Xi holds first call with Zelensky since Russian invasion

With rational thinking and voices now on the rise, it is important to seize the opportunity and build up favourable conditions for the political settlement of the crisis, China’s leader told Zelensky; readout has no reference to Russia

April 26, 2023 05:34 pm | Updated April 27, 2023 08:01 am IST

Ahead of a news conference at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs office in Beijing on April 26, 2023, a reporter watches the CCTV evening news reporting Chinese President Xi Jinping having a phone conversation with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

Ahead of a news conference at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs office in Beijing on April 26, 2023, a reporter watches the CCTV evening news reporting Chinese President Xi Jinping having a phone conversation with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. | Photo Credit: AP

China’s President Xi Jinping and Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky on Wednesday spoke for the first time since the Russian invasion of Ukraine, with the Chinese leader calling for “seizing the opportunity” for a political settlement.

Mr. Xi once again referred to the peace proposal put forward by China in February, on the one year-anniversary of the invasion. He also announced that China “will send the Special Representative of the Chinese Government on Eurasian Affairs to Ukraine and other countries to have in-depth communication with all parties on the political settlement of the Ukraine crisis.”

In Beijing’s readout of Mr. Xi’s remarks, there was no mention of Russia. Indeed, Beijing’s proximity to Moscow – and recent declarations by both sides of relations being at “the best period in history” – has dampened any Western expectations of Beijing fulfilling a role as a credible mediator.

Chinese officials and experts have, however, talked up Beijing’s ability to broker a political settlement, particularly in the wake of China’s role in the landmark Saudi-Iran deal.

Also Read | China vows not to sell arms to any party in Ukraine war

“With rational thinking and voices now on the rise, it is important to seize the opportunity and build up favourable conditions for the political settlement of the crisis,” Mr. Xi told Mr. Zelensky, calling on “all parties…to seriously reflect on the Ukraine crisis and jointly explore ways to bring lasting peace and security to Europe through dialogue.” “China will continue to facilitate talks for peace and make its efforts for early ceasefire and restoration of peace,” he said.

The Ukraine President, in a tweet, didn’t mention Beijing’s efforts at mediation, saying he “had a long and meaningful phone call with President Xi Jinping”. “I believe that this call, as well as the appointment of Ukraine’s ambassador to China, will give a powerful impetus to the development of our bilateral relations,” he said.

Mr. Xi, in the call, referred to Beijing’s position paper on the political settlement of the crisis, which called on all parties to support Russia and Ukraine in reaching “a comprehensive ceasefire”.

The paper reflected Beijing’s dual-track approach of, on the one hand, saying it supported the “sovereignty” of all countries and on the other criticising the West and NATO while defending “legitimate” Russian security concerns.

The much-awaited first phone call had been expected after the Foreign Ministers of the two countries spoke last month. The new Chinese Foreign Minister, Qin Gang, said then that Beijing was “concerned that the crisis has dragged on and escalated and may even spiral out of control, and hopes that the relevant parties will stay cool-headed and rational, exercise restraint, resume peace talks as soon as possible, and return to the track of political settlement.” 

He also “expressed the hope that Ukraine and Russia will keep alive the hope of dialogue and negotiation, and will not close the door to a political settlement, no matter how difficult and challenging it may be,” according to a Foreign Ministry statement.

AFP adds:

Xi-Zelensky call was ‘initiated by the Ukrainian side’

Wednesday’s telephone call between Mr. Xi and his Ukrainian counterpart was initiated by Kyiv, Beijing said.

Asked during a press conference about the discussions, Yu Jun from China’s foreign ministry said “The call was initiated by the Ukrainian side”.

France says backs ‘all dialogue’ after Xi-Zelensky call

France said it backed all dialogue towards ending the conflict sparked by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine after Mr. Xi held telephone talks with the Ukrainian leader.

France “encourages all dialogue” that can “contribute to a resolution of the conflict” that is “in line with the fundamental interests of Kyiv” and international law, said a French presidential official, asking not to be named.

The official emphasised that this was the message “taken by the president [Emmanuel Macron] during his visit to China” earlier this month, when the French leader also raised ire over remarks he made relating to Taiwan.

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