China special envoy to visit Ukraine, Russia

Beijing (AFP): China will send a special envoy to Ukraine, Russia and other European nations from Monday, Beijing said on Friday, the highest-ranking Chinese diplomat to visit the war-torn country since Moscow’s invasion last year.

From Ukraine to the Middle East, Beijing in recent months has sought to position itself as a mediator with a leading role in solving the world’s crises.

But while China says it is a neutral party on the Ukraine war, it has been criticized for refusing to condemn Moscow for the invasion.

More than a year into the war, Chinese President Xi Jinping spoke with his Ukrainian counterpart Volodymyr Zelensky by phone last month.

Beijing then announced that Li Hui — China’s ambassador to Russia from 2009 to 2019 — would lead a delegation to Ukraine.

China’s foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin told a regular press conference Friday that the aim of Li’s trip to Ukraine, Poland, France, Germany and Russia was to “communicate with all parties on the political settlement of the Ukrainian crisis.”

Li’s tour showed China’s “commitment to promoting peace and talks,” Wang said. “It fully shows that China firmly stands on the side of peace.

“China is willing to continue to play a constructive role in building more international consensus on the cease-fire, the cessation of war, the opening of peace talks, and the avoidance of escalation of the situation,” he added.

Qin Gang, China’s foreign minister who is currently in Norway, said of Li’s visit: “We all worry about the situation and we all call for peace and a political solution, which China stands for and has been calling for since day one of the outbreak of the conflict.”

But the choice of Li, the special representative of the Chinese government for Eurasian Affairs, has raised eyebrows.

Shortly before leaving Moscow as ambassador, he was awarded the Order of Friendship medal by President Vladimir Putin.

Xi’s phone call with Zelensky, described by the Ukrainian president as “long and meaningful,” follows Beijing’s publication in February of a 12-point position paper on Ukraine, which called for dialogue and respect for all countries’ territorial sovereignty.

The paper was panned by Western countries for its vague wording, though it prompted Zelensky to say he would be open to talks with Xi.

Its first point was that “the sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity of all countries must be effectively upheld.”

But China has consistently refused to expand upon how that relates to the specifics of the Ukraine war.