China says it will send peace envoy to Ukraine

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Chinese leader Xi Jinping told Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky in a phone call on Wednesday that his government would send a peace envoy to Ukraine and other nations, state media said.

A government statement reported by state TV gave no indication whether the Chinese envoy would visit Russia.

“China will send a special representative of the Chinese government on Eurasian affairs to Ukraine and other countries to conduct in-depth communication with all parties on the political settlement of the Ukrainian crisis,” the statement said.

It made no mention of Russia or President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine last year.

“There is no winner in a nuclear war,” the statement warned.

China, which said it wanted to act as mediator in Russia’s war with Ukraine, has tried to appear neutral but has refused to criticise Moscow’s invasion.

Mr Xi and Mr Putin issued a joint statement before the February 2020 attack saying their governments had a “no limits friendship”.

Mr Xi’s government released a peace proposal in February and called for a ceasefire and talks.

Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky
Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky said he hoped the phone call would give a powerful impetus to the development of ‘bilateral relations’ (Andrew Kravchenko/AP)

“There is no winner in a nuclear war,” the report said.

“All parties concerned should remain calm and restrained in dealing with the nuclear issue and truly look at the future and destiny of themselves and humanity as a whole and work together to manage the crisis.”

Mr Zelensky said he had had “a long and meaningful phone call” with Mr Xi. His press officer, Serhii Nykyforov, said Mr Zelensky and Mr Xi spoke for nearly an hour.

“I believe that this call, as well as the appointment of Ukraine’s ambassador to China, will give a powerful impetus to the development of our bilateral relations,” Mr Zelensky said in a Facebook post.

Talks between the two leaders had been anticipated for weeks, after China produced a 12-point proposal to end the fighting. The phone call was for China another step towards deeper involvement in resolving the conflict.

Europe China
Russian president Vladimir Putin, right, and Chinese president Xi Jinping toast during their dinner at the Kremlin last month (Pavel Byrkin, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP, File)

The peace proposal came on the heels of China’s announcement that it was keen to act as mediator in the war that has reenergised western alliances that are regarded by Beijing and Moscow as rivals.

With the step, Mr Xi’s government reinforced China’s claim to being neutral in the war, despite blocking efforts at the United Nations to condemn the Kremlin’s invasion.

While Mr Zelensky has moved his country closer to Nato and has successfully pleaded with alliance member nations to send sophisticated modern weapons to help defeat Russia, Beijing has accused the West of provoking the conflict and “fanning the flames” by providing Ukraine with defensive arms.

Mr Putin warmly welcomed Mr Xi to the Kremlin in March, in what was seen as a powerful message to western leaders that their efforts to isolate Moscow over the fighting in Ukraine had fallen short.

Russian foreign ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova commended China’s approach but was scathing about Ukraine’s stance.

Referring to the call, she praised Beijing’s “readiness to strive to establish a (peace) negotiations process”, while slamming what she called Kyiv’s “rejection of any sound initiatives aimed at a settlement”.

Chernobyl’s nuclear power plant workers lay flowers at a monument to the victims of the tragedy
Nuclear power plant workers attend a monument to victims of the Chernobyl tragedy on the 37th anniversary of the disaster (Wladyslaw Musiienko/AP)

Mr Zelensky drew a parallel between the Chernobyl nuclear disaster on April 26 1986, to Moscow’s brief seizure of the plant and its radiation-contaminated exclusion zone following its full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

“Last year, the occupier not only seized the (Chernobyl) nuclear power plant, but also endangered the entire world again,” Mr Zelensky said in a Telegram post in English.

Russian forces were stationed at the Chernobyl plant between February and March last year, before it was recaptured by Ukrainian troops.

Mr Zelenskyy said Kyiv had since then re-established pre-war security measures and scientific activities within the zone. But he cautioned that future moves from Moscow could endanger global nuclear safety.

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