“I had a long and meaningful phone call with Chinese President Xi Jinping. I believe that this call, as well as the appointment of Ukraine’s ambassador to China, will give a powerful impetus to the development of our bilateral relations,” Zelensky said. His spokesman Sergiy Nykyforov said on Facebook that the two leaders had “an almost one-hour-long telephone conversation”.
What China said
Chinese state media broadcaster CCTV reported about the call and said that Xi told Zelensky that China has “always stood on the side of peace”.
“On the issue of the Ukraine crisis, China has always stood on the side of peace and its core position is to promote peace talks,” CCTV reported Xi as saying during the phone call.
China also said that it will send a delegation to Ukraine for a “political settlement” of crisis.
“The Chinese side will send a special representative of the Chinese government on Eurasian affairs to visit Ukraine and other countries to conduct in-depth communication with all parties for a political settlement of the Ukrainian crisis,” China’s foreign ministry said at a press conference.
Reacting to the call, Moscow accused Kyiv of undermining any peace attempts.
“The Ukrainian authorities and their Western minders have already shown their ability to mess up any peace initiatives,” the Russian foreign ministry said.
Moscow further noted “the readiness of the Chinese side to make efforts to establish a negotiation process.”
“We see a broad consonance in our approach and in the provisions in the paper” published by China, Russia’s foreign ministry said, referring to the 12-point paper proposed by China in which it calls for a “political settlement”.
Russia accused Kyiv of rejecting “any sensible initiatives aimed at a political and diplomatic settlement.”
“The eventual consent to negotiations is conditioned by ultimatums with obviously unrealistic demands,” it said.
Readout of the call
CCTV also reported a readout of the call, in which Xi said, China “will neither watch the fire from the other side, nor add fuel to the fire, let alone take advantage of the crisis to profit”.
“When dealing with the nuclear issue, all parties concerned should remain calm and restrained, truly focus on the future and destiny of themselves and all mankind, and jointly manage and control the crisis,” Xi said.
China’s peace plan
Notably, China has claimed to have been neutral in the conflict between Ukraine and Russia. Beijing has called for peace on several occasions and had also offered a proposed peace plan.
In February Beijing unveiled a 12-point paper calling for a “political settlement” to the crisis in Ukraine. The document portrayed China as a neutral party and urged the two sides to enter into peace negotiations.
However, China has refused to condemn Russia’s invasion or call out Moscow publicly for the invasion. Chinese officials have regularly said that every country’s “legitimate” security concerns must be taken into account. It also accused NATO and the US of fueling the conflict.
Wednesday’s phone call is the first time Xi has spoken to Zelensky since Russia invaded Ukraine in February last year. In comparison, Xi has spoken to Russian leader Vladimir Putin five times since the invasion – including a face-to-face at the Kremlin when the Chinese leader visited Moscow last month and another in-person meeting at a regional summit in Central Asia last September.
Reports that discussions were underway between China and Ukraine to arrange a call for their leaders first surfaced in March, in the lead-up to Xi’s state visit to Russia.
The reported efforts were widely seen by analysts at the time as part of China’s attempt to portray itself as a potential peacemaker in the conflict, in which it has claimed neutrality.
But the call didn’t materialize for weeks after Xi and Putin met in Moscow and made a sweeping affirmation of their alignment across a host of issues – including their shared mistrust of the United States.
Following a trip to Beijing, European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen told reporters earlier this month Xi reiterated his willingness to speak with Zelensky “when conditions and time are right.”
Xi’s call with Zelensky comes days after China’s top diplomat in Paris sparked anger in Europe by questioning the sovereignty of former Soviet republics, in comments that could undermine China’s efforts to be seen as a potential mediator between Russia and Ukraine.
The remarks by China’s ambassador to France Lu Shaye, who said during a television interview last weekend that former Soviet countries don’t have “effective status in international law,” have caused diplomatic consternation, especially in the Baltic states, with Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia summoning Chinese representatives to ask for clarification.
Officials including from Ukraine, Moldova, France and the European Union also all hit back with criticisms of Lu’s comments.
China later distanced itself from Lu’s comments saying he was expressing a personal opinion, not official policy.
CNN asked Chinese Foreign Ministry official Yu Jun if the timing of the Xi-Zelensky phone call had anything to do with the backlash. “China has issued an authoritative response to the remarks made by the Chinese ambassador to France,” he said. “And I have been very clear on China’s position (on the Ukraine crisis).”
The last publicly reported phone call between Xi and Zelensky was on January 4, 2022, weeks before the invasion, during which the two leaders exchanged congratulatory messages to celebrate the 30th anniversary of diplomatic bilateral ties.