The West would like China to play a bigger role in trying to end the war in Ukraine
As the war in Ukraine looks more and more like a war of attrition against the Ukrainian side following repeated Russian attacks, and the announced Ukrainian counter-offensive is delayed, it is clear that doubts are arising from the countries Westerners as to how things can evolve.
Already, the ongoing conflict around Bakhmut has shown that Russia persists in its tactics resulting in heavy Ukrainian casualties, even if it does not achieve “dramatic” gains, when it is clear that it has achieved much fortification larger over the entire length of almost 1000 meters. kilometers from the front to deal with any Ukrainian counter-attack. At the same time, Russia seems to have no problem replenishing the ammunition it uses, while it has no major losses in its naval fleet and fighter jets. The national legitimacy of Vladimir Putin himself does not seem to have diminished significantly in Russia either. Sanctions also failed to have the desired effect, mainly because a significant number of states failed to impose sanctions on Russia.
All of this confronts Western governments with difficult questions. Their stated goal of defeating Russia at this time requires not only more aid to Ukraine, but even more direct involvement, which carries very high risks. At the same time, any initiative on their part in favor of a more conciliatory approach would cause heartbreak within them, but would also be interpreted as an indirect recognition of a Russian victory. All this explains why the eyes are turned in another direction.
The war in Ukraine put China in a rather contradictory position from the start. On the one hand, China seems to understand the Russian reasons and generally converges with Moscow in the appreciation that at this moment the “collective West” faced with the erosion of its hegemony seeks to exert ever greater pressure on the other poles, therefore on China and Russia. Beijing is also watching very carefully the shifts in American rhetoric, which increasingly sees China not only as a competitor but also as a threat, sees the continued deployment of American and allied forces around its perimeter, realizes that the way the Taiwan issue comes up only it’s not random. Essentially, China has seen the West’s handling of the Ukraine issue as an indication of how it will also handle the Taiwan issue, where we must not forget that China feels it has the inalienable right to push for reunification.
On the other hand, China at this stage did not want a sharp escalation of international tension, especially since it remains a country fully integrated into all the major flows and supply chains of “globalization” (a element which in turn is also the limit of the most “confrontational” American policy today). We do not know if and to what extent he tried to convince the Russians or accepted the “special military operation” as a fait accompli, however, at the level of rhetoric he supported Russia, while calling for peace and maintaining relations with Ukraine.
At the same time – and this is also important – it is during this period that China claims to acquire a higher role on the international scene, resulting in the initiative of rapprochement between Iran and Saudi Arabia. Many have even argued that he hastened to fill the void left by Russia, much more concerned than it is with what is happening on its front.
In this context, the plan for Ukraine presented by China on February 24 was of particular importance. Although it was more a text of principles than a “road map”, it insisted on the possibility of a political solution and an end to hostilities, with a formulation that simultaneously captured the demands and the “sensitivities” of both parties. And although it was not particularly well received by the West, it was nevertheless not rejected and stopped, although Ukraine made it clear that it could not accept a plan that did not include the withdrawal of Russian forces from all “occupied territories”.
The significance of the phone call between Xi and Zelensky
In this context, the April 26 telephone conversation between Chinese leader Xi Jinping and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky takes on special significance. The hour-long conversation was the first between the two sides since the start of Russian military operations and was considered “essential” by the Ukrainian side. In this document, the Chinese side pledged to send a special envoy to talk “with all parties” and seek a political solution, according to the Chinese Foreign Ministry. “Dialogue and negotiation are the only way forward,” said the Chinese president.
After all, Zelensky might not have accepted the Chinese plan but insisted on talking to Xi.
The American Attitude
Nevertheless, it is still too early to speak of a significant change in the attitude of the Western powers. It is difficult at this time to change the basic direction which is to support Ukraine in leading the great counter-offensive, changing the current balance of power and leading to what could be considered a defeat for Russia. There is too much commitment to such rhetoric to backfire, especially since the Kremlin will not pass up any opportunity to talk victory.
On the other hand, however, neither the United States nor other Western governments can afford to give the impression that they are not seeking peace, but the escalation and prolongation of military operations in any way. whether it be. And it is because from a certain point, it is not certain that there will be a consensus within Western societies on the very significant economic costs that the extension and escalation of the Western military aid to Ukraine will have.
And that literally means that they can only invest in China’s peace effort – Macron’s visit to China is typical here – even though they know that China could not negotiate a political solution that would amount to the defeat of Russia and even if, in particular, the United States sees on the horizon the open question of confrontation with China.