China has made its strongest remarks to date over Ukraine – but still refused to acknowledge Russia’s actions as an invasion.
Foreign minister Wang Yi spoke to his Ukrainian counterpart Dmytro Kuleba, describing the situation as a “conflict”.
Previously China had described the invasion as a “deteriorating situation” and Mr Wang said that China was “concerned about the damage done to civilians”.
But China still called on both Russia and Ukraine to find a solution through negotiations, and reiterated its support for Russia’s position, saying “regional security cannot be achieved by expanding military blocs”.
The Ukrainian foreign minister said he “looked forward to China’s mediation efforts for the ceasefire”.
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That suggests China is open to the suggestion but that, seven days into the invasion, those efforts have not yet begun.
Will China step up?
Throughout the crisis – and before it – China has been clear in its diplomatic position.
That Ukraine is a sovereign territory, that Russia has legitimate security concerns and that negotiation is the best solution.
The problem is that, with Russia shelling Ukrainian cities, it has no answer to the question of whether Russia’s legitimate security concerns allow it violate Ukraine’s sovereignty.
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So far it has simply dodged that question.
That feeds into the other problem.
A ceasefire is not a bilateral issue: Ukraine clearly wants one; Russia, it seems, does not.
So for Russia to sit down would require pressure from China – right now the only country with any real leverage over Vladimir Putin.
Read more: China’s tacit support for Russia shows its comfort with public hypocrisy
In all its statements to date, China has refused to antagonise Russia, instead, blaming the United States and NATO for the current situation.
But its abstention – rather than veto – at the United Nations Security Council motion deploring Russia’s conduct is grounds for optimism.
And assuming the public mantle of global peacemaker undoubtedly appeals to Xi Jinping.
Whether that trumps China’s more cynical self-interest in siding with Russia is another matter.
I’m not sure it will but would dearly love to be proved wrong.