June 4, 2023

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Why is China’s Xi trying to play peacemaker in Ukraine?

Offering Chinese President Xi Jinping to negotiate peace between Russia and Ukraine is a high-stakes undertaking that looks to give Beijing the most valuable prize — prestige and influence in its best effort to challenge the United States as a world leader.

This offer comes in the wake of Beijing achieving a nascent diplomatic breakthrough between Saudi Arabia and Iran. But it is widely seen as a smokescreen for China to deepen its relationship with Russia. Just on Wednesday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin described relations between Beijing and Moscow as very important to “the global landscape and the future of mankind.”

And while winning the Nobel Peace Prize is likely a pipe dream for the Chinese leader, the general proposal for peace negotiations illustrates how Beijing is focused on upending the world order, away from the United States and other democratic nations.

However, China has almost no credibility for being a neutral mediator for Ukraine and Russia, even though Chinese officials have reached out to Kiev to organize a call between Xi and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

Experts say it’s an empty gesture and a tactical move — meant in part to save face in her relationship with A.J A Europe that is increasingly siding with the United States in identifying a rising China as an evil power but is reluctant to break with Beijing altogether.

Bonnie Glaser, managing director of the German Marshall Fund’s Indo-Pacific Program, wrote in an email to The Hill.

As Xi works to strengthen China’s relations with Russia, the Chinese need to do something to avoid further damage to their relations with Europe. There are more risks than benefits in brokering an end to the war as long as neither Putin nor Zelensky are looking for cliffs.”

Russia has shown no indication that it is ready to withdraw its forces from Ukraine. Putin made a provocative trip to Russian-occupied Mariupol in southern Ukraine shortly after the International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant for him on charges of war crimes.

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China has a long history of mediation, said Robert Souter, a professor at the Elliott School of International Affairs, but with few successful outcomes or little commitment.

“What the Chinese don’t do is they don’t do things that will cost them, they don’t commit,” said Sutter, who also served as a US intelligence official focused on China.

The bets of the Saudi-Iranian deal

China’s promotion of a surprise breakthrough between Saudi Arabia and Iran, announced on March 10, was greeted cautiously, with US officials and experts noting the crucial roles played by Iraq and Oman in hosting the talks over the two years before Beijing offered the Chinese capital to host the talks. Public announcement.

But the question is open whether Saudi Arabia and Iran can pursue restoring relations. The commitments contained in the joint statement are vague and do not specifically address the resolution of some thorny issues, such as Riyadh and Tehran’s support for opposing forces in the Yemeni civil war.

Sutter described the risks of that deal collapsing as low for China.

“So this deal that they had with Saudi Arabia and Iran, there is no cost to China in that, and that is a win for them. They had to balance those two forces before, and now they don’t have to do that,” he said.

But I do not see winning in Russia and Ukraine. I think Putin is very important to them, and so they will continue to support him.

An important visit to Russia

Xi’s recent three-day state visit to Russia was of symbolic and strategic significance.

It was the Chinese president’s first trip outside the country since he secured an unprecedented third term as leader, cementing his reign for at least another five years and presiding over a shuffle of senior officials to shore up support.

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“Putin is China’s most important foreign partner, because Xi Jinping is now facing a force in the West, an important resistance, that he has not faced before,” Sutter said.

U.S. officials are watching closely whether deepening relations between China and Russia cross the red line of Beijing’s commitment to lethal military support to Moscow, with the Biden administration publicly warning, and privately Chinese officials, of dire consequences if such a move is carried out.

Secretary of State Anthony Blinken said that America’s partners – namely European countries and democracies in the Indo-Pacific – have warned China against supplying weapons to Russia.

Will Europe follow us?

But it is unclear whether Ukraine’s supporters can work in concert with the United States to impose costs – likely seen as sanctions – on China if it continues to provide military assistance to Russia.

“It is clear that imposing economic sanctions on Chinese entities is much tougher than those imposed on Russian entities, given the more interconnected nature of the economies,” Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Maryland) said during a hearing Wednesday. The plan to break glass with our partners in the event that China provides military assistance to Russia? “

Blinken did not provide a response.

There is still some reluctance among European countries to antagonize China too much, said Andrew Scoble, a senior fellow in the China Program at the United States Institute of Peace.

But, he added, that view is rapidly eroding.

“What I’ve noticed is that there’s a trend over the last seven or eight years where European countries are becoming more wary of China and realizing that while China offers a great economic opportunity, there’s also an outrageous downside to doing business with China.”

Xi’s placement of Russia on the pedestal of its global relations is only one of many major criticisms from the democratic community, including that the Chinese president is overseeing an alleged genocide against Uyghur Muslims, accused of gross human rights abuses in his occupation of Tibet, and abused Hong Kong. Kong’s democratic autonomy and is preparing a military takeover of self-governing Taiwan.

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Xi public to make peace

But China’s play to be a global peacemaker also aims to attract countries in the southern hemisphere and on the African continent that have remained familiar with Russia’s war in Ukraine — countries whose countries see them as ignored by the United States in its cosmopolitan world — to rally support for Kiev.

“Most of the South, the developing world, is quite sympathetic to the Russian position, as much as it annoys and perplexes Washington, it’s true,” Scoble said.

“China is really playing with that audience, and it’s one that has proven to be an important bloc of countries for China.”

However, Beijing places priority on establishing a respected global reputation. He feels left out, for example, by the recognition that comes along with universal recognition in areas like science or culture – or peace.

“China has a chip on its shoulders on a lot of things, it feels like it’s not being respected, and that carries over into international awards, including the Nobel Prizes,” Scoble said.

“China pays attention to these things and you can count the number of Chinese people who have won various kinds of Nobels on two fingers. It’s just dramatic. Would China like to win more? Yes.”

Updated at 9:30 am

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