, that may see China sit on the sidelines, until it feels there’s a moment for compromise between Kyiv and Moscow – an opening within which it may seek to ramp up its role.
But when it comes to how Beijing may maneuver toward brokering peace in Gaza, China likely doesn’t see itself as yet having captured the opportunity “to present itself as a conflict mediator,” according to Sun. “Therefore, more is on the way.”

Amawu Cletus Albert Amawu

I'm a Journalist, Host/Producer of The Verdict, your voice of conscience on FAD FM 93.1, Calabar, Public Affairs Commentator, Social Change Agent.

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