Accessibility links

Breaking News

China In Eurasia Briefing: Did China Undermine Ukraine's Peace Summit?

China didn't attend the summit because it said Russia wasn’t invited and that both Kyiv and Moscow should be part of any peace talks.
China didn't attend the summit because it said Russia wasn’t invited and that both Kyiv and Moscow should be part of any peace talks.

Welcome back to the China In Eurasia briefing, an RFE/RL newsletter tracking China's resurgent influence from Eastern Europe to Central Asia.

I'm RFE/RL correspondent Reid Standish and here's what I'm following right now.

Beijing's Own Peace Strategy

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy left a peace summit in Switzerland with a new commitment from 80 countries that Ukraine's "territorial integrity" would be the foundation of any peace deal to end the war with Russia.

But the final communique -- and the summit as a whole -- was dampened by a lack of backing from the Global South, most notably from China, which didn't send any representation to the gathering and is shopping its own peace initiative to developing countries.

Finding Perspective: Zelenskiy told reporters that representatives from 101 countries and international organizations, with more than 50 heads of state and government, mostly from Europe, were in attendance.

The Ukrainian president told my colleague Zoriana Stepanenko that he was satisfied with the result of the summit, but several countries in attendance -- such as Brazil, India, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, and the United Arab Emirates -- did not sign the final communique.

China didn't attend the summit because it said Russia wasn't invited and that both Kyiv and Moscow should be part of any peace talks. But ahead of the Swiss-hosted summit, Beijing had also been pushing its own rival initiative behind the scenes.

The move by China sparked some rare public criticism from Zelenskiy, who said in Singapore on June 2 that Russia and China were attempting to undermine the summit.

Zelenskiy's Good News: U.S. President Joe Biden did not attend the summit, but Vice President Kamala Harris did instead. While Biden's appearance would have lent some additional heft to the summit, he signed a 10-year bilateral security deal between Ukraine and the United States at the G7 summit before the meeting in Switzerland.

Zelenskiy's Bad News: The summit ended with overwhelming Western support for Ukraine, but it also highlighted the global divides when it comes to the war.

Chinese officials have been shopping alternative peace plans that are said to be more Russia-friendly for months, with Reuters reporting that "Beijing has told developing nations the meeting [in Switzerland] would prolong the war."

As I explained in this short video, all of this makes it much harder for China to portray itself as a neutral player when it comes to the war.

Why It Matters: China has been pursuing a wider strategy to position itself as the leader of the Global South in opposition to the U.S.-led Western bloc, and diplomacy around the war in Ukraine is the latest playing field.

China has been trying to enlist developing nations to join the six-point peace plan it issued with Brazil in May, with the proposal calling for an international peace conference "held at a proper time that is recognized by both Russia and Ukraine, with equal participation of all parties as well as fair discussion of all peace plans."

The Kremlin endorsed the idea of China brokering peace and the Chinese foreign ministry said more than 100 countries had supported its proposal.

But the bigger question is whether Beijing is genuinely looking to broker peace or simply aiming to derail any Western-backed proposal in order to help out its partner, Russia.

As the Carnegie Russia Eurasia Center's Alexander Gabuev wrote in Foreign Affairs ahead of the summit:

"China will therefore continue to be a stick-in-the-mud: indirectly helping Russia, derailing Kyiv-led diplomatic initiatives, and pretending to engage in diplomacy instead of genuinely trying to work with other parties to find a solution."

Three More Stories From Eurasia

1. How To Deal With China's Support For Russia?

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said China should face consequences for supporting Russia's war in Ukraine, if it does not change its ways.

The Details: "Beijing cannot have it both ways. At some point -- and unless China changes course -- allies need to impose a cost. There should be consequences," Stoltenberg said in Washington on June 17.

The comments from the NATO chief add to a growing chorus of high-level Western officials in recent months more openly criticizing China's support for Russia, with Beijing supplying some 90 percent of high-value dual-use goods to Russia in the last year.

How to impose those consequences, however, is hardly straightforward.

At the recent G7 summit in Italy, the group of wealthy democracies discussed going after small Chinese banks.

Worried about being targeted by U.S. secondary sanctions, China's big banks have begun to limit their cross-border transactions involving Russia and Russian firms. Instead, smaller banks that are difficult to track and have less exposure to the international financial system have become the main channel.

Targeting Chinese institutions generally poses contagion risks due to their connection to the broader global financial system, but going after smaller banks is tough as they are by design insulated from the very Western institutions that give Brussels and Washington the economic leverage they're trying to wield.

"This is what I call the 'burner bank' strategy," Tom Keatinge, director of the Center for Financial Crime and Security Studies at the Royal United Services Institute, told me. "If the United States or other G7 countries sanction these banks, there is likely to be very limited contagion and the impact on the bank will likewise be limited as the bank has no need for access to the international banking system."

