China will send a special envoy to Ukraine, Russia and other countries to discuss a “political settlement of the Ukraine crisis,” China’s foreign ministry said on Friday.
Li Hui, China’s former ambassador to Moscow, will visit Ukraine, Poland, France, Germany and Russia from Monday, spokesman Wang Wenbin announced at a press conference.
“Sending a representative . . . is another way to show China’s commitment and efforts to promote peace talks, and it fully shows that China is firmly on the side of peace,” Wang said.
Li’s visit comes as Ukraine prepares for its spring counter-offensive, the results of which will influence the shape of any peace talks between Kiev and Moscow, and as the EU begins to discuss a new policy towards China.
It follows a nearly hour-long phone call between Chinese President Xi Jinping and Ukraine’s Volodymyr Zelensky last month that the latter described as “long and meaningful.” Xi told Zelensky during the call that he would soon send a special representative to talk to “all sides” to find a “political settlement.”
Xi has called Russian President Vladimir Putin at least five times since the war in Ukraine began, and the two leaders met in Moscow in March.
Beijing has proposed 12 points to end the war. It calls on warring parties to resume peace talks and respect national sovereignty but does not include several key demands for peace in Ukraine – including the withdrawal of Russian forces from Ukrainian territory before any talks.
Ukraine’s foreign ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Lee’s upcoming visit.
Yu Ge, a senior research fellow on China at Chatham House, said Li’s visit was intended to “send a signal that China is keen to play the role of mediator rather than put any significant proposals on the table”.
Yu said China’s audience is not the West but “large parts of developing countries who don’t see this war the way the collective West does”.
China’s ambivalence over the war in Ukraine, which it does not recognize as an invasion, has strained its relations with European countries. Beijing’s ambassador to France caused an uproar last month by questioning the sovereignty of post-Soviet states, which the foreign ministry later protested.
In a blizzard meeting with his counterpart in Berlin on Tuesday, Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Geng threatened that if the European Union goes ahead with a proposal to impose sanctions on Chinese companies that supply military dual-use components to Russia.
“The crisis in Ukraine continues to escalate, spillovers continue to appear, and calls for a ceasefire and de-escalation from the international community are growing louder,” Wang said on Friday.
Li was China’s ambassador to Russia for 10 years until 2019. He is the Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs and its Special Representative for Eurasian Affairs.
Additional reporting by Mikey Ding