This a special note on the call that earlier today. There will be a regular edition of the newsletter later today, as well as this week’s episode of the Sharp China podcast.
Xi Jinping finally held a call with Ukraine President Zelensky, and according to the PRC readout China will send its special representative on Eurasian affairs to “Ukraine and other countries to conduct in-depth communication with all parties on the political settlement of the crisis”. I have included a translation of the full Chinese readout at the end of this note.
There have been several reports over the last few months that Xi would hold a call with Zelensky, and recent questions from European leaders as to why Xi had so far not spoken with Zelensky since before Russia invaded Ukraine. So why did Xi decide that today was the day to make the call? Some possibilities, thanks to some of the folks who talked through some of these, and I would appreciate your thoughts:
Following the visits from various EU leaders, and especially the recent visits of Macron and von der Leyen, Xi decided it was important to show to the EU that the PRC was making an effort to consider not just Putin’s but also Zelensky’s views, and that showing it is making an effort may soften some of the harsher voices towards China in the EU, and further the goal of encouraging European strategic autonomy and wedging some distance between the EU and the US;
Perhaps Ambassador Lu Shaye’s comments accelerated Xi’s timeline for a call, as they did real damage to PRC in some European capitals? If Lu’s “personal views” were a consideration then Lu will likely be in a lot of trouble;
The Ukraine counter-offensive is about to start, the PRC side (and Russia?) is worried that Russia may see some significant setbacks, and getting involved now, and sending an envoy, may delay the start of the counter-offensive;
Xi wants to capitalize on the momentum China believes it has been building as a “peacemaker”, in contrast to the US which it says just adds fuel to the fire and profits from the crisis;
Is Xi getting more concerned this war could go nuclear? The PRC readout of Xi-Zelensky call includes this language:
"Dialogue and negotiation are the only way out. There are no winners in a nuclear war. Regarding nuclear issues, all relevant parties should maintain calm and restraint, truly consider their own and the future of all humanity, and work together to manage and control the crisis. 对话谈判是唯一可行的出路。核战争没有赢家。对待核问题，有关各方都应该保持冷静克制，真正从自身和全人类的前途命运着眼，共同管控好危机。"
Is this language somehow lending credibility to the nuclear warnings from Russia? The PRC has made security assurances to Ukraine “in the event of aggression or threat of aggression against Ukraine using nuclear weapons”.
Was Putin consulted before this call?