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China touts ‘rock solid’ ties with Russia as it offers to mediate Ukraine conflict

Beijing’s efforts to play peacemaker come as it continues to blame the United States and NATO for instigating the war

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi speaks during a video news conference March 7 on the sidelines of the annual meeting of China’s National People’s Congress in Beijing. (Sam Mcneil/AP)
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China is ready to act as mediator between Ukraine and Russia, the country’s foreign minister said on Monday, as he declared Beijing’s relationship with Moscow “rock solid” amid international censure of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.

While Beijing has consistently called for a negotiated diplomatic solution to the conflict, the comment was the first time officials had formally confirmed readiness to be directly involved.

“China is willing to continue playing a constructive role in urging peace talks and is willing when necessary to work together with the international community to launch required mediation,” Foreign Minister Wang Yi told reporters at his annual news conference, part of the meeting of parliament underway in Beijing.

Wang further implied that Chinese President Xi Jinping had encouraged Putin to begin talks when the two spoke by phone on Feb. 25, with Xi expressing China’s desire for peace talks to begin “as soon as possible.”

The latest on the war in Ukraine

At the same time, Wang ruled out the possibility that diplomatic fallout from the war could undermine China’s growing alignment with Russia.

Asked whether the conflict had impacted bilateral ties, Wang said the relationship “is not subject to third-party interference,” adding: “No matter how perilous the international situation, China and Russia will … continuously advance with a new era of comprehensive strategic partnership.”

Josep Borrell, the European Union’s foreign policy chief, said in an interview published Friday that, when it came to mediating a peace deal, “it must be China.” He told Spanish newspaper El Mundo: “We have not asked for it nor have they asked for it, but since it has to be a power and neither the U.S. nor Europe can be [mediators], China could be.”

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said on Saturday that Chinese diplomacy had “sufficient tools to make a difference.”

Putin’s extreme isolation leaves few world leaders to convince him of a peace deal

China officially maintains a position of noninterference in other countries’ domestic affairs, making it traditionally reluctant to play an active role beyond disputes that touch on core Chinese interests. In recent years, China has adopted a more active foreign policy stance and positioned itself as a broker in several disputes, including those between Pakistan and Afghanistan or between North and South Korea.

Putin’s invasion of Ukraine has tested China’s deepening strategic partnership with Russia. Beijing speaks of respecting territorial integrity and remaining neutral, while blaming NATO and the United States for instigating the conflict, which it refuses to call an invasion.

That implicit defense of Russia has been complicated by Beijing’s concern about the safety of Chinese nationals in Ukraine after one was wounded while attempting to flee the country.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry previously rejected calls from the United States to exert influence over Russia and has denied that Xi asked Putin to delay the assault until after the Beijing Winter Olympics.

Biden administration officials said last week that a Western intelligence report indicated that Chinese officials in early February requested a delay until after the Closing Ceremonies.

Instead, China claims that Western powers share responsibility and must act to defuse tensions.

On Saturday, in a phone call with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Wang called on the United States, the E.U. and NATO to “engage in equal-footed dialogue with Russia, face up to the frictions and problems accumulated over the years.”

Lyric Li in Seoul and Vic Chiang in Taipei, Taiwan, contributed to this report.

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