When Beijing's participation in the Ukrainian War comes into view, Xi departs for a trip to Russia
The three-day journey to Moscow by China's president Xi Jinping, who just confirmed his third term, will finally start on March 20 after months of suspense. In order to "better global governance" and advance "the growth and advancement of the globe," China has described the trip as "a tour for peace."
Xi is anticipated to speak over the phone with Volodymyr Zelensky, the president of Ukraine, and Vladimir Putin, the president of Russia. The two leaders will discuss how their relationship may grow, according to Russia, and they will likely sign significant bilateral agreements.
Some analysts assert that China is attempting to take advantage of the recent diplomatic advantages it has gained as a result of negotiating the agreement that restored diplomatic relations between Iran and Saudi Arabia.
Velina Tchakarova, an Austria-based geopolitical specialist, claimed that they are attempting to press for the start of negotiations between Russia and Ukraine. They hastened the visit because of this.
Tchakarova says that China and Russia would attempt to exploit the trip to highlight how strong the alliance and bilateral relationship is while amplifying the anti-Western and anti-US propaganda. She told DW that Beijing views all of these as crucial since it wants to strengthen ties with numerous nations that oppose the US.
Can China act as a broker?
China has made an effort over the last year to portray itself as impartial in the continuing conflict in Ukraine by asking both Russia and Ukraine to begin peace negotiations and calling for the end of a "Cold War mindset." Even though Beijing last month released a 12-point paper outlining its stance on the conflict, many western nations continue to have doubts about China's motivations as it maintains its alliance with Russia.
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said earlier this month that Beijing has asserted that it would not breach that line despite the United States' warning that Beijing may contemplate providing Russia with deadly weapons. Also, several nations and observers believe China may play a similar role in the Ukrainian conflict after it mediated the Iran-Saudi agreement last week.
Although Beijing wants to position itself as a mediator, there are questions about whether China would be ready to pressure any side in the current war to undertake peace negotiations, according to Andrew Small, a senior fellow at the German Marshall Fund (GMF). He told DW that China would need to exert pressure on Russia, but there hasn't been any evidence of a genuine readiness to do so.
Some observers claim that China's attempts to position itself as a global conflict mediator are only superficially genuine and that the real goal is to "create fissures between the US and European nations." China expert Justyna Szczudlik of the Polish Institute of International Affairs said, "Beijing understands Washington's impression of China's position on the conflict cannot be altered, but they believe they can do something to affect the picture of China in Europe" (PISM).
Szczudlik believes that even if Beijing makes an effort to seem "peaceful" to other nations, the fact that China hasn't openly denounced Russia's conflict shows that Beijing's views haven't changed. "The strongest indication that China can't be a mediator is trying to urge Ukraine and Russia to begin peace negotiations without demanding that Moscow remove its soldiers from Ukraine," she told DW.
Beijing's trip was sensitive.
Ukraine still believes China can play a significant role in supporting the peace process in the current conflict, despite criticism from certain Western nations. During a gathering to examine what Kyiv refers to as a peace formula, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy invited China to participate on the anniversary of the conflict.
On March 16, Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang spoke by phone with his Ukrainian colleague Dmytro Kuleba, stressing that Beijing's position on the conflict is still impartial and objective and that it is dedicated to progressing dialogue. He continued by saying that China has urged the international community to provide favourable circumstances for peace negotiations.
Tchakarova said that Kyiv was aware that China was one of the very few nations that might exert influence on Russia and encourage the two parties to resume peace negotiations. She believes that Ukraine may take advantage of Zelensky's anticipated phone chat with Xi to learn more about Beijing's perspective on the conflict, hear any messages from Moscow, and discuss some urgent non-military matters including commodity pricing and grain exports.
She told DW: "China may depict these things as triumphs. Tangible issues like grain export, the exchange of prisoners of war, or establishing a secure humanitarian passage are all parts of a peace plan.
Yet, given that China continues to align itself closely with Russia politically and economically, several nations continue to be wary of Beijing's genuine position on the conflict. Wang Yi, China's top diplomat, referred to bilateral relations between Beijing and Moscow as "rock strong" when he visited Moscow last month. He also said that regardless of the evolution of the global situation, China will continue to be dedicated to its "cooperative partnership" with Russia.
China also remains one of the key commercial partners for Russia at a time when Moscow confronts a tremendous number of sanctions imposed by the US-led western bloc. Russian oil is mostly purchased by Beijing, and the two countries' commerce expanded by 34.3% in 2022, according to Chinese official newspaper Global Times.
Szczudlik from PISM contends that Beijing and Moscow see the US-led western bloc as establishing an encirclement around autocratic governments similar to their own, hence it is crucial to strengthen the authoritarian regimes. She told DW that from the viewpoint of China and Russia, the future of the autocratic nations was in jeopardy.
In juggling the necessity to work with Ukraine and maintain its relationship with Russia, Xi's trip to Russia has been called "very sensitive" by Small from GMF.
There is still the notion that China is strengthening its ties with Russia, so this trip has to be handled cautiously, he added.
Increased exposure on a global scale
Beijing has intensified its diplomatic charm offensive in recent months, organising a series of summits with leaders from Belarus, Iran, and Saudi Arabia while attempting to mend relations with western nations like Australia and Germany. This is all part of China's efforts to position itself as a potential mediator for the Ukraine war.
These actions are China's efforts to strengthen its own block, Little from GMF told DW. He told DW that China is working to guarantee it has a group of supporters in the continuous conflict and rivalry with the United States, adding that a lot of this is block-building as much as it is peace-building.
According to some observers, China would also strive to raise its profile internationally by participating in the continuing conflict in Ukraine. Una Cerenkova, director of the China Studies Institute at Riga Stradins University, said that the conflict was a step towards Beijing gaining more international legitimacy. "Xi has to speak with Zelensky soon if China wants to maintain its reputation," the author writes.
Despite some optimism that China may aid in bringing Russia and Ukraine's peace negotiations to a successful conclusion, analysts advised against getting too excited about the possibility of Beijing acting as a "benign peace player."
According to Small from GMF, "China still views Russia as the most essential partner and that's not going to change.
"A far riskier scenario, in which China's backing for Russia deepens, is one that the West should keep an eye on. The concern is whether this will set the stage for China to provide [Russia] with weapons in the future. He said, "There are still grounds to be worried about the direction of the China-Russia relationship.