Rebooting the world. What now, after Xi’s call with Zelenskyy? — opinion

6 May, 01:39 PM
Xi Jinping (Photo:Ludovic Marin/Pool via REUTERS)

Xi Jinping (Photo:Ludovic Marin/Pool via REUTERS)

We are seeing a reboot of the world order into a US-China one.

One of Ukraine's most critical recent diplomatic moves was a phone call between President Zelenskyy and Chinese President Xi Jinping. Contact — political and personal — between Xi and Zelensky is critically important in this conversation. China directed this conversation to be about its views on global security and its stance on, as they say, "the settlement of the situation around Ukraine." They still call our war a crisis and will continue to call it this way.

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Xi talked to Putin in Moscow, then with European leaders, then with the Brazilian president as one of the leaders of the non-Western world, and now with Zelensky. Xi has committed to brokering his own version of a ceasefire. This, he believes, "will take place" in the non-Western world before the escalation of hostilities. After this conversation, Beijing received carte blanche to communicate with everyone. They appointed a special representative, a former Chinese Russian Federation ambassador. He worked there for ten years, a very famous man who is sometimes said to have the ear of Xi Jinping and key Chinese leaders.

Therefore, from the point of view of the Chinese grand strategy, this is an important communication. It is also from the Ukrainian point of view, as it expands the possibilities of maneuver.

Although we also perfectly understand the risks. This is also an opportunity to influence the solidarity of the Western world – because right now, there are the Baltic countries, there is the USA, there is France, there is Hungary. They all have completely different points of view on how China can get involved, on what terms, and by what means. So, therefore, we must communicate with our allies and partners and explain our intentions and strategy.

But overall, this call is good news.

Diplomat Kostiantyn Eliseyiv characterized the purpose of this conversation as an attempt by Beijing "to prevent the start of an active phase of the Ukrainian counteroffensive and to impose negotiations to freeze the existing status quo on the battlefield." I don't think so. Chinese experts, primarily the military, are guided by the fact that even after the success of our offensive, there will be a situation where a certain balance will emerge. From this balance, it will be possible to talk about some options for a ceasefire again, in a new spiral (as Xi Jinping said believes).

The Chinese are not really trying to influence the military situation. They rate our war as generally conventional. They also consider Putin's intentions. After talking with him in Moscow, Xi understood that Putin would go all the way. It is impossible to negotiate peace options with Putin. It could be possible with someone else in Russia. And Putin sees the destruction of Ukraine as his personal mission. Therefore, the Chinese will work when they feel the possibility of forming some new balance. So, influencing military actions is definitely not their goal. Special Representative of the People's Republic of China Li Hui is Chinese, not Russian. Beijing has its own clans and schools of foreign policy thought. He will work directly with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, who is now head of a special department at the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China, and possibly even with Xi.

Li Hui will start with two big questions.

The first is the opportunity to raise humanitarian issues, especially related to the continuation of the grain deal. The story is complicated, as Russia is demanding sanctions relief as a part of the deal. But its continuation benefits China, and they will work to secure it. There is also an opportunity to agree on a scheme to ensure the safety of the Zaporizhzhia NPP. And China expresses its desire, at least, to move on this. There are other humanitarian issues as well. China can make progress here and can even show off about it. For them, food prices have always been a fundamental issue of existence. All rebellions in China began with a lack of food. Nobody fought for freedom. There is a different mentality. And for China, it is a matter of their fundamental internal security. So, because of this, China will try to push through the continuation of the grain agreement. Under what conditions – it needs to be clarified.

The second is a discussion about how to reach a ceasefire (something they keep saying) and what happens after. A ceasefire cannot be a goal per se, and the Chinese also understand this. They need a strategy. If they want to play the role of a world player, they want to be something other than an intermediary and travel between Kyiv and Moscow. They want to move pieces on the chessboard. So they need a strategy that must be reconciled with the Western one. A number of Western countries – France and Italy in particular – publicly say that the Chinese should be involved. Therefore, Li Hui will have a function not only to communicate with us and in Moscow, but also a much broader one on a European level. The Chinese will also communicate with Washington. Without this, there will be no progress in solving any issues. This is an intellectual, diplomatic game.

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The Chinese understand that they are surrounded by a diplomatic tornado. They have everyone’s eyes, influence, and the opportunity to talk to everyone. This is a new situation for China. We are seeing a reboot of the world order into an American-China one.

Europe is not ready to be a full world player. Russia can't be anymore. In football terms, we permanently regulated it out of the Champions League. This means that a lot depends on China, and the Chinese will definitely play this game. So far, they are doing it quite skillfully. From the Chinese point of view, they have not made any serious or big mistakes so far. So I do not support the hysteria about the words of the Chinese ambassador to France, Lu Shaye. From communication with Chinese diplomats and experts, I know this is not a mainstream line of thought or even some semi-official position in Beijing. Otherwise, China would not sign agreements at all, including strategic partnership agreements with us. Imagine Xi inviting Lukashenko. The sub-president of the substate is going to Beijing? From the Chinese point of view, this is pure madness. Therefore, what Ambassador Lu Shaye said in such an emotional style (I even watched this interview) – his opinion represents a certain school of thought in Beijing, but it is not the dominant Chinese position.

What Lu Shaye said of China in France, that post-Soviet states do not actually exist, affects not so much us as it does Russia. If there are problems with understanding the status of post-Sovet states, what about the status of the existence of Russia as such? It is the legal successor of the USSR. A successor without status can be clawed at from a strategic perspective, which has always been a strong point for China. Therefore, I do not think that this is some fundamental Chinese position not to recognize the existence of countries that emerged after the collapse of the USSR.

We always take it emotionally, with such an open nerve. When the Chinese ambassador in Brussels says that we do not recognize the Russian occupation of Crimea or other territories, we applaud. When another ambassador in France says nonsense, we get worked up into the opposite emotions. Emotionally, this is correct, but one must understand the official Chinese position.

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