Briefly: Chinese President Xi Jinping and his Ukrainian counterpart Volodymyr Zelensky have held their first call since the start of the Russo-Ukraine War.
The two sides’ differing readouts from the call make for interesting reading:
- Ukraine’s version details the “devastating consequences” of Russia’s invasion, while China doesn’t mention “Russia” or “war” (just a “crisis”)
- China says it’s “on the side of peace”, while Ukraine says nobody wants peace more than Ukrainians, who are exercising their right to self defence
- And Ukraine urges against supporting Russia, while China says it’s neither adding “oil to the fire” nor profiting from it (a dig at the US)
Why did Xi take the call now? No one knows for sure, but theories include:
- To shape the EU’s new China policy process, which started this week
- To delay or influence Ukraine’s counter-offensive on Russia, and/or
- To curb the fallout from Xi’s envoy dropping a clanger on French TV
Intrigue’s take: Talking is always good (unless you’re in a cinema). It’s revealing.
Zelensky revealed his ability to tailor a message: his “unwavering” support for the One China policy was just what Xi wanted to hear. Yet it also shone a light on Xi’s refusal to return the favour (ie, acknowledge Ukraine’s own territorial grievances).
As for Xi, his avoidance of words like “Russia” or “war“ revealed the opposite: a refusal to tailor the message, hinting at the depth of Beijing’s alignment with Moscow. This would’ve been tough (though not surprising) for Zelensky to hear.
All in all, Zelensky said it was a “long and meaningful” chat. We’re assuming that’s shorthand for “long overdue” and “full of meaning for everyone watching”.
Also worth noting:
- Zelensky has been calling for direct talks with Xi Jinping since August.
- Last month, Xi travelled to Russia to meet Putin. It was their fifth known contact since the war began, and their second in-person meeting.