China snubs Zelenskyy in Switzerland – POLITICO


DAVOS, Switzerland — Ukrainian leaders made no secret of wanting to meet with Chinese officials in Switzerland this week but President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has headed home without the desired encounter in a blow to Kyiv.

China’s delegation in Switzerland had ample opportunity to sit across from their Ukrainian counterparts, whether in Bern or at the World Economic Forum in Davos. Any meeting would have satisfied a long-standing hope in Kyiv to hold frank, in-person discussions with senior officials from Beijing. Just before a multi-nation peace summit in the Swiss Alps, Ukraine’s presidential chief of staff Andriy Yermak said it was imperative for China to join peace talks and hinted that Zelenskyy would have an opportunity to chat with Chinese Premier Li Qiang.

In the end, Ukraine made no headway on getting China to commit to negotiations, and Zelenskyy and Li failed to speak.

It’s the latest sign China has no intention of pushing for an end to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s full-scale war on Ukraine. It has instead sided with Russia, providing its forces with materials for military use which have sustained Moscow’s war effort despite Western pressure and sanctions. Ukraine and its supporters argue halting that pipeline would further derail the Kremlin’s plans.

China’s decision not to meet with Ukrainians appeared intentional and not the result of a scheduling problem. One senior U.S. official said Beijing rejected Kyiv’s request for a meeting at some point during their mutual Swiss visits. Another senior U.S. official said China has refused any gatherings after Russia urged it to cease diplomatic encounters with Ukraine. Both officials, like others referred to in this story, were granted anonymity to detail a sensitive dynamic.

A Ukrainian official disputed the characterization, saying there was no meeting with Chinese officials on the delegation’s schedule and that Kyiv never requested one. Chinese officials didn’t respond to a request for comment.

A senior European Union official said the bloc has urged China to renew direct contact with Zelenskyy, noting a meeting with Li in Switzerland would have been a positive step.

Both countries have engaged in some diplomacy since Russia’s renewed and expanded invasion. Zelenskyy and Chinese leader Xi Jinping spoke on the phone last April and China’s Ukraine envoy traveled to Kyiv the following month. Relations have gotten far less personal since, though Ukraine maintains hope both sides can restart talks.

Zelenskyy and Li, a close confidant of Xi, were in Davos to meet with foreign counterparts and address the forum’s well-heeled audience.

They delivered very different messages: Li presented China as a safe place to invest despite its economic woes — throwing in a few digs at the United States along the way — while Zelenskyy bashed Putin and rallied allies to Ukraine’s cause.

“Anyone thinks this is only about us, this is only about Ukraine, they are fundamentally mistaken,” he said on WEF’s main stage Tuesday.

Without a Chinese meeting on his schedule, Zelenskyy spent time coordinating with key partners, namely U.S. National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan and Secretary of State Antony Blinken, as well as European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen.

Without a Chinese meeting on his schedule, Zelenskyy spent time coordinating with key partners, namely U.S. National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan and Secretary of State Antony Blinken | Fabrice Coffrini/AFP via Getty Images

The meetings came at a crucial moment for Zelenskyy and his country, especially as the ground battle had come to a near halt, leaving both sides locked in attritional artillery bombardments along the massive front line.

The U.S. Congress is struggling to pass $61 billion in military aid for Ukraine as Republicans recoil further from sustaining a war with no end in sight, preferring instead to funnel resources toward securing the southern border with Mexico as migrants arrive in large numbers. President Joe Biden has called lawmakers to the White House to break the deadlock.

Despite Western sanctions pressure, Russia’s defense-manufacturing operation continues to hum, allowing Putin’s forces to keep fighting despite hundreds of thousands of troops being killed or injured.

China’s cold shoulder notwithstanding, the Ukrainian leader was greeted by the forum’s attendees with rock-star feverishness.

A large crowd gathered outside a meeting room just to catch a glimpse of Zelenskyy heading to his next session. He ignored questions from the press, including one on Ukraine’s relationship with China, walking away as if he hadn’t heard it.

Stuart Lau and Veronika Melkozerova contributed reporting.

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