Chinese Envoy Expected in Ukraine as Zelensky Returns with European Weapons Deals

Li Hui in Moscow in 2016, when he was the Chinese ambassador to Russia.Evgeny Biyatov / Sp
Evgeny Biyatov / Sputnik via AP, file

A Chinese Communist Party delegation led by former ambassador to Moscow Li Hui is expected to arrive in Kyiv, Ukraine, imminently, and spend two days there before heading to Poland on Friday.

The Chinese government confirmed Li’s deployment for visits to Ukraine, Poland, France, Germany, and Russia last week in an attempt to end the Russian invasion of Ukraine, which Beijing – a top Russian ally – considers a regional dispute and whose commenters have called a “European civil war.”

Chinese dictator Xi Jinping visited Russia in March in a show of solidarity with counterpart Vladimir Putin, declaring China – a genocidal totalitarian state – would “stand guard over the world order based on international law,” a sign of Beijing’s interest in involving itself in the Russian invasion. He spoke to Zelensky, after over a year of international pressure, on the phone a month later, committing to sending the Li delegation as soon as possible.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry confirmed on Tuesday that Li was traveling, but offered no details.

“We have provided information on Special Representative of the Chinese Government on Eurasian Affairs, Ambassador Li Hui’s visit to the five countries in Europe. We will share more details about the visit in due course,” spokesman Wang Wenbin told reporters. “Please check back for updates.”

The government of Poland appeared to confirm that Li was traveling to Ukraine first on Tuesday, however, telling the Agence France-Presse (AFP) that Warsaw expected the Chinese delegation on Friday after a “two-day trip to Kyiv.” AFP had described Li as traveling to Kyiv on Tuesday, suggesting he may arrive late on Tuesday and attend his formal engagements on Wednesday and Thursday.

King Willem-Alexander (R) receives China’s Vice President Han Zheng (L) at Huis ten Bosch Palace in The Hague, on May 11, 2023. (PATRICK VAN KATWIJK/ANP/AFP via Getty Images)

While the Foreign Ministry has remained vague on Li’s travels, the Chinese state-run Global Times appeared to confirm Li’s itinerary on Monday.

“China’s special envoy for Eurasian affairs Li Hui is set to visit Ukraine, Poland, France, Germany and Russia as part of China’s efforts to help find a political solution to the Russia-Ukraine crisis,” the propaganda outlet noted. “Judging from the order of the five stops, [Chinese research fellow] Cui [Heng] believes that Li will learn the demands and opinions of Ukraine first, then communicate those opinions with other main parties related to the crisis and, in the final stop, seek response from Russia to all these information.”

Cui, one of the Global Times‘ stable of communist regime-approved experts, attempted to temper expectations about the results of China’s intervention, claiming that “Li’s mission is to collect and exchange information among the parties rather than to persuade them” but insisting, “China is the most suitable third party to kick off the mediation work.”

Despite the apparent all-out efforts on the Communist Party’s front to insert itself into the crisis, its propaganda arms appear to be tempering expectations for Li’s European tour. In addition to Cui’s remark, China Daily, another government publication, published a column on Tuesday insisting that any failure on China’s part to end the conflict was Europe and America’s fault.

“The difficulties in mediating between Moscow and Kyiv are readily apparent, as both sides have adopted seemingly intransigent positions. Nonetheless, China is giving it a go,” China Daily observed. “Given that the conflict is essentially a proxy war the US is waging against Russia, its European allies in particular need to step up to the plate and not act as enablers for Washington to keep fanning the flames of hostilities.”

Kyiv awaits Zelensky’s arrival as well as Li’s. The Ukrainian president left the capital for a tour of Italy, France, Vatican City, Germany, and the United Kingdom this week, cementing commitments from several allied states to donate military hardware to the war effort.

“Three long days – and our warriors and our state are getting stronger. Much stronger, I am sure of it. We are returning home with new defense packages: more new and powerful weapons for the frontline, more protection for our people,” Zelensky said in a public message on Tuesday while returning to Ukraine. The United Kingdom and Germany, especially, committed to donating attack drones and other critical weapons.

China’s top diplomat, Foreign Minister Qin Gang, is also heavily engaged in Ukraine discussions. Qin met with visiting Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto on Monday to discuss the situation, praising the government of Prime Minister Viktor Orban for its friendly ties to the Chinese Communist Party and exchanging “in-depth views on Ukraine and other issues,” according to the Chinese Foreign Ministry.

“We must constantly strengthen the voice of the peace camp so that it becomes clear that the global majority is indeed in favor of peace,” Szijjarto said in a statement following his meeting with Qin, “And China certainly has a key role in strengthening the voice of the peace camp.”

China officially claims “neutrality” in the dispute between Ukraine and Russia, as Ukraine is a member of China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has invited Chinese companies to rebuild regions of Ukraine destroyed by the Russian invasion after hostilities conclude.

China’s public statements on the full-scale invasion, which began in February 2022 after eight years of fighting following the Russian colonization of Crimea, have studiously omitted any negative statements towards Russia or issuing of blame. They have instead urged both sides to “calm down as soon as possible” and “cease hostilities,” offering no specifics for how to do so.

The Japanese agency Kyodo News reported on Tuesday that the Chinese government issued a notice to foreign embassies in Beijing to remove any visible signs of support for Ukraine and scolded them for using their buildings to display “political propaganda.” As of Kyodo’s report, no embassy displaying such signs appears to have obeyed the Chinese government edict at press time.

China has simultaneously, however, begun allowing expressions indicating that its leaders do not trust Russia to defeat the Ukrainian military in the short term. In a commentary published this week, top Chinese propagandist Hu Xijin said evidence indicated Russia was facing a “critical situation” in the battleground eastern region of Bakhmut and he believed there would be no “fundamental turning point in the battlefield this year.” To that end, Hu suggested that, as the world was “moving forward” from Ukraine, neither side should “pursue and absolutely victory forcefully.”

Follow Frances Martel on Facebook and Twitter.


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