Political analysts suggest that China faces a significant challenge in attempting to broker a peace deal between Ukraine and Russia. With China trying to appear neutral enough to gain Kyiv’s trust while not hurting its allies in Moscow, the country is walking a diplomatic tightrope. China is stepping up efforts to bring Russia and Ukraine to the negotiating table with China’s special representative on Eurasian affairs, Li Hui, visiting Europe this week for talks “on a political settlement of the Ukraine crisis,” China’s foreign ministry said.
Self-Interest as a Motivator
China is widely considered to have backed Russia during the war, committing to deepening its strategic cooperation with the country. One of the main factors that binds China and Moscow is their shared and deeply-held antipathy and distrust of the West. As such, China’s move to broker peace between Russia and Ukraine is not seen as an altruistic one but motivated by self-interest. That interest stretches to ensuring its neighbor and ally Russia doesn’t look like it has been humiliated and “defeated” in any peace deal with Ukraine.
Daunting Challenge Ahead
Ukraine has said any settlement to the war must center on Russian troops withdrawing from occupied areas and for its territorial sovereignty to be restored, including the return of four regions Russia declared it had annexed last September, as well as Crimea, which was annexed in 2014. Meanwhile, Russia demands that Kyiv recognizes Russia’s sovereignty over the annexed regions and accepts independence for pro-Russian separatist “republics” in Luhansk and Donetsk in eastern Ukraine. With both sides having little appetite for concessions, particularly territorial ones, analysts say that Beijing has a mountain to climb in persuading both sides to reach an agreement when there’s so much at stake. While China’s recent success in mediating between Iran and Saudi Arabia shows that it has the ability to navigate between long-term enemies, mediating between Ukraine and Russia will be a much more daunting challenge.