Xi Jinping to push Ukraine peace plan on Russia visit

Over the past year, China has called for peace, but at the same time justified Russian security concerns with regard to the West and NATO

March 17, 2023 02:24 pm | Updated 11:50 pm IST - Beijing

Chinese President Xi Jinping, right, and Russian President Vladimir Putin talk to each other during their meeting in Beijing, China on Feb. 4, 2022. China says President Xi will visit Russia from March 20 to March 22, 2023, in an apparent show of support for Russian President Putin amid sharpening east-west tensions over the conflict in Ukraine.

Chinese President Xi Jinping, right, and Russian President Vladimir Putin talk to each other during their meeting in Beijing, China on Feb. 4, 2022. China says President Xi will visit Russia from March 20 to March 22, 2023, in an apparent show of support for Russian President Putin amid sharpening east-west tensions over the conflict in Ukraine. | Photo Credit: AP

Chinese President Xi Jinping will start his third term with a symbolic visit to Russia starting March 20, Beijing announced on Friday, coming amid stepped up Chinese diplomacy on the Ukraine crisis.

Mr. Xi “will pay a state visit to Russia from March 20 to 22 at the invitation of Russian President Vladimir Putin,” the Chinese Foreign Ministry said.

Asked if the visit will see China push its Ukraine peace plan, spokesperson Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said China “always believes political dialogue is the only way to resolve conflicts and disputes.”

Beijing, on February 24, the one-year anniversary of Russia’s invasion, released a position paper that called on both sides to reach “a comprehensive ceasefire”. The paper reflected Beijing’s approach of, on the one hand, saying it supported the “sovereignty” of all countries, while on the other, criticising the West, which has questioned Beijing’s credentials as a mediator citing its close “no limits” relationship with Russia.

Also Read | The Hindu Explained: Locating China in the Russia-Ukraine war

Mr. Wang on Friday once again rejected Western criticism of both China-Russia ties and its position on Ukraine, saying “fanning flames during the fight and imposing unilateral sanctions will make matters worse.” He rejected Western accusations of China supplying arms to Russia during the war, saying “China-Russia cooperation is completely above board” and “shall be free from disruption or coercion from any third party.” “China always handles export of military items in a prudent manner and dual-use articles in accordance with relevant laws and regulations,” he said, adding that Beijing was “opposed to long-arm jurisdiction or sanctions that are not in accordance with UN laws.”

Beijing’s recent hosting of landmark talks between Saudi Arabia and Iran has turned the spotlight on its aspirations to emerge as a key player in the Ukraine crisis. Over the past year, China hasn’t condemned Russia for its invasion. It has called for peace, but at the same time justified Russian security concerns with regard to the West and NATO.

Mr. Xi’s visit next week will see both leaders “charting the course and providing guidance for the sustained and steady development of the China-Russia comprehensive strategic partnership of coordination for a new era”, Mr. Wang said, adding that Mr. Xi “will have in-depth exchanges with President Putin on bilateral relations and major international and regional issues of mutual interest” as well as jointly develop “a blueprint” for relations.

The visit would “boost strategic cooperation and inject a new impetus” in bilateral ties,” he said. “The changes unseen in a century are moving at a fast pace and the world has entered a period of instability and turbulence. China and Russia are permanent members of the UN Security Council and major countries. The significance and influence of the relationship goes far beyond the bilateral scope.”

“This will be a trip for friendship,” he added. “It will boost bilateral cooperation across the board”.

Mr. Wang did not comment on reports suggesting Mr. Xi will, in the coming days, also reach out to Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang on Thursday held a rare phone conversation with Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba.

Mr. Wang neither confirmed nor denied whether the two officials had discussed a possible phone call between Mr. Xi and Mr. Zelenskyy. “China will uphold an objective and fair position on the Ukraine crisis and play a role in promoting talks for peace,” he said. “China’s position is consistent and clear. We maintain communication with all parties.”

In Thursday’s phone call, Mr. Qin said China was “concerned that the crisis has dragged on and escalated and may even spiral out of control” and hoped both sides “will keep alive the hope of dialogue and negotiation, and will not close the door to a political settlement.

“China will continue to play a constructive role in bringing an end to the conflict, mitigating the crisis and restoring peace,” he said according to a readout from Beijing, which quoted Mr. Kuleba as saying “China is not only an important cooperation partner of Ukraine but also a key and indispensable major country in international affairs.” He also “noted that China’s position paper on the political settlement of the Ukraine crisis shows its sincerity in promoting a ceasefire and an end to the conflict” and “expressed the hope to maintain communication with China”, the readout said.

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