Xi to talk to Zelensky and meet Putin next week

SINGAPORE — Chinese leader Xi Jinping plans to meet with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky for the first time since the start of the war in Ukraine, likely after he visits Moscow next week to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin, according to reports. people close to the file.

Meetings with Messrs. Putin and Zelensky, the latter of which is expected to take place virtually, reflect Beijing’s efforts to play a more active role in mediating to end the war in Ukraine, some people said.

Xi plans to visit other European countries as part of his Russia trip, though his full itinerary has yet to be confirmed, the sources said.

A direct conversation with Mr. Zelensky, if it happens, would mark an important step in Beijing’s efforts to play the role of peacemaker in Ukraine, which have so far been met with skepticism in Europe. It would also bolster Beijing’s credentials as a global power broker after facilitating a surprise diplomatic breakthrough between Saudi Arabia and Iran last week.

Reuters reported earlier that Xi’s visit to Moscow could take place as early as next week. The Wall Street Journal reported in February that Mr. Xi was preparing to visit Moscow in the coming months.

The overseas trip would mark Xi’s first after securing an unprecedented third term as head of China. It comes as the 69-year-old leader seeks to restore his status as a global statesman and navigate growing competition with the United States and its allies.

Chinese President Xi Jinping secured an unprecedented third term as the country’s head of state after more than 2,900 lawmakers voted unanimously to approve his reappointment. Photo: Xie Huanchi/Zuma Press

China’s Foreign Ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Mr. Xi’s travel program aims in part to capitalize on the momentum of the Saudi-Iranian agreement, signed in Beijing, which marked the end of seven years of estrangement, according to some people. This agreement heralded a notable increase in China’s influence in the Middle East, which was previously dominated by the United States as the main power broker.

The bridge-building effort marked the first time Beijing has intervened so directly in Middle Eastern political rivalries, and it was the first time it has successfully brokered such a deal.

China’s last ambitious effort to play the role of global peacemaker dates back to the early 2000s, when it launched Six-Party Talks aimed at reducing North Korea’s nuclear weapons program in return for aid. . The talks, which included the United States, broke down in 2008 when North Korea pulled out despite being heavily dependent on economic support from Beijing.

Achieving a breakthrough in Ukraine would be a tougher task than the deal between Saudi Arabia and Iran, especially since both sides in the war believe there is too much left to play on the battlefield. . Neither showed a tendency to stop fighting.

Beijing nevertheless has an active interest in ending the conflict. The war has put Beijing in a precarious position, forcing Mr. Xi to balance China’s “limitless” partnership with Russia and his own close relationship with Mr. Putin against growing mistrust and tension with the United States and their allies.

Last month, China presented itself as a neutral mediator in calling for a ceasefire and peace talks to end the war in Ukraine. In a 12-point document, the Chinese Foreign Ministry called for a political solution to the conflict and an end to unilateral sanctions. He also appeared to warn Moscow against escalating the conflict with nuclear weapons.

At an event last month marking the first anniversary of the Russian invasion, Mr. Zelensky said he planned to meet with Mr. Xi to discuss China’s ideas on ending the conflict in Ukraine. He also expressed hope that China would not supply arms to Russia – a move the United States has said it believes Beijing is considering, but China has denied.

The Russian government said it shared Beijing’s views on the conflict and welcomed China’s peace proposal.

The first element of the Chinese peace plan, which calls for “respect for the sovereignty of all countries”, is a cornerstone of Beijing’s foreign policy. It is the one that has been tested over the past year by the Russian invasion.

China officially considers Ukraine a sovereign nation, and MM. Xi and Zelensky had a phone call to mark 30 years of relations between the two nations just weeks before the attack by Russian troops. Yet Beijing has refrained from condemning Russian military action in Ukraine, which it has resisted labeling as an invasion.

Mr. Xi is not known to have spoken with Mr. Zelensky since the start of hostilities, although the Chinese leader has spoken with Mr. Putin on several occasions through video calls and face-to-face meetings. since the start of the war. This included a meeting in Uzbekistan in September on Mr. Xi’s first international trip since the pandemic.

China was Ukraine’s biggest trading partner before the war, importing almost 30% of its maize from the Eastern European country. China has also invested in infrastructure projects in Ukraine, although at least one of them – a railway line linking Kiev’s main airport to the city center – has been abandoned following allegations of corruption.

Trade between China and Ukraine fell 60% in 2022 from a year earlier to $7.6 billion. Meanwhile, trade between Moscow and Beijing rose about 29% from a year earlier to $190 billion, according to official Chinese data. As Russia’s oil and gas sales to Europe have declined, China has emerged as a major buyer. Russia has also started to increase its use of the Chinese currency, the yuan.

Write to Keith Zhai at keith.zhai@wsj.com

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