Zelenskyy Invites Xi Jinping To Ukraine

Posted by Reading Time: 2 minutes

By Chris Devonshire-Ellis

Kyiv owes Beijing money for stalled BRI projects and will need to offer more than requests for financial assistance and tours of bombed-out buildings.

The Ukrainian President, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, has invited the Chinese President Xi Jinping to visit Ukraine. At this moment, Beijing has yet to respond, however, Xi appears unlikely to accept, although it is feasible China could send a minister.

Xi may also find the invitation inappropriate and an attempt to embarrass him after his recent visit to Moscow to meet Zelenskyy’s adversary, Vladimir Putin. If so, this is an issue that will not go down well in Zhongnanhai.

Zelenskyy noted that prior to the Ukraine conflict, he had had some contact with Xi, but none since. However, that doesn’t mean that diplomatic ties are broken. Ukraine and China maintain diplomatic ties which have been in place since 1992. Talks and discussions between the two sides are held on a regular basis, and China maintains an Embassy in the country. That embassy relocated to Lviv in March 2022 and was heavily involved in evacuating Chinese nationals out of the country. The Embassy is still operational.

Ukrainian delegations have also recently been to China, with the Ukrainian Ambassador to China recently hosting a delegation that visited the Chinese Centre For Globalisation in Beijing for talks about the proposed China Peace Plan prior to Xi’s visit to Moscow.

Ukraine also signed up to China’s Belt & Road Initiative, with Chinese firms active in numerous construction projects. Ukraine borrowed US$1 billion from China to assist with road and port projects as part of a European land bridge to Poland via Ukraine. That construction has now ceased, while much of what had been built has been destroyed. It is unclear whether Ukraine is party to any insurance or default coverage as a result of this, however, the vast majority of insurance claims are invalid if the damage is attributable to ‘acts of war’. With Russia labeling the conflict as a ‘special military operation’, there is plenty of space for legal wrangling over future restitutions.

China could be interested in discussing a post-conflict rebuild with Ukraine and re-engaging with construction projects to help rehabilitate and rebuild the national infrastructure. China would offer a cheaper and probably quicker solution than EU contractors also looking at such opportunities. Chinese contractors are also used to working in war zones, with extra risks from exploded munitions and dangerous sites. EU insurers may balk at the cost of protecting EU workers. However, such discussions are usually the remit of China’s ambassador, Foreign Ministry officials, and representatives of China’s SOEs, rather than the President.

Beijing’s view will probably be that Zelenskyy’s invitation is seen as an attempt to embarrass rather than provide a route to dialogue and may have cost Zelenskyy a video conference call as a result. Dealing with China requires strategy and protocols. While breaking these can be resolved over time, as of now, China’s response is rather more likely to include more pertinent answers such as advising Zelenskyy to approach the Chinese Ambassador in Lviv first for tours of Ukraine and requests for support.

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