Xi urges Zelenskyy to negotiate with Moscow


China’s president Xi Jinping urged his Ukraine counterpart Volodymyr Zelenskyy to negotiate with Moscow, in the first conversation between the leaders since Russia’s full-scale invasion a year ago.

In an almost hour-long telephone call that Ukraine’s president described as “long and meaningful”, Xi told Zelenskyy that he would send a special representative to talk to “all parties” to seek a “political settlement” of the war, according to China’s foreign ministry.

“Dialogue and negotiation are the only way forward,” Xi added.

But a readout of the call from Zelenskyy’s office avoided any reference to negotiation and instead “expressed hope for China’s active participation in efforts to restore peace”.

Ukraine has dismissed a “peace plan” put forward by China in February because it did not stipulate the restoration of its territorial integrity and the withdrawal of Russian forces from occupied territory.

But Zelenskyy has long sought a conversation with Xi to put forward Ukraine’s cause and persuade China’s leader to exercise pressure on President Vladimir Putin to rein in his war.

Zelenskyy insisted that “there can be no peace at the expense of territorial compromises”, making clear his refusal to trade Ukrainian land for peace.

European leaders have also been sceptical of Beijing’s peace initiative, while both the US and EU have warned China not to arm Russia.

Officials and analysts suggested that Xi may have made the long-awaited call to repair relations with EU capitals enraged by comments last weekend by China’s ambassador to France suggesting that former Soviet states did not enjoy full sovereignty.

Beijing later backtracked on the remarks.

A senior EU official said China wanted “to be regarded as a player and not discarded as being on Russia’s side”. The official added: “They want to be back in the game and be seen as a party in the [peace] project.”

Xi told Zelenskyy that, “as a permanent member of the UN Security Council and a responsible major country, China would not sit idly by, nor would it add oil to the fire, still less exploit the situation for self gain,” an apparent dig at the US.

In comments on Twitter, Zelenskyy said the telephone call would give “powerful impetus to the development of our bilateral relations”, noting that “before the full-scale Russian invasion, China was Ukraine’s number-one trading partner”.

But he added: “Any support — even partial — is converted by Russia into the continuation of its aggression, into its further rejection of peace. The less support Russia receives, the sooner the war will end and peace will return to international relations.”

Ukraine’s president said previously that he had extended an invitation to Xi to visit Kyiv.

John Kirby, spokesperson for the White House National Security Council, said the US had not known of the call in advance, adding that “if there’s going to be a negotiated peace it has got to be when President Zelenskyy is ready for it”.

But he said it was a “good thing” that Xi and Zelenskyy had spoken because Washington had been pressing the Chinese for a call and for Beijing to hear the “Ukrainian perspective” on the conflict.

China’s 12-point proposal to end the war, which Xi discussed with Putin last month during a state visit to Moscow, calls on the warring sides to resume peace talks and respect national sovereignty.

But it lacks any mention of Russia withdrawing its troops from Ukrainian territory. Kyiv and its western backers say this must occur before any negotiations with Moscow can begin.

US secretary of state Antony Blinken told a Senate committee on Capitol Hill in March that any ceasefire without the withdrawal of Russian troops “would effectively be supporting the ratification of Russian conquest”.

Additional reporting by James Politi in Washington and Henry Foy in Brussels