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Chinese Leader Xi Jinping called Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky for the first time since the war began

On Wednesday, April 26, Chinese leader Xi Jinping and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky spoke for the first time since the Russian war against Ukraine began on February 24 last year.


According to the report provided by the Ukrainian president's spokesman, the phone call lasted about an hour. Chinese state media published a summary of the conversation between the two leaders, according to which Xi spoke of "lasting peace" and "respect for sovereignty". However, commentators and diplomats noted the omission of two notable word from the conversation: “Russia” and “war.”


The phone call came more than a year after the last time the two leaders spoke, in January 2022, a month before the start of the invasion by the Russian Federation against Ukraine, on the occasion of the 30th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries.



Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky announced his call with Chinese Leader Xi Jinping on Twitter.


According to most commentators, Xi Jinping chose to telephone Zelensky following the serious diplomatic incident caused by the Chinese ambassador to France, Lu Shaye. During an interview with the French television channel LCI, speaking of Ukraine, Lu Shaye questioned the fact that the former Soviet countries can define themselves as "sovereign nations", a term which in international law indicates a country that is legally recognized the power to govern autonomously over a given territory and over the population living there.


Lu's statements came shortly after a state visit by French President Emmanuel Macron to China and caused serious embarrassment for Chinese leader Xi, who is attempting to strengthen his ties with European countries in an attempt to weaken their relations with the United States. According to the director of the Center for Russia Europe Asia Studies in Brussels, Theresa Fallon, “Xi’s strategy is to weaken the trans-Atlantic alliance.”


During Wednesday's call, Xi told Zelensky that China "does not intend to add fuel to the fire" and that he believes the time is ripe to "solve the crisis through politics." The Chinese president did not explicitly assure Zelensky that China would not supply Russia with weapons, but his words were interpreted as a signal that the Chinese government does not intend to provide direct military assistance to the Russians.



The conversation that took place between the two leaders is extremely important, above all because it places China as a potential mediator for the resolution of the conflict. So far, China has taken ambiguous positions regarding the current war. The government led by Xi Jinping has strengthened economic and diplomatic ties with Russia since February last year when the Chinese leader and Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a "no limits" partnership agreement.



Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping shake hands in Moscow, Russia, March 21, 2023 (Sputnik photo by Mikhail Tereshchenko via AP).


On the occasion of the first anniversary of the beginning of the conflict, China presented a 12-point plan to outline a path that would lead to the end of hostilities. The Chinese plan, however, was widely criticized by the international community, as it did not identify an aggressor and an assault between the two sides. On March 20, Xi Jinping went to Moscow for a state visit, fueling a narrative according to which China is not a neutral party in the ongoing conflict and therefore is not a credible mediator between the two parties.


Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky repeatedly invited Xi Jinping to call him, even after the Chinese leader's state visit to Moscow. Before the invasion began, Ukraine and China had excellent diplomatic and trade relations. Until 2019, China was Ukraine's largest trading partner.



“There can be no peace at the expense of territorial compromises,” Mr. Zelensky said during the phone call. “The territorial integrity of Ukraine must be restored within the 1991 borders.”


Edited by: Ritaja Kar

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