1. China’s increasingly intense rivalry with the United States makes an impartial Chinese mediation between US-supported Ukraine and anti-US and China-aligned Russia difficult.
  2. China has failed to condemn Russia for its invasion of Ukraine, repeated Russian propaganda and disinformation about the war, and staunchly opposed Western economic sanctions that aim to curb the Kremlin's ability to fund its war operation.
  3. Since Russia's invasion of Ukraine, Xi has claimed China's neutrality, but has spoken with Putin five times  including twice in person without picking up the phone to call Zelensky, despite a years-long strategic-level partnership between their countries.
  4. China has also continued to carry out military exercises alongside Russian forces, with its defense minister visiting Moscow earlier this month and hailing “increasingly consolidated “ trust between the two countries.
  5. A vaguely-worded “ political settlement” to the conflict released by China on the one-year anniversary of the invasion and raised by Xi to Zelensky has been widely viewed in the West and Kyiv as being far more favorable to Russia than Ukraine. It calls for a ceasefire but includes no provision that Moscow first withdraw its troops from Ukrainian land.
  6. The close personal ties between Xi and Putin were further underlined during a three-day visit from the Chinese leader to Moscow last month.
  7. The critical importance of the Russia relationship for China could also mean there are simply some buttons that Beijing would be careful to avoid pressing undermining the potential for true mediation.
  8. There is no indication that Xi is trying to get Putin or Russia to make concessions of any sort
  9. Given that the war is an existential one for Ukraine, it cannot find any foreign mediation as credible if the mediating party is clearly supportive of the stance of Russia, which started the invasion.
  10. Beijing’s mediation would immediately put the spotlight back on China’s position of pro-Russian neutrality. China has consistently blamed NATO expansion for the conflict and taken pro-Russian political, rhetorical and media positions — all of which would draw renewed harsh criticism. This would reignite tensions with the West at a time when China is stabilizing relations with Europe and trying to improve its beleaguered relationship with the United States.
  11. China’s pro-Russian would also raise doubts about Beijing’s status as a neutral mediator and might even derail its mediation efforts, especially if China proposes controversial compromises during negotiations. But abandoning these pro-Russian positions would be seen by domestic and international audiences as a humiliating retreat forced by Western pressure and Moscow would see it as a betrayal.
  12. China also sees that mediating could easily turn into a Western push to force Beijing to sanction Russia. If Moscow resists ending the war or making substantial concessions in the negotiations mediated by Beijing, the West would likely blame China’s economic lifeline to Moscow for Russian President Vladimir Putin’s intransigence and the continuation of the war. The West, led by the United States, would exert massive pressure on Beijing to prove its commitment to ending the conflict by sanctioning Russia — pressure that would mount as the war continues. In such a scenario, China would face a ‘lose-lose situation’. If it imposes sanctions it would alienate its only great power partner, losing in the process many of the recent high cost gains in China–Russian relations, and strengthen the position of its chief rival, the US, which aims to weaken Russia. If it doesn’t, it would further strain its tense relations with the West. Future progress in relations with the West might even become partly conditioned on Beijing sanctioning Moscow. Both options would likely impose political and economic costs on China.
  13. As mediation is risky, China would likely remain reluctant to mediate in the Russia–Ukraine war, at least until circumstances change significantly. In the meantime, Beijing will continue to make noises about mediating the conflict and restraining Russia to mollify the West, improve its public image and undermine Western unity.

Add new comment