US tries to avert any Chinese call for ceasefire in Ukraine

WASHINGTON — The US is trying to stave off a possible Beijing proposal for a ceasefire in Ukraine ahead of a Russia-China summit, saying that suspending fighting now would weaken Russia’s hold on Ukrainian territory. help strengthen.

With Chinese leader Xi Jinping set to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow next week, the White House on Friday expressed concern over China’s closer ties with Russia during the war in Ukraine. That makes a possible call for a ceasefire a unilateral proposal in favor of Russia, said John Kirby, a spokesman for the National Security Council.

“A ceasefire is now again effectively the ratification of the Russian conquest,” Kirby said at a news conference. Such a move, he said, would recognize Russia’s territorial gains and occupation of Ukrainian territory while allowing Moscow to entrench its positions and refresh its troops as Ukraine prepares for an expected spring offensive.

The pre-emptive criticism of a possible ceasefire proposal is an extension of the Biden administration’s efforts to use public statements and revelations to try to narrow Beijing’s room for maneuver with Moscow, including using itself as a mediator profile, said former foreign affairs officials and analysts.

In recent weeks, citing intelligence, U.S. officials have publicly warned that Beijing is considering supplying lethal weapons and capabilities to Russia beyond the trade of goods such as drones and aircraft parts that have both civilian and military uses. Mr Kirby reiterated those concerns, although he said the US has no evidence that China has done so.

China has attempted to masquerade as an alternative power to the US, promoting diplomatic detente between adversaries Saudi Arabia and Iran and issuing initiatives pushing for a new way of thinking about global security. That message, foreign policy specialists said, resonates at home and with many developing countries grappling with the impact of the Ukraine conflict on food prices and energy supplies.

“It creates the illusion that China is trying to play a constructive role,” said Janka Oertel, an East Asia security specialist at the European Council on Foreign Relations think tank. “It’s part of a broader framing exercise that’s going on right now that isn’t really pro-peace or pro-Russian. It’s just anti-American, because it’s working really well right now.”

Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin will meet in Moscow next week.


Photo:

Alexander Zemlianichenko/Associated Press

Beijing has not formally called for a ceasefire or offered a peace proposal. A statement released last month by China’s foreign ministry on what it called the “Ukrainian crisis” called for a political settlement and said all sides should work towards a cessation of hostilities.

Announcing next week’s Moscow summit, a spokesman for China’s foreign ministry said Friday that Mr. Xi will be “a journey for peace”.

“China will take an objective and fair position on the crisis in Ukraine and play a constructive role in advancing peace talks,” spokesman Wang Wenbin told reporters in Beijing, according to an official transcript.

However, Beijing is benefiting from the Ukraine conflict, and both officials and Dr. Oertel and other specialists expect Messrs. Putin and Xi to further tighten the already close relations between their governments at the upcoming summit in Moscow.

Messrs. Putin and Xi have met dozens of times. While the meeting in Moscow is their second face-to-face meeting in six months, it is Mr. Xi has been outside China since he won a third term as president, a largely ceremonial title bestowed by the national legislature earlier this month, capping his dominance. of the Communist Party.

The two leaders see a common goal in trying to reduce American power. As Moscow continues the war in Ukraine, China has increased its purchases of Russian energy, often at a discount, and expanded the use of its currency in the countries’ mutual trade. The war is also forcing the US to focus on security in Europe, while the Biden administration tries to focus on countering China.

If Beijing is interested in peace, Mr. Kirby of the National Security Council, Mr. Xi should speak directly with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. It is believed the two have not spoken since Russia launched its full-scale invasion nearly 13 months ago, although Mr Xi is expected to speak with Mr Zelensky next week as part of China’s push to be a more active mediator.

As Russia and China set the agenda for the meeting between Putin and Xi, Mr. Kirby that the US wants to draw attention to any Chinese proposal for a ceasefire that “would be unilateral and reflect only the Russian perspective”.

Mr Kirby, when asked by reporters, said he could not speak on Mr Zelensky’s behalf and whether he would accept a Chinese-backed proposal. “We certainly do not support ceasefire calls that the People’s Republic of China would call for at a meeting in Moscow,” Kirby said, referring to the People’s Republic of China.

Mr Zelensky has so far taken a different approach to Beijing and praised China’s 12-point position paper on Ukraine. However, Mr. Zelensky emphasized the Chinese newspaper’s emphasis on territorial integrity. His foreign minister, Dmytro Kuleba, said he also “discussed the meaning of the principle of territorial integrity” during a phone call Thursday with his Chinese counterpart.

“We also hope that President Xi will contact President Zelensky directly, as we continue to believe that it is very important that he also hears from the Ukrainian side and not just from Mr Putin,” Mr Kirby said.

Photo: Mikhail Metzel/Kremlin/Wire Agency

Write to Charles Hutzler at charles.hutzler@wsj.com

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