2. The Other Export Model

Is China actively looking to export its authoritarian model abroad? A new batch of previously unexamined Chinese government documents seems to indicate yes.

What It Means: Niva Yau, a nonresident fellow at the Atlantic Council's Global China Hub, came across a trove of 1,691 files from China's Commerce Ministry that were logged online in 2021 and 2022.

The dataset describes 795 governmental programs made up of trainings and exchanges with foreign officials that the documents state are designed to promote ideas and practices from China's economic and political model among countries in Eastern Europe and the Latin American, African, and Asian countries that make up the so-called Global South.

Chinese officials have repeatedly said Beijing isn't exporting its authoritarian system for governing, but the collection of government files add to an emerging body of evidence showing that China is trying to sell the merits of its model to officials across the Global South while also developing new initiatives and practical programs to speed up their adoption.

"This is real evidence to support what has been becoming a growing belief among the expert community," Yau told me. "We can now demonstrate in China's own words from its internal planning documents what it is trying to do."

3. China Looks To Revamp Central Asian Trade

After years of discussions and delays, the China-Kyrgyzstan-Uzbekistan railway, which could change how Central Asian countries trade with each other, took a major step forward with Kyrgyzstan announcing it will take out a large Chinese loan to build it, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reports.

What You Need To Know: Azamat Sakiev, director of Kyrgyz Railways, told the country's parliament on June 19 that the expenses for constructing the Kyrgyz section of the railroad are estimated at $4.7 billion in total.

Sakiev said the Chinese loan will cover 51 percent of the project while Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan will each provide 24.5 percent of the costs. Beijing will provide its loan to the Joint Design Company, a new holding company to be operated by all three countries building the railway.

Sakiev, during his public comments, added that the specifics about the terms and amount of interest on the loan are yet to be finalized.

Once completed, the railway could provide another key link for overland trade between Europe and China while adding an important artery for Central Asia, one of the world's least connected regions.

Across The Supercontinent

Climate Pressure: Kazakhstan's Lake Balkhash faces growing ecological strain in the form of climate change and China's rising demand for water upstream, as well as government plans for a nearby nuclear power plant, Maqpal Mukankyzy and Chris Rickleton report.

A Tougher Brussels: Former Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi said the European Union must become less "passive" in defending its economic interests against the threat of countries such as China that have "unfair advantages."

A 'More Aggressive' Cyberspace: Brad Smith, vice chairman and president of U.S. tech giant Microsoft, warned in a statement to a U.S. Congressional committee that closer cooperation between Russia, China, North Korea, and Iran on the geopolitical stage could be replicated in cyberspace, my colleague Todd Prince reports.

A Rare Visit: Senior EU diplomats have visited schools, religious sites, and a prison in Tibet as part of a dialogue with China about human rights, the Irish Times reports.

One Thing To Watch

It looks like the EU may be drifting into a trade war with China. After the bloc slapped Beijing with new tariffs on Chinese electric vehicles (EVs), China announced an anti-dumping probe against EU pork and by-products.

The move is expected to target France, Spain, Germany, and the Netherlands particularly hard, which EU officials believe have been chosen as they are seen as the countries that pushed for the EV tariffs, Politico reported.

That's all from me for now. Don't forget to send me any questions, comments, or tips that you might have.

Until next time,

Reid Standish

If you enjoyed this briefing and don't want to miss the next edition, subscribe here. It will be sent to your inbox every other Wednesday.

  • 16x9 Image

    Reid Standish

    Reid Standish is an RFE/RL correspondent in Prague and author of the China In Eurasia briefing. He focuses on Chinese foreign policy in Eastern Europe and Central Asia and has reported extensively about China's Belt and Road Initiative and Beijing’s internment camps in Xinjiang. Prior to joining RFE/RL, Reid was an editor at Foreign Policy magazine and its Moscow correspondent. He has also written for The Atlantic and The Washington Post.

About The Newsletter

In recent years, it has become impossible to tell the biggest stories shaping Eurasia without considering China’s resurgent influence in local business, politics, security, and culture.

Subscribe to this weekly dispatch in which correspondent Reid Standish builds on the local reporting from RFE/RL’s journalists across Eurasia to give you unique insights into Beijing’s ambitions and challenges.

To subscribe, click here.

RFE/RL has been declared an "undesirable organization" by the Russian government.

If you are in Russia or the Russia-controlled parts of Ukraine and hold a Russian passport or are a stateless person residing permanently in Russia or the Russia-controlled parts of Ukraine, please note that you could face fines or imprisonment for sharing, liking, commenting on, or saving our content, or for contacting us.

To find out more, click here.