Dending a tour of European capitals that China believes is important in the Ukraine war, Beijing’s special envoy Li Hui went to a place he knew well: Moscow. Li spent many years in the Russian capital, including a decade as ambassador. Li was once awarded the “Order of Friendship” by President Vladimir Putin. However, no meeting with Putin was initially planned for Friday. “All of this is being processed on the line of the diplomatic authorities,” Putin’s spokesman explained. For Li, a reception by Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and a meeting with one of his deputies were on the agenda. The Russian Foreign Ministry said it was about “the problem of the Ukrainian crisis”.
Li’s journey began in Kiev last week and then took the Chinese special envoy to Warsaw, Paris, Berlin and Brussels before finally traveling on to Moscow. Even after the trip, there is still no impression in Europe that China currently wants to be a real mediator in the Ukraine war. Certainly not a neutral one. Head of state and party leader Xi Jinping has just received Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin and announced that relations with Moscow will be deepened. Meanwhile, in Europe, Li did not present much more than the well-known and vague 12-point plan from China and otherwise listened. Beijing is also aware that Moscow wants to continue waging war, which Putin’s staff openly says.
Former President Dmitry Medvedev, now Putin’s deputy chairman of the National Security Council, said during a trip to Vietnam on Friday that the “military conflict” in Ukraine will last “a very long time,” “probably decades. These are the new reality and the new living conditions.” In his struggle with the “collective West,” as the Russian formula puts it, Putin is obviously counting on the opponents losing interest in Ukraine at some point, while Russia is cushioning the effects of the sanctions and its own Raw materials can be sold elsewhere. Also thanks to the partnership with China.
Two-hour talk in Berlin
At the start of his trip in Kiev, Li experienced what is part of everyday life there. While he was in the Ukrainian capital, there were air raids and Russian airstrikes again. On two days, Li met, among others, the Foreign Minister, Dmytro Kuleba, and, at least according to the Chinese account, the President, Volodymyr Zelensky. However, the Ukrainian side has not yet confirmed this. According to Li’s Kiev station, the Chinese Foreign Ministry quoted him as saying: “There is no panacea to solve the crisis”, all parties must “build mutual trust and create conditions to talk to each other and end the war”.
At the same time, those responsible in Kiev and the other European capitals find it difficult to trust that China really wants to contribute to a solution to the war. Following Li’s visit to Brussels and meetings with a senior EU diplomat, the European Commission issued a statement calling on China to play a constructive role in the peace talks. As a permanent member of the UN Security Council, China must remember the principles of territorial integrity and independence.
On Wednesday, Li was in Berlin after his stations in Poland and France. There he met the State Secretary in the Federal Foreign Office, Andreas Michaelis, the Political Director, Tjorven Bellmann, and the Director for Asia, Petra Sigmund. They sat together for more than two hours. In the capitals of the EU, people don’t want to be accused of not having tried everything. Europeans are constantly urging Beijing to use growing Chinese influence over Russia to end the war. There are repeated attempts to explain how the West views the war, that the aggressor is based in Moscow and why simply freezing the conflict cannot be in the international interest. And emphasizes that China must not supply weapons.
Li sticks to the familiar speaking points
Li , who does not play a central role in Chinese nomenklatura, apparently hardly deviates from the already familiar speaking points. They lead him to criticism of the role played by the United States, which Beijing, at least according to the Chinese state media, is largely responsible for the war. What Ukraine’s territorial integrity means for Beijing remains one of many question marks. In any case, according to reports, Li has not brought any news from Beijing to Europe.
Nevertheless, the Chinese Foreign Ministry, in the usual creative translation, said State Secretary Michaelis had said that “Germany greatly appreciates China’s positive efforts to defuse the crisis in Ukraine”. In the text from Berlin, on the other hand, it said that Michaelis “welcomed China’s commitment to ending the Russian war of aggression and the recent talks between the Chinese side and Ukraine”. In addition, Michaelis had expressed the expectation that China would “clearly name and condemn” Russia’s aggression.
But Beijing can live well just by welcoming a Chinese commitment. Li’s trip allows China to show itself as willing for peace, as it always repeats in official statements. China’s foreign ministry spokeswoman Mao Ning indicated on Friday that Europe would have to find a solution on its own: “Since the crisis is taking place in Europe, China is helping the European side to make greater efforts to bring about peace and to propose a peaceful solution that is acceptable to all parties .” Beijing is likely to remind people of this one day when the war ends sooner or later.
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