China’s Role in Mediating Russia & Ukraine’s War: A Comprehensive Guide

by Joshua Brown
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Xi Jinping, the leader of China, announced that they will send someone to Ukraine to try and sort out Russia’s war with the country. China usually avoids getting involved when other countries are in a fight but right now Beijing is working hard to become a big player on the world stage after figuring out a way for Saudi Arabia and Iran to start talking again after seven years without communication.

Chinese President Xi Jinping spoke to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy over the phone. They discussed their plan to send a Chinese envoy, who was once an ambassador from China to Russia, over to Ukraine and other countries. The purpose of it is to talk about how they can sort out their political issues with each other peacefully. Beijing had said before that they wanted to help solve the war problem between these two countries in a peaceful manner.

Why is this important?

China and Russia are good friends and China buys most of Russia’s oil and gas. Other countries like the United States, stopped buying from Russia but China hasn’t. China doesn’t want the US to be in charge of global affairs so it supports Russia. It also used its status as one of five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council to not let other countries criticize Russia over its invasion.

Zelenskyy said he happily accepted a Chinese offer to help solve the problems. China’s Leader Xi wants more power and influence over the world, so that their government is seen as important. In other words, they want to be in charge of how things work out in the world.

For a long time, China has been staying away from other countries’ troubles and mostly focusing on their economic growth. Recently though, Saudi Arabia and Iran made an unexpected announcement that they would open embassies in each other’s cities after seven years using China as their mediator since it buys lots of oil from both those countries.

Last week, Foreign Minister Qin Gang told the Israeli and Palestinian leaders that China was willing to help them in making peace. He said that the world should be careful with nuclear warfare because this could make things much worse.

China is trying to become involved in Eastern Europe by making connections with governments there. This has caused some people in the EU to think that China is trying to gain power over them. Professor Kimberly Marten from Barnard College doesn’t think China will be successful as a peacemaker between Ukraine and Russia.

She said she had trouble believing China could be a peacemaker, as it has been too close to Russia. China is the closet ally to President Vladimir Putin’s government, and they have signed a declaration saying they are ‘best friends’. Even though China has tried to stay neutral in this situation, they seem to agree with Russia’s reason for invading soon.

In March, President Xi of China visited Moscow and was welcomed warmly. This month, the Chinese Defense Minister also made a visit to Russia.

China has been buying oil and gas from Russia because it needs the energy for its economy. As a result of this, revenue that would normally come from Western countries is lower due to sanctions. In exchange for the oil and gas, China gets cheaper prices but no specifics have been revealed.

Marten said that when China and Ukraine recently talked, it may have been a way of showing Russia they don’t agree with them. Before the invasion, China was Ukraine’s biggest trading partner (even bigger than the trade between China and Russia). In 2021, Ukraine asked Chinese companies to help build different kinds of trading infrastructure.

Ukraine’s President Zelenskyy’s government and China were friendly, even though China didn’t try to help Ukraine when Russia invaded. Before the invasion, China was Ukraine’s biggest trading partner. They said a phone call between themselves could help bring back good business relations.

China’s foreign minister promised this month that they won’t give any weapons to either side involved in the conflict, which helps Ukraine a lot since it already got tanks, rockets and other armaments from United States and European countries.

The Chinese ambassador to France said something that made people in Europe quite mad; he suggested that former Soviet republics including Ukraine may not be independent countries – just like what Russian president Putin said before about Ukrainian sovereignty.

Beijing spoke out to tell the former Soviet states that they strongly respected their independence. They also said the ambassador’s opinions are not connected to China’s official stance. Elizabeth Wishnick, who works at a think tank in America and also at Columbia University’s Weatherhead East Asian Institute, told people she couldn’t help but wonder if Beijing made this call to shift people’s focus away from what was happening due to the Chinese ambassador’s comments. Andrew Katell helped with this report from New York.

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