Thursday, July 25, 2024

Live updates: Xi travels to Russia to meet Putin amid Ukraine war


WASHINGTON — As Chinese President Xi Jinping prepares to meet President Vladimir Putin in Moscow this week, Chinese officials have been portraying his trip as a peace mission, one where he will seek to “play a constructive role in promoting talks between Russia and Ukraine,” the government spokesperson said in the statement. Beijing.

But U.S. and European officials are watching something else entirely — whether Mr. Xi will add fuel to the all-out war Putin launched more than a year ago.

US officials say China is still considering donating weapons – particularly artillery shells – to Russia for use in Ukraine. Even President Xi’s call for a cease-fire may amount to an attempt to bolster Putin’s position on the battlefield, they say, by leaving Russia in control of more territory than when the invasion began.

White House spokesman John Kirby said on Friday that a cease-fire now would be “effective validation of the Russian invasion.” “It would, in effect, recognize Russia’s gains and its attempt to forcibly invade its neighbor’s territory, allowing Russian forces to continue occupying sovereign Ukrainian territory.”

“It would be a classic part of the playbook in China,” he added, for Chinese officials to walk out of the meeting saying “we are the ones calling for an end to the fighting and nobody else is.”

In an article published in a Russian newspaper on Sunday, Mr. Xi wrote that China had made “efforts to promote reconciliation and peace negotiations.”

Doubt about one of Mr. Xi’s stated goals pervades thinking in Washington and some European capitals. US intelligence agencies concluded that relations between China and Russia had deepened during the war, even as Russia became isolated from many other countries.

The two countries continue to conduct joint military exercises, and Beijing has joined Moscow in regularly condemning NATO. China remains one of the largest buyers of Russian oil, which helped Moscow finance its invasion.

At no point did Chinese officials condemn the invasion. Rather, they have it He said It is a mystery that all states must respect each other’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. They have worked with Russian diplomats to block international statements condemning the war, including G-20 meetings in India in February and March.

While some Chinese officials see Mr. Putin’s war as destabilizing, they recognize a larger foreign policy priority: the need to support Russia so that the two countries can present a united front against their presumed adversary, the United States.

Mr. Xi made his views clear When he said earlier this month At an annual political meeting in Beijing that “Western countries led by the United States have carried out comprehensive containment, encirclement and suppression of China, which has brought unprecedented serious challenges to our country’s development.”

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But China remains firmly entrenched in the global economy, and Mr. Xi and his aides want to avoid being seen as malign actors on the world stage, especially in the eyes of Europe, its main trading partner. Some analysts say Mr. Xi has adopted the guise of a peacemaker, claiming he is on a mission to end the war to provide cover for efforts to strengthen his partnership with Mr. Putin, whom the International Criminal Court on Friday formally charged with war crimes in an arrest warrant.

Mr. Xi and Mr. Putin enjoy a strong personal affinity and have met 39 times since Mr. Xi became China’s leader in 2012. Putin called Mr. Xi a “dear old friend” in an article published in a Chinese newspaper on Sunday, saying the two had the “warmest relationship”.

Some analysts say China’s issuance last month of a 12-point statement of general principles on war was an attempt to create a veil of neutrality during the planning of Mr. Xi’s trip.

“I think China is trying to smear the image, to say we are not there to support Russia, we are there to support peace,” said Yun Sun, a researcher on China’s foreign policy at the Stimson Center in Washington.

“There is an intrinsic need for China to preserve or protect the health of its relationship with Russia,” she said, adding that a senior Chinese official told her that geopolitics and American intransigence drive Beijing’s approach to the relationship — not love of Russia.

Ms. Sun said the recent Chinese mediation of an initial diplomatic rapprochement between Saudi Arabia and Iran has strengthened perceptions of China as a peacemaker. But this situation was very different from the Ukraine war — the two countries in the Middle East had already been in talks for years to try to restart formal diplomacy, and China entered the picture when the two sides reached an agreement. China is not a close partner of either country and has a very specific economic interest in preventing the two countries from escalating hostilities – it buys large amounts of oil from both.

