(Bloomberg) -- China’s ambassador Li Hui said it would be difficult for Russia and Ukraine to currently hold meaningful talks to end their conflict, a sign of the complexity of the situation as Beijing tries to broker a peace deal.
“It may be difficult right now for all sides to sit down at the negotiating table” Li told reporters in Beijing on Friday, speaking after his two-week trip to Ukraine, Russia and several European nations, including France and Germany.
“During my communications with both parties, their positions were vastly different,” he said.
As China’s special representative for Eurasian Affairs, Li has been tasked with promoting Beijing’s efforts to negotiate an end to Russia’s war in Ukraine, part of a wider blueprint spearheaded by President Xi Jinping, Russia’s biggest diplomatic backer.
Beijing’s proposal includes a call for a cease-fire, something that Ukraine, the US and its allies have all rejected because it would effectively help Russia consolidate territorial gains.
During Li’s visit last month, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba made clear that Kyiv would not accept an outcome that leads to the loss of territory or a frozen conflict. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken expressed confidence that Ukraine would regain more territory, telling the Washington Post last month that the Biden administration was open to a Chinese mediation role if it backed a “just and durable” peace.
Li said that China is considering sending further delegations to Europe to discuss Ukraine, saying the main purpose of his trip was to “exchange views with all parties” rather than get any quick results. He said Beijing would study what he has learned on his trip before deciding on next steps and specific measures to take.
Li said the risk of escalation in the war remains high. The conflict is in a “stalemate and the battlefield is fraught with uncertainty,” he said. It was necessary for some party to take the initiative to help find a solution, he added.
Earlier in the day, Li also addressed a group of foreign envoys to China on his delegation’s trip. “China believes that as long as there is a glimmer of hope for peace, we should make positive efforts,” Li said.
China’s shuttle diplomacy has provided an opportunity for China to bolster its image as a peacemaker, especially after Xi’s government helped broker a deal for Iran and Saudi Arabia to restore diplomatic ties in March.
Still, the effort hasn’t gone smoothly. China’s ambassador to France questioned the sovereignty of other former Soviet states under international law on a French TV channel, provoking anger from Baltic nations and others. China later removed a transcript of the remarks and said they didn’t represent government policy. Xi followed shortly after with a call to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, the first between the two leaders since Russia’s invasion over a year ago.
(Updates with details throughout.)
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