By Agencies and published by CNA
Beijing – Chinese President Xi Jinping spoke with Ukrainian President Volodymr Zelensky on the phone on Wednesday (Apr. 26), the first call between the two leaders since the start of Russia’s invasion.
Beijing says it is neutral in the Ukraine conflict and Xi has never condemned the Russian invasion, but the Chinese leader has come under increased pressure from Western nations to step in and mediate.
During the long-awaited call, Xi appealed for negotiations between Russia and Ukraine.
Chinese state broadcaster CCTV reported that Xi told Zelensky “talks and negotiation” were the “only way out” of the war.
“On the issue of the Ukraine crisis, China has always stood on the side of peace and its core position is to promote peace talks,” CCTV reported Xi as saying.
He told Zelensky that China will send a delegation to Ukraine to hold talks on resolving the conflict with Russia.
“The Chinese side will send a special representative of the Chinese government on Eurasian affairs to visit Ukraine and other countries to conduct in-depth communication with all parties for a political settlement of the Ukrainian crisis,” China’s foreign ministry said at a press conference.
Xi said in early April he was willing to speak with Zelensky, who has repeatedly said he would be open to talks with his Chinese counterpart.
“I had a long and meaningful phone call with President Xi Jinping,” Zelensky said on Twitter on Wednesday.
“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 wrote.
Zelensky’s spokesman Sergiy Nykyforov said on Facebook that the two had “an almost one-hour-long telephone conversation”.
Pavel Ryabikin, who previously headed the ministry of strategic industries of Ukraine, was named Kyiv’s new envoy to China, according to a decree on the presidency’s website. Ukraine has not had an ambassador to China since February 2021.
Controlling the crisis
According to a readout of the call, reported by CCTV, Xi said China “will neither watch the fire from the other side nor add fuel to the fire, let alone take advantage of the crisis to profit”.
“When dealing with the nuclear issue, all parties concerned should remain calm and restrained, truly focus on the future and destiny of themselves and all mankind, and jointly manage and control the crisis,” Xi said.
Since February, Xi has promoted a 12-point peace plan for Ukraine, greeted sceptically by the West but cautiously welcomed by Kyiv as a sign of Chinese interest in ending the war.
The paper called for a “political settlement” to the crisis and portrayed China as a neutral party, urging the two sides to enter into peace negotiations.
Its first point was that “the sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity of all countries must be effectively upheld”.
But China has consistently refused to expand upon how that relates to the specifics of the Ukraine war, which was triggered when Moscow’s forces invaded their neighbour.
In the paper, Beijing called on Russia and Ukraine to resume peace talks, stating that “dialogue and negotiation are the only viable solution”.
“The international community should stay committed to the right approach of promoting talks for peace, help parties to the conflict open the door to a political settlement as soon as possible, and create conditions and platforms for the resumption of negotiation,” the paper read.
Many at the time pointed to the fact that Xi had met with Putin but not even called Zelensky as evidence that China was not the impartial observer it claimed to be.
The Chinese leader’s Moscow visit last month – during which Xi said ties with Russia were entering “a new era” – was viewed as a coup for Putin.
“I am sure that Russian-Chinese cooperation has truly unlimited possibilities and prospects,” Putin said following the talks, where he toasted the “prosperity” of Russian and Chinese people and highlighted the “special nature” of the relationship between the two countries.
Putin called the talks with Xi “meaningful and frank” and said that Russia, which has been largely cut out of European markets because of sanctions, would be able to meet China’s “growing demand” for energy.
Chinese President Xi Jinping and Ukrainian President Volodymr Zelensky spoke during a phone call on Apr 26, 2023. File photos: Above: AP and published by Sky News; Front Page: AFP/Genya Savilov, Ludovic Marin and published by CNA
Insert: Russian President Vladimir Putin and China’s President Xi Jinping make a toast during a reception following their talks at the Kremlin in Moscow on March 21, 2023. Photo: AFP/Sputnik/Pavel Byrkin and published by CNA