(Bloomberg) -- China has sent a high-ranking diplomat to Kyiv to seek a political settlement to the war. But within Beijing, it appears to be giving Ukrainian diplomats the cold shoulder. 

Li Hui, China’s special envoy for Eurasian affairs, arrived in Russia on Saturday, the first port of call for a trip that will also take him to Poland, Ukraine, Germany, France and Belgium. This is Li’s second round of shuttle diplomacy since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine two years ago. 

But expectations for his trip to lead to a meaningful solution to the war are low. Li is a former Chinese ambassador to Moscow. Beijing’s continued diplomatic and economic support of Russia since the war has been a sticking point in relations with Europe, which said its trust in Beijing has eroded as it steps up scrutiny of its trade with China. There’s also skepticism over China’s 12-point peace proposal issued in February 2023 to end the war. 

Beijing’s outreach abroad appears to contrast with its actions at home. Ukraine’s ambassador, Pavlo Riabikin, has secured only a handful of meeting since his arrival in the Chinese capital last summer, despite sending requests to almost 40 different ministries and municipalities, according to a person familiar with the matter, who asked not to be identified discussing private information.

By contrast, Russian Ambassador Igor Morgulov — who was appointed to serve in Beijing by Vladimir Putin in September 2022 — described Russia-China relations last year as “very fruitful.” He told Rossiya-24, a state-owned Russian news channel, that his embassy arranged 27 visits by Russian officials to China at the level of federal minister and higher, including the head of state Putin himself.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry said in response to a question about the Ukrainian ambassador’s lack of meetings that “communication channels between China and Ukraine are unimpeded.” The Ukraine embassy in Beijing didn’t respond to an email seeking comment. 

Support for Ukraine among the broader Beijing diplomatic community is mixed. A Ukrainian embassy event on Feb. 22 to mark two years of the war was attended by Western diplomats including US Ambassador Nicholas Burns and British Ambassador Caroline Wilson. In contrast, only half a dozen diplomats from Global South countries in Beijing showed up, out of the more than 100 invited, the person said.

Elsewhere, countries are seeking to rally support for Ukraine’s peace talks. Swiss Foreign Minister Ignazio Cassis last month invited China to participate in a high-level peace conference. Switzerland, which has historically remained neutral in European conflicts, is looking to establish talks by the summer. 

A detailed itinerary for Li’s trip has yet to be released. A European diplomat, who asked not to be identified discussing private matters, described the visit as being hastily arranged and said expectations are low for it to yield anything new or substantial.

Russia Meeting

Li said in a meeting Saturday with Mikhail Galuzin, Russian deputy foreign minister, that China will continue its efforts to promote talks for peace, mediate and build consensus among parties to push for a solution to the conflict. 

“Historical experience shows that any conflict in the end has to be settled through negotiations,” China’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement following Li’s meeting. “The more acute the conflict is, the more important it is not to give up efforts for dialogue.”

Li conducted his first shuttle diplomacy in May 2023 where he met with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy. Li said then that China would help Ukraine “within its own ability.”

Beijing is paying a steep price for its stance on the war. Tensions with the European Union have been rising as the bloc made clear it won’t separate trade from security issues, with Brussels opening a probe into Chinese electric-vehicle manufacturers and Beijing launching an anti-dumping investigation into EU liquor products. Brussels is considering new restrictions on three Chinese firms that it believes are supporting Russia’s war efforts in Ukraine.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Mao Ning said at a briefing last week that the country has never given up in its efforts to promote peace and talks. Beijing said it conducted in-depth communication with Russia, Ukraine and other relevant countries, and played a constructive role in dealing with the crisis. 

Chinese President Xi Jinping has had one phone call with Zelenskiy since the war. The two spoke in April 2023, more than a year after the Russian invasion. He met with Putin three times since the war, most recently in October when the Russian leader visited Beijing for the Belt and Road forum.

©2024 Bloomberg L.P.