Xi and Zelensky Discuss Bilateral Relations, Peace Process in Phone Call

Xi and Zelensky Discuss Bilateral Relations, Peace Process in Phone Call

The Lede: Chinese President Xi Jinping made a phone call to Ukranian President Volodymyr Zelensky, the first since Russia invaded.

What We Know:

  • Xi called at the invitation of Zelensky after some world leaders urged China to exert its influence to bring an end to the Russian war in Ukraine. He offered to send a delegation including the Special Representative of the Chinese Government on Eurasian Affairs to Ukraine and other countries to hold talks with all parties on resolving the conflict.
  • Zelensky welcomed China’s role and communication toward peace but reiterated Ukraine’s unwavering position on its territorial integrity, which includes occupied areas within the 1991 borders. His office also announced the appointment of Pavlo Riabikin as Ukraine’s ambassador to China.
  • Both leaders highlighted the three-decade-long track record of bilateral relations between the countries and their willingness to advance mutually beneficial cooperation in the future.

The Background: Having brokered a diplomatic deal between Saudi Arabia and Iran in recent months, China offered a blueprint for settling the conflict between Ukraine and Russia on the anniversary of the invasion. Russia still counts China as its top strategic ally in the conflict after Xi’s recent visit to Moscow. Lu Shaye, Chinese ambassador to France, recently made comments questioning the sovereignty of former Soviet states. The Chinese government has walked back Lu’s statements and reaffirmed the sovereignty of those countries. China was Ukraine's top trading partner before the invasion.

Likely Outcomes:

  • This call may be a response to the backlash toward Ambassador Lu’s recent comments on the sovereignty of former Soviet states. At a time of disunity in European positions toward China, the comments touched a sensitive nerve in the region. China has the potential to recover and even gain politically if it implements the offers extended in the call. However, given the unlikelihood of territorial concessions and continued Western aid to Ukraine, China would have to dramatically revamp the terms of negotiation as well as its ties with Russia to make effective strides toward peace. Pulling it off would be a major win for China and a major blow to the credibility of the U.S. and NATO.
  • All sides await the outcome of upcoming critical military engagements over contested areas. The U.S. does not foresee major changes in Ukraine policy for the rest of the year and eyes China’s engagement with suspicion and doubt, dismissing it as mostly talk without meaningful results. With its support for Ukraine, opposition to Russia, and increased posturing against China, Washington has established its position and will likely stick with it.


“I had a long and meaningful phone call with President Xi Jinping. I believe that this call, as well as the appointment of Ukraine's ambassador to China, will give a powerful impetus to the development of our bilateral relations.” – Volodymyr Zelensky, President of Ukraine

“There is no winner in nuclear wars. On the nuclear issue, all relevant parties must stay calm and exercise restraint, truly act in the interests of their own future and that of humanity, and jointly manage the crisis.” – Foreign Ministry of China Release

Good Reads:

China's Xi calls Ukraine's Zelenskyy, after weeks of intensifying pressure to do so (NPR)

Xi Jinping to send Chinese peace talks delegation to Ukraine (The Guardian)

Xi and Zelensky Talk at Last, but Words Are Chosen Carefully (NYT)

President Xi Jinping Speaks with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on the Phone (Foreign Ministry of China)