Zelenskyy’s Gamble: Ukraine’s Bold Move Against China Amid War’s Turning Point

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Ukraine’s Gamble: Zelenskyy’s China Criticism

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s public rebukes of China have raised eyebrows among analysts, who caution that such criticism could damage Kyiv’s diplomatic efforts. At the Shangri-La Dialogue forum in Singapore, Zelenskyy denounced China’s stance on the war between Russia and Ukraine, accusing Beijing of undermining a forthcoming peace summit by pressuring other countries not to attend.

China’s Cool Response

China firmly denied the allegations, maintaining its position on the conflict as “just and fair.” Beijing also cited the lack of “equal participation” as a reason for skipping the June peace summit, due to Russia’s absence.

Risky Move

China analysts see Zelenskyy’s outburst as a risky move that could alienate China and potentially push it closer to Russia. As Astrid Nordin, the Lau chair of Chinese International Relations at King’s College London, suggests, China prefers to cast itself as a peacemaker, while Ukrainian leaders risk antagonizing that role by criticizing China’s relationship with Russia.

Ukraine’s Failed Wooing

Zelenskyy’s exasperation comes after months of Ukrainian attempts to engage China in hopes of influencing Moscow and ending the war. However, China’s response has been uninspired, with President Xi Jinping holding only one phone call with Zelenskyy amid the conflict, while cultivating warm relations with Russian President Vladimir Putin, whom he calls his “best friend.”

China’s Neutrality and Peace Plan

Despite its cool stance towards Ukraine, China has presented itself as a neutral party, offering to broker a peace deal and proposing a 12-point “peace plan” for the country. However, the plan has not been widely endorsed or supported.

Summit Standoff

China’s decision to decline the Ukraine peace summit has further strained relations with Ukraine. Zelenskyy accuses China and Russia of conspiring to disrupt the summit by pressuring other nations to withdraw. He even alleges that China has become a mere instrument in Putin’s hands.

China vehemently denies the accusations, asserting that it is not in its diplomatic style to pressure other countries and that its position on the talks is transparent.

Global Divide

The summit has become a test of global support for Ukraine, with notable absences such as China, Saudi Arabia, and the United States. While Vice President Kamala Harris and National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan will represent the U.S., President Biden’s absence has been met with skepticism by Zelenskyy, who predicts applause from Putin in Moscow.

Balancing Act

Ukraine’s desire for international support faces the reality of nations prioritizing their own interests. Jie Yu, senior research fellow on China at Chatham House, believes Zelenskyy’s comments reveal his frustration with China’s alignment with Russia rather than a total rejection of China.

Yu notes that several emerging economies, including India, South Africa, and Brazil, have adopted similar stances to China. Ukraine’s challenge is to avoid alienating these nations while navigating a complex political landscape where multiple countries seek to ensure their own influence remains intact.