Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has appealed for direct talks with China’s Xi Jinping as he urged Beijing to use its political and economic influence on Russia to help end the war in his country.
Zelenskyy told the South China Morning Post (SCMP) in an interview published on Thursday that he has been asking for a conversation with the Chinese president since the Russian invasion of Ukraine began in February, but that one is yet to take place.
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“I would like to talk directly. I had one conversation with [President] Xi Jinping that was a year ago,” he told the Hong Kong-based newspaper over Zoom. “Since the beginning of the large-scale aggression on February 24, we have asked officially for a conversation, but we [haven’t had] any conversation with China even though I believe that would be helpful.”
China, Russia’s most important ally, is yet to condemn what Russian President Vladimir Putin has called a “special military operation” in Ukraine, which he says is aimed at “denazifying” and demilitarising the country. The six-month conflict has killed at least 5,327 civilians in Ukraine and forced some 12 million people from their homes. The fighting has also prevented grain from leaving the country, which is known as “the breadbasket of the world”, worsening food shortages and driving price rises across the globe.
Zelenskyy and his Western allies have called Russia’s invasion a war of aggression, but Beijing says Moscow was provoked into attacking, including due to NATO’s expansion in Europe.
Xi has previously expressed concern over the conflict in Ukraine during a summit in June, saying that it “sounded an alarm for humanity”. He gave no indication of how to end the fighting, however.
Earlier in the month, he also spoke to Putin, a leader he has previously called his best friend, and reaffirmed China’s support for Russia’s “sovereignty and security”. Xi said “all parties should push for a proper settlement of the Ukraine crisis in a responsible manner”, according to state media, and that China would “continue to play its due role” for this purpose.
Zelenskyy told the SCMP that he understood China wished to maintain a “balanced” attitude towards the war but stressed that the conflict began with what he called Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukrainian sovereign territory.
“The Russians are the invaders … this is a war on our territory, they came to invade. China, as a big and powerful country, could come down and sort of put the Russian federation [in] a certain place,” Zelenskyy said. “Of course, I would really like China to review its attitude towards the Russian Federation.”
He also urged China to act at the United Nations Security Council, where it is one of five members to hold a veto, to maintain international norms.
“If we are operating without the legislation, then why should we have the Security Council at all, if any country … or several countries in the world, could simply decide to violate the rules militarily?” he asked.
China has so far abstained from votes at the UN Security Council and at the General Assembly that condemned the Russian invasion of Ukraine. It has instead called for dialogue between the warring parties, while also condemning Western military aid to Ukraine and sanctions on Russia as detrimental to a resolution of the conflict.
Despite its apparent backing of Russia, China has yet to offer any overt military aid to Moscow, according to officials in the United States.
Zelenskyy told the SCMP that he believed China had the economic clout to pressure Putin to end the war. China is Russia’s biggest trading partner and has ramped up imports of Russian crude oil since the war began, helping offset Moscow’s losses from Western nations’ curbs on energy purchases from Russia.
“I’m confident, I’m sure that without the Chinese market for the Russian Federation, Russia would be feeling complete economic isolation,” Zelenskyy said. “That’s something that China can do – to limit the trade [with Russia] until the war is over.”