China Positions Itself as Mediator Between Russia, Ukraine

China is positioning itself as a mediator between war-divided Russia and Ukraine so as to be seen as a global leader and earn points in the West, analysts say.

At Ukraine’s request, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi talked by phone Tuesday with his Ukrainian counterpart, Dmytro Kuleba, China’s state-run Xinhua News Agency reported.

Ukraine is ‘open to a negotiated settlement’ with Russia, Xinhua reported. Kuleba said his country ‘stands ready to strengthen communication with the Chinese side and looks forward to China’s mediation in achieving a cease-fire,’ the report said.

Helping to stop the war would make China seem more intent on establishing peace in Europe than on maintaining its post-Cold War friendship with Russia, which is unpopular in the West, experts say.

A mediation attempt, they say, would also divert international attention from China’s controversial goal of unifying with self-ruled Taiwan. China claims sovereignty over Taiwan and has not ruled out using force, if needed, to capture it.

FILE - US-made CM-11 tanks (in background) are fired in front of two 8-inch self-propelled artillery guns during the 35th 'Han Kuang' (Han Glory) military drill in southern Taiwan's Pingtung county on May 30, 2019 . FILE - US-made CM-11 tanks (in background) are fired in front of two 8-inch self-propelled artillery guns during the 35th 'Han Kuang' (Han Glory) military drill in southern Taiwan's Pingtung county on May 30, 2019 .

What Will Taiwan Do If China Invades?

Any effort to stop the Ukraine war ‘improves China’s position from being just a passive actor to showing some leadership role,’ said Carl Thayer, professor emeritus of politics at the University of New South Wales in Australia.

‘The longer it [China] stays quiet, the more it undermines the already hard work that China has put in to portray itself as a responsible global leader,” he said.

Western leaders have described China as an expanding military power in Asia and a threat to Taiwan, which is a democracy with strong support in Europe and North America. China has the world’s largest population, at 1.4 billion; second-biggest economy, at $18.1 trillion; and the third-strongest armed forces after the United States and Russia.

Chinese President Xi Jinping said last year that China would never ‘invade or bully others, or seek hegemony,’ Xinhua reported.

When asked about Ukraine at a news conference last month, Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Wang Wenbin said that respect for the sovereignty of all countries was China’s ‘consistent and principled position.’

‘This is an opportunity to demonstrate that China is not a revisionist power, that it respects international law, respects sovereignty. And if that was the case, then China would likely take a much stronger position on the Ukraine,” said Stephen Nagy, senior associate professor of politics and international studies at International Christian University in Tokyo.

Successful mediation would particularly help China ‘win kudos with Europe,’ Thayer said. That relationship, he said, could lead to more pan-Eurasian trade. In 2020, China was the third-largest partner for European Union exports and the largest partner for EU imports.

Before the call between ministers, China had avoided foreign siding openly with Russia regarding its invasion of Ukraine despite its long, deepening friendship with Moscow. Russia is a former Cold War ally of China and was the anchor of the former communist-run Soviet Union.

Russian President Vladimir Putin talks with Chinese President Xi Jinping via video conference at the Novo-Ogaryovo residence outside Moscow, Russia, Dec.  15, 2021. Russian President Vladimir Putin talks with Chinese President Xi Jinping via video conference at the Novo-Ogaryovo residence outside Moscow, Russia, Dec.  15, 2021.

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Residents past near shops at a mall, also known as Russia Market, for Russian traders on Feb.  26, 2022, in Beijing. Residents past near shops at a mall, also known as Russia Market, for Russian traders on Feb.  26, 2022, in Beijing.

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Debris is seen in the courtyard of a building after the shelling by Russian forces of Constitution Square in Kharkiv, Ukraine's second-largest city, March 2, 2022. Debris is seen in the courtyard of a building after the shelling by Russian forces of Constitution Square in Kharkiv, Ukraine's second-largest city, March 2, 2022.

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