When Mr. Putin visited Mr. Xi in Beijing right before the start of the Ukraine war in February 2022, their governments proclaimed a “no-limits” partnership in a 5,000-word statement. The two men saw each other again last September at a security conference in Samarkand, Uzbekistan. Mr. Xi has not talked to Volodymyr Zelensky, the president of Ukraine, since the war began, much less ask for his perspective on peace talks.
Mr. Zelensky has said he would enter peace talks only if Mr. Putin withdrew his troops from Ukrainian territory. That includes the Crimean Peninsula, which the Russian military seized in 2014, and the Donbas region, where that same year Russian troops stoked a pro-Russia separatist insurgency.
Mr. Zelensky has said he would welcome a chance to speak with Mr. Xi, and some Ukrainian officials hold out hope that China will eventually exercise its leverage over Russia to get Mr. Putin to withdraw his troops. But China has not indicated it would make any such move.
On Thursday, Qin Gang, the foreign minister of China, spoke by phone with Dmytro Kuleba, the foreign minister of Ukraine, and stressed that the warring sides should “resume peace talks” and “return to the track of political settlement,” according to a Chinese summary of the conversation.
In an interview with the BBC before Mr. Xi’s visit was announced, Mr. Kuleba said he believed China was neither ready to arm Russia nor bring about peace. “The visit to Moscow in itself is a message, but I don’t think it will have any immediate consequences,” he said.
Analysts in Washington concur. “I don’t think China can serve as a fulcrum on which any Ukraine peace process could move,” said Ryan Hass, a former U.S. diplomat to China and White House official who is a scholar at the Brookings Institution.
Mr. Hass added that China would have a role as part of a signing or guaranteeing group for any eventual peace deal and would be critical to Ukraine’s reconstruction. “I believe Zelensky understands this, which is why he has been willing to exercise so much patience with China and with Xi personally,” he said.