Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy described the conversation with Chinese President Xi Jinping as “long and meaningful.”
Chinese President Xi Jinping has spoken with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky for the first time since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and Beijing said it wanted to send an envoy to Kiev to serve as a mediator to pursue a “political settlement” .
The phone call lasted nearly an hour on Wednesday and was “long and meaningful,” the Ukrainian president said.
“I believe that this call, as well as the appointment of Ukraine’s ambassador to China, will give a strong impetus to the development of our bilateral relations,” Zelenskyy wrote on Twitter.
I had a long and meaningful phone conversation with 🇨🇳 President Xi Jinping. I believe that this call, as well as the appointment of Ukraine’s ambassador to China, will give a strong impetus to the development of our bilateral relations.
— Володимир Зеленський (@ZelenskyyUa) April 26, 2023
The first known wartime phone call between the two leaders comes after Xi and Zelenskyy both said they were willing to talk to each other following Xi’s visit to Moscow in March.
A statement from China’s foreign ministry said Beijing’s “core position is to facilitate peace talks” and that an envoy – a former ambassador to Russia – will visit Ukraine to seek a “political settlement”.
The statement had a positive tone and was a nod to Kiev’s insistence that its territory cannot be divided by Russia’s annexations and made it clear that Beijing values its long-standing ties with Ukraine.
Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova praised China’s approach but denounced Ukraine’s attitude.
While Zakharova praised Beijing’s “willingness to strive to establish a [peace] negotiation process,” she said, “Kyiv rejected “all good initiatives aimed at a settlement.”
The US White House also welcomed the call between the two leaders, but said it would be too early to say whether it would lead to a peace deal.
“That’s a good thing,” John Kirby, the United States national security spokesman, said of the call.
“Whether that’s going to lead to some sort of meaningful peace movement, plan or proposal, I just don’t think we know at this point.”
Aspirations of the mediator
Al Jazeera’s Charles Stratford, reporting from Kiev, said the call was “hugely important”.
“There are many details in a statement from the Chinese foreign ministry,” Stratford said.
“President Xi praised President Zelenskyy for his need for bilateral relations. However, the real focus is on the war… and China’s main position is to facilitate a peaceful solution.”
China says it is in a position to help mediate the conflict because it has not taken sides.
“What China has done to solve the crisis in Ukraine has been beyond expectations,” said Yu Jun, deputy chief of the foreign ministry’s Eurasian branch.
Western countries say China’s 12-point peace plan in the proposal is too vague, offers no concrete way out of the war and could be used by Putin to promote a ceasefire that would give his troops control of occupied territory while they regroup.
Earlier this week, European countries sounded the alarm after China’s ambassador to France said states like Ukraine that gained independence with the dissolution of the Soviet Union “have no real status in international law”.
Beijing said its position on the independence of ex-Soviet states has remained unchanged.