When Mr. Putin visited Mr. Xi in Beijing just before the start of the Ukraine war in February 2022, their governments declared a “borderless” partnership in a 5,000-word statement. The two men met each other again last September at a security conference in Samarkand, Uzbekistan. Mr. Xi has not spoken to Volodymyr Zelensky, Ukraine’s president, since the war began, let alone asked his view of the peace talks.

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Mr. Zelensky has said he will enter peace talks only if Putin withdraws his forces from Ukrainian soil. These include Crimea, which the Russian military captured in 2014, and the Donbass region, where that same year Russian forces sparked a pro-Russian separatist insurgency.

Mr. Zelensky said he would welcome the opportunity to talk with Mr. Xi, and some Ukrainian officials are hopeful that China will eventually exert influence on Russia to get Putin to withdraw his forces. But China has not indicated that it will take such a step.

On Thursday, Chen Gang, China’s foreign minister, spoke on the phone with Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba, and stressed that the warring parties should “resume peace talks” and “return to the path of political settlement,” according to a Chinese summary from the conversation.

In an interview with the BBC before Mr Xi’s visit was announced, Mr Kuleba said he believed China was not ready to arm Russia or make peace. “Visiting Moscow is in itself a message, but I don’t think it will have any immediate consequences,” he said.

Analysts in Washington agree. “I don’t think China can serve as an anchor on which any peace process in Ukraine can move,” said Ryan Haass, a former US diplomat to China and a White House official. world at the Brookings Institution.

Mr. Haas added that China would have a role as part of a signing group or guarantor of any eventual peace deal and would be crucial to Ukraine’s reconstruction. “I think Zelensky understands this, and that’s why he was willing to exercise a lot of patience with China and with Xi personally,” he said.

European officials have had mixed attitudes toward China, and some prioritize maintaining trade relations with Beijing. But China’s alliance with Russia throughout the war aroused growing suspicion and hostility in many parts of Europe. On Friday, some officials responded cautiously to the announcement of Mr. Xi’s visit to Moscow — they saw it as another sign of China’s friendship if not alliance with Russia, as well as an attempt by China to present itself as a mediator in the war. .

Wang Yi, China’s top foreign policy official, stressed the need for peace talks at the Munich Security Conference late last month before stopping in Moscow. He used language that seemed intended to distance European countries from the United States.

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“We need to think calmly, especially our friends in Europe, about what efforts should be made to stop the war. What framework should there be to achieve lasting peace in Europe? What role should Europe play in demonstrating its strategic autonomy.

He indicated that Washington wants the war to continue to weaken Russia further. “Some forces may not want to see the peace talks come to pass,” he said. They don’t care about the life and death of Ukrainians or about the damage done to Europe. They may have greater strategic goals than Ukraine itself. This war must not continue.”

But China’s 12-point statement did not sit well in Europe. And many European officials, like their Ukrainian and American counterparts, are convinced that early talks on a peace settlement will come at the expense of Ukrainian sovereignty.

Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission, said that China’s position is not neutral at all.

“It is not a peace plan, but principles they share,” she said, speaking of China’s statement. “You have to see them against a specific background. And it is this background that China took its side, by signing for example the Unlimited Friendship before the start of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.”

China’s regular denunciations of NATO have European officials worried. In the position paper, China said “the security of the region should not be achieved through the strengthening or expansion of military blocs” — a statement that backs up Mr. Putin’s claim that he was forced to invade Ukraine because of threats that included NATO expansion.

Spokesperson Nabila Mesrali said the Chinese position “is built on a misplaced focus on the parties’ so-called ‘legitimate security interests and concerns’, implying a justification for Russia’s illegal invasion, and obscuring the role of the aggressor and the aggressor.” for foreign affairs and security policy in the European Union.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg put it more simply: “China does not have much credibility,” especially since it “has not been able to condemn the illegal invasion of Ukraine.”

Edward Wong Reported from Washington, W Stephen Erlanger from Brussels. Julian E Barnes Contributed reporting from Washington.



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