Xi-Zelensky talk over phone raises hopes - GulfToday

Xi-Zelensky talk over phone raises hopes


Volodymyr Zelensky

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s public statement about an hour-long phone conversation with Chinese President Xi Jinping on Wednesday has created ripples of hope and excitement at least in Ukraine. Zelensky said, “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.”

A Chinese statement said, “Mutual respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity is the political foundation of China-Ukraine relations. China’s readiness to develop relations with Ukraine is consistent and clear-cut. No matter how the international situation evolves, China will work with Ukraine to advance mutually beneficial cooperation.”

Officially, Ukraine and China are speaking of developing bilateral relations, and the Chinese statement makes it much clearer that whatever may be the outcome of the war, China wants to reach out to Ukraine. It means, at least on the face of it, China is not really making a bid to end the Russia-China war, and the reason could be that China realises that if both the sides stick to their stated positions over territory, there is not much room left for a mediator to work out a solution.

But China will make an attempt to make peace even it does not succeed, and it is in a better position to do so because it is indeed the most trusted by Russia, and Zelensky’s statement shows that Ukraine too places implicit faith in China’s good offices. A Chinese foreign ministry statement has said that China’s “core stance is to facilitate talks for peace” and it has announced China’s former ambassador to Russia will visit Ukraine to seek a “political settlement.”

Of course, there will be feverish speculation about the terms of the political settlement. And Zelensky has already announced his political terms: “There can be no peace at the expense of territorial compromises.” But Zelensky is pinning his hopes on Chinese mediation of some kind because Ukraine, despite its defiant stance, is desperately seeking peace. Even if the US and Europe were to supply all the arms Ukraine needs, Zelensky recognises the toll of war – the destruction of Ukraine it has unleashed. No other country can assert its influence with Moscow as China can.

American commentators have jumped into the fray even before any peace initiative has begun, and they are predicting that Chinese efforts are doomed to fail. Kimberley Marten, professor of political science at New York’s Barnard-Columbia University, said on the Zelensky-Xi conversation, as things stand the Chinese peace initiative is “a non-starter. It’s (China) pro-Russian. I would not guess that this holds a lot of significance for ending the war.”

That is indeed a pessimistic American view, and it hints at the American fear that China may indeed succeed. Elizabeth Wishnick of the think-tank CAN and Columbia University’s Weatherhead East Asian Institute said that the Chinese statement did not “mention a Russian troop withdrawal, which, to my mind, makes this a less than serious initiative and unlikely to contribute in any major way to ending the war, which will likely be decided on the battlefield.”

But the Chinese have not yet begun any peace process, and even if they did they cannot do so by calling Russia an aggressor, or by calling for Russian troop withdrawal. No diplomatic initiative begins with categorical demands. The move towards peace is achieved through slow, gradual steps. China would no doubt throw in its weight to make way for peace and it may perhaps succeed, but this is not going to happen overnight, and it is not going to happen in a dramatic fashion. Xi will indeed work towards peace, and he knows it only too well that it is a long road.

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