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China's Mediation Efforts: A Closer Look at Beijing's Ukraine Strategy

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov recently wrapped up a trip to Beijing where he met with his Chinese counterpart, Wang Yi, for talks on a series of "hot topics" amid Moscow's grinding war against Ukraine.

Finding Perspective: China has emerged as a close diplomatic ally for Russia and visits like this are becoming increasingly common.

Among those hot topics explored on April 8, Lavrov and Wang discussed bilateral ties and big issues like the war in Ukraine and tensions in the Asia-Pacific. The pair also said their governments had agreed to start a dialogue on Eurasian security with the aim of "double counteracting" the European-Atlantic alliance led by Washington.

The visit came as Moscow slowly but steadily advances on the battlefield in eastern Ukraine amid cracks in Western support.

In recent months, Beijing has also resumed some of the stagnant shuttle diplomacy between Kyiv, Moscow, and European Union capitals that began as the war entered its second year.

From March 2-11, Li Hui, the special representative on Eurasian affairs that Beijing appointed as its envoy, was doing the rounds in Europe as he sought to "mediate and build consensus" to end the "Ukraine crisis," which is how China officially refers to the grinding war.

Li's diplomatic rounds were similar to his previous tour, which failed to generate any headway. During his initial visit in May 2023, he promoted Beijing's 12-point paper (often referred to as a peace plan) that set out general principles for ending the war but did not get into specifics.

This time around, Li's European stops looked much more geared toward getting a feel for EU resolve toward the war and probing for cracks and space that could allow for an end to the war on more Russian-friendly terms.

There are few indicators that Li's shuttle diplomacy has generated any positive momentum. The 12-point paper received a lukewarm reception in both Russia and Ukraine when it was released in February 2023, and was criticized by Brussels and Washington for accommodating Moscow while not condemning the invasion.
Why It Matters: Li's recent trip looks less designed to find solutions to end the war than to gauge the levels of Ukraine fatigue among Europe's top brass.

Beijing has good reason to send out such a scouting mission. Elections for the European Parliament will come in June and the specter cast by November's U.S. presidential election is hanging over the continent.

The flow of U.S. weapons is currently held up in Congress and a victory for former President Donald Trump could further hamper support for Kyiv -- and there's major questions about whether European support alone could sustain Ukraine on the battlefield.

Both Beijing and Moscow are seeing some blood in the water at the moment and are looking to see if there's more.

The week before his recent visit to China, Lavrov said that China had proposed the most reasonable peace plan so far for resolving the Ukraine conflict -- and Russian President Vladimir Putin will reportedly travel to China to meet Chinese leader Xi Jinping in May.

All this growing coordination comes with a Swiss-hosted international peace conference in the summer about the war in Ukraine, where the issue of territorial concessions and what terms Kyiv and Moscow might be willing to accept will be hotly debated.