It is clear as day that China is betting the farm on taking an active hand in mediating the Ukraine crisis. Following the announcement of its plan to iron out the crisis, Beijing has solidified its commitment by sending a special envoy to Ukraine, Russia and various European countries, such as Poland, France and Germany, in order to grease the wheels of dialogue among the embroiled parties.
Last year, in April, Chinese President Xi Jinping made a big move by engaging in a phone conversation with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, who said, “I had a lengthy and deep phone conversation with Chinese President Xi Jinping,” and further remarked, “I think this conversation, along with the designation of a Ukrainian ambassador to China, will give a solid push to the progress of our mutual relations.”
This indicates that Beijing, which nurtures robust and burgeoning connections with Russia, along with the close-knit bond shared by Xi and Russian President Vladimir Putin, who have officially crossed paths around 40 times, has established a straight-talk hotline with the other player caught up in the crisis.
The president of China may very well be aiming to boost his reputation as a worldwide problem solver, but I reckon his main priority lies in ramping up his country’s involvement by persisting in its role as a dependable and hands-on global go-between. A substantial part of China’s status in the forthcoming global order will hinge upon its ability to promote security and stability and make a constructive mark on major international crises, like Ukraine’s.
Despite the US not being keen on China scoring strategic points in the Ukraine crisis, they might view China’s involvement as a potential saving grace to put an end to this chronic problem, if the West realizes Ukraine’s inability to attain their sought-after military triumph over Russia. This holds particular weight considering the signs pointing toward a potential military escalation that could spiral out of hand.
The alliance spearheaded by Britain aims to furnish Ukraine with cruise missiles boasting a reach of up to 300 km., a distance akin to what the United States, up until this point, has turned down providing to Ukraine, taking into account the possible Russian backlash. These missiles possess the capacity to hit deep into the Crimean Peninsula, which Russia officially annexed.
China has now emerged as the sole global powerhouse that has abstained from getting embroiled in the Ukraine conflict and strives to take the middle ground. As a result, it is the party equipped with the ability to rein in the escalating sprint toward the precipice, particularly following the confirmation by British Defense Secretary Ben Wallace, that Storm Shadow missiles, with a reach exceeding 250 km., have made their way to Ukraine.
He also mentioned that the British determination was greenlit with the consent of the US, which sparks curiosity since Washington itself declined to provide Ukraine with American long-range missiles. These missiles would be put into action by Ukraine in a retaliatory strike that could prompt a Russian reaction by broadening the range of military maneuvers in both magnitude and nature.
China pushes to restore ties with Europe
CHINA, WHICH has initiated its endeavors to mediate the Ukraine crisis, is also directing its attention toward restoring its relations with Europe. Just recently, Han Zheng, the vice-president of China, paid a visit to the Netherlands as part of a European tour that included Britain and Portugal.
This came in spite of the worsening relations between the Netherlands and China, as a result of the Dutch labeling China as the greatest security threat in a report issued by Dutch intelligence. This prompted the spokesperson of the Chinese Foreign Affairs Ministry to slam the Netherlands for harboring a Cold War mindset.
Within a tight time frame, Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang embarked on visits to France and Norway, with the primary objective of applying pressure to put a stop to European sanctions targeting Chinese firms allegedly aiding Russia in the Ukraine conflict.
Ultimately, China knows Europe’s need for it, specifically when it comes to matters of trade and the economy. This was voiced by German Finance Minister Christian Lindner, who put forth his backing for those who embrace a peaceable stance toward China, urging for a realist approach and self-assurance in dealing with Beijing.
He underscored the significance of striking a balance between principles and economic interests, exemplifying a practical approach that the German government aims to integrate into a fresh strategy for engaging with China.
On the other side, China’s strategy extends beyond the triumph of its mediating role. Some of the equally crucial objectives include tackling the strains in Beijing’s ties with certain European capitals. These tensions prompted Italy to declare its intention to pull out from the Chinese Belt and Road initiative, in which Italy stands as the sole G7 member. This move aligns with the approach adopted by Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni’s government, which staunchly backs Ukraine in its conflict with Russia.
The overall outcome of China’s endeavors regarding Europe falls within the realm of neutralizing the European position, to the greatest extent feasible, in the struggle for conflict and sway over global leadership. Beijing is fully aware that any joint decision issued by Brussels to penalize China for its stance on Ukraine needs unanimous consent from all 27 member states of the European Union.
This matter poses an exceedingly arduous task given the contrasting stances of European countries toward Beijing, driven by calculations of strategic interests.
Furthermore, there exists a genuine European interest in upholding channels of communication with China, taking into account that China stands as the sole actor capable of applying pressure on Putin to halt the war. At a certain juncture, it may take China to step up and fulfill its role to avert a direct military clash between Russia and NATO allies.
This role caters to Beijing’s interests, too, as it views this war as not aligning with its strategic interests since it bolsters the NATO alliance and boosts ties between Washington and its Asian counterparts, which goes against Beijing’s aspiration to curtail American global influence.
The writer is a UAE political analyst and a former Federal National Council candidate.