On Friday, China announced a special envoy to Ukraine and Russia in an effort to reach a peace settlement in the Ukraine conflict. The Foreign Ministry of China said that the envoy would begin next week, headed by Li Hui, who is a former ambassador to Moscow and China’s special representative for Eurasian affairs. In the trip, Hui will also make stops in Poland, France, and Germany. Despite China’s declaring that they remain neutral over Russia’s war in Ukraine, Beijing has positioned itself in a close relationship with Russia and has blamed the U.S. and NATO for provoking the conflict in Ukraine. It will be interesting to see how this diplomatic push will play out as China’s first trial as a major peace broker.
Spokesperson for the Foreign Ministry, Wang Wenbin, announced the special envoy at a press conference. He said “Sending a representative . . . is another way of China demonstrating its commitment and efforts to promoting peace talks, and fully shows that China stands firmly on the side of peace,” and China really has been taking an active role in peacebuilding during this war. Last month, President Xi Jinping and President Volodymr Zelenskyy engaged in what has been described as a “long and meaningful” phone call, which ended in President Xi promising to send an envoy to talk to all parties involved, and seek a settlement.
These developments come at a pivotal time in the war, as Ukraine prepares for its counter-offensive and the EU prepares for discussion on a new policy towards Ukraine. As a result of any changes in policy, the war could shift into a new phase that is even more deadly and destructive. After a year of violence, a peace agreement is becoming more desirable. Typically, the U.S. would be in charge of mediating peace talks, to expand western influence. However, the weakening of U.S. international prowess has created a power vacuum for other states to step in. Specifically, Beijing has taken an interesting approach to global conflict in the past several years, opting to challenge U.S. dominance as a global diplomatic force in the international arena.
In early March, China shocked the world when it brokered a historic peace deal between Saudi Arabia and Iran, ending decades-long violence between the two countries. This was a major shift of power in Middle Eastern geopolitics, which has long been dominated by American influence. The Chinese for a long time have been a secondary player in the region, but they have flexed their diplomatic muscles in a larger sense. However, it is important to note that motivations for this treaty were most likely not for humanitarian reasons, like stopping violence between the Sunnis and the Shiites. But rather for China to expand their influence in the region and challenge the U.S. The Saudi Arabia and Iran conflict was used as a way for China to prove to the rest of the world that it is capable of being an influential hegemonic power in the global system.
Taking China’s history of broking peace deals into account, It is important to see how Ukraine and Russia react to the special envoy. China should be applauded for their increased and successful efforts as conflict mediators, especially in a conflict as severe as Russia’s war on Ukraine. However, their motivations should be considered on a broader scope. Beijing sees Moscow as a diplomatic ally, with both countries having deep economic and cultural ties. They stand together in opposition to U.S. domination of global affairs, and China has backed Russia on the UN security council in opposing any diplomatic punishments for Russia’s aggression. China-U.S. relations are at a historic low, and it could be time for China to increase their influence to one day replace the US as the global policing